Saturday, June 30, 2007

Traverse City trio shines at camp

Todd Knaus came into this weekend’s open tryout camp with a backup plan.

While the former Traverse City West star has already earned a spot at the Traverse City North Stars’ training camp – from which the 2007-08 roster will be hewn – he knows that a roster slot is anything but assured. That’s why the 17-year old forward tried out for – and made – the Soo Indians midget AAA squad earlier this month.

“Obviously, I’d like to make it with the North Stars, but if it doesn’t work out this year, I have already lined up the next challenge,” said Knaus, who levied 27 goals and 16 assists last year for the Titans en route to all-conference and all-region honors. “I’d like to stay at home, stay at (TC) West and finish my senior year here.”

That approach to the weekend-long tryout camp differs slightly from that of a pair of Knaus’ TC Central counterparts, juniors-to-be Dane MacDonell and Eric Swy. That tandem would certainly welcome an invite to join the North Stars for the club’s third season, but are also here to gauge their own on-ice aptitude.

“I want to take hockey as far as I can take it,” explained Swy, a defenseman. “But I came into camp wanting to know where I stand, to see what’s out there, and to sort of assess my strengths and weaknesses against some of the best players from around the state. The competition here is bigger and faster (than prep hockey), but I did kind of expect that.”

MacDonell, who teamed with Swy and current North Stars tender Eric O’Hearn to help TC Central claim the 2006 high school state championship, had a similar mindset when the puck dropped on Friday.

“You just want to see how you stack up against some top talent,” MacDonell explained. “The overall strength of the players here, how smart they are on the ice – it’s a great learning experience.”

While Knaus has decided not to play prep hockey next year, MacDonell and Swy are eager to get back on the ice with Chris Givens’ Trojans in 2007-08.

“The only way to top winning a state title is to win a second state title,” quipped MacDonell. “We have four or five guys coming up from the bantam AA team that won the state title last year, and we have a solid core in place. It should be an awesome year.”

Despite their relative youth and the self-evaluative nature of their approach to Stars camp, MacDonell isn’t just standing around on the ice taking notes.

“We’re here to compete, and eventually that college scholarship is something we’re all gunning for. It would be a lot of fun to get to work on that by playing here if I got the chance, but if it doesn’t work out this time around, there will be other opportunities to try out for juniors.”

While Swy and MacDonell have been playing alongside each other since they were 10, the Central duo got to square off against Knaus two to three times a year on high school ice.

“Todd is a handful out there,” Swy asserted. “He’s one of those guys where if he has the puck anywhere near the bottom of the (face-off) circles, you know he’s going to score.”

North Stars coach Anthony Palumbo – who coached Knaus at TC West and coached against Swy and MacDonell – says that all three have impressed the scouts with their play. Knaus and Swy are on the Red Team, while MacDonell and ex-Trojan O’Hearn are toiling for the Gold Team.

“In my mind, their performance is a testament to the quality of high school hockey in Traverse City,” said Palumbo. “To be at this camp and to compete the way they have speaks very well of the programs in town from GTHA right on up to the high school level.

“These three kids are all very competitive, but very different kinds of players. Eric is a very smart, stay-at-home defenseman. Dane is a hard-nosed kind of guy who will go down to block a shot and make things happen with his aggressiveness. Todd, who is challenging for a roster spot, is more of a skilled goal-scorer type, but all three have shown a lot all weekend.”

Knaus says he’d like nothing more than to see his cross-town rivals-turned-fellow hopefuls right there with him and the other invitees for the Stars’ Aug. 3-5 training camp.

“Dane’s a smart player, always where he should be always moving the puck where it should be going,” Knaus said. “And Swy is one of the best all-around defensemen in his age group. They both have very bright futures in hockey.”

North Stars camp wraps up on Sunday with the all-star Blue & White game slated for 10 a.m. Following the contest, Palumbo and his staff will issue the final invites to the August camp.

“We’re going to have some tough decisions to make, but that’s a good problem to have,” Palumbo explained. “First, to pick guys for Sunday’s all-star game, then to take the best of that group for our invite-only training camp in August. The intensity of the camp has been excellent, and our forwards have come back with a real focus that is very evident out there.

"We’re getting closer to the season and you can feel it.”

No comments: