Monday, June 11, 2007

Whalers' rookie orientation a success

The Plymouth Whalers held their annual rookie orientation camp last Saturday and aside from the off-ice program the team presented to 2006 and 2007 draft picks, a scrimmage also took place.

The camp ended with the Blue-White scrimmage, won by the Blues, 4-3. Veteran defenseman Leo Jenner led the Blues with a pair of goals, while rookies Myles McCauley and Micki Mihailovich scored one each. Jordon O’Neill, Kevin Lynch and Chris Martin replied for the Whites.

Off the ice, here is what had on the weekend:

When Whalers’ president, general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci was drafted by the Belleville Bulls in 1983, he was told to report to training camp in late August.

Back then, Ontario Hockey League teams didn’t do a lot of weight or dry land training. Players’ education wasn’t always monitored, either.

Fast forward to the present and all OHL teams hold a rookie orientation camp, designed as an information seminar for parents and players alike. Ironically, Plymouth’s rookie orientation – which usually signals the start of a new season – coincided with the Livonia Churchill graduation taking place in the arena.

With many players looking to go the U.S. college route or major junior, it’s an ideal time to find out about the Whalers and what Plymouth and the Western Wayne County area offers. Vellucci and assistant general manager and assistant coach Todd Watson run an organized, low-key, orientation camp.

Plymouth’s camp was later this year because the Whalers’ playoff run went until the end of May. But the day-and-a-half session gave parents and players a chance to see Plymouth, the team’s educational system, get acquainted with staff and receive some off-ice testing.

Whalers’ educational consultant John Siedelman was front-and-center in a meeting with parents and players. The Whalers team up with the Plymouth-Canton school district for the educational pursuits of high-school age players, while many older players attend classes at the local colleges in the area.

For Canadian parents, there’s a concern about Canadian high school credits transferring to an American school system.

“We start by spending a lot of time mixing and matching each player academically,” Siedelman said. “Sometimes Canadian students come here with more credit hours. But not all the classes transfer, and they do have to take classes like U.S. Studies and U.S. Government. So it’s like a puzzle and we try to get as many pieces of the puzzle to fit as we can.”

The Whalers stress excellence on the ice and in the classroom.

“Since I’ve been involved over the last four years, every Whaler student who has been eligible to graduate has received a Plymouth-Canton school district diploma,” Siedelman explained. “It’s an accomplishment we’re all proud of and it speaks well for the Whaler players, their host families and their families.”

Siedelman told a story about Whalers star James Neal, who signed a National Hockey League contract with the Dallas Stars last season while contributing to Plymouth’s run to the OHL championship.

“Neal was close to being able to graduate in the spring of 2006 when he went back home to Whitby, Ontario,” Siedelman said. “He signed his contract with Dallas last fall (Oct. 21) and really could have let graduating go. But he didn’t – he persevered and received his diploma around the same time he signed his contract. It was a proud moment.”

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