Sunday, August 05, 2007

Traverse City's '07-08 roster set

Northern Michigan’s team will have a decidedly regional flavor to open the 2007-08 season, as the Traverse City North Stars rostered seven Traverse City-area players to conclude the team’s training camp this weekend at Centre ICE arena.

Forwards Sean Burke, Todd Knaus, Eric McLintock, Eric O’Hearn, and Marc and Garrett Thompson – along with goalie Dallas Kniss – each played their way into a ‘TC’ sweater, and were introduced to the public at a free hot dog cookout on Sunday afternoon at Centre ICE.

“I was surprised at exactly how hard the process of picking the team was,” said first-year Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “There were so many good players at the camp, it just made it exceedingly difficult to pick 25 of them. I thought all 40 kids in the Blue & White game went after it hard and did an excellent job of representing the North Stars.”

In addition to the seven local players, nine of the ten skaters eligible to return this year – Matt Hughes, Sabastion Kimmel, Joe Greener, Nate Urbaniak, Ben Plocar, Zach Hitch, Chris Heineman, Harrison Niemann and Jameson Raymond – also made the cut. Forward Brett Jendra barely missed out on a roster spot.

“There were some tough decisions, no question about it,” Palumbo explained. “We had a very crisp camp, and a lot of players gave us a lot to consider all summer long. If there was a surprise – and I wouldn’t exactly call it a ‘surprise’ it was Garrett (Thompson). He’s a 1990 (birth year) but played so well we couldn’t look past him. He basically made it so we had to take him.”

Garrett Thompson, whose parents moved to Traverse City with his brother (Marc) in November, says he was relaxed from the onset this weekend.

“I wasn’t all that nervous, I just wanted to come out and play my game and try to show the coaches what I can do.”

The Thompson brothers, along with fellow Traverse City-ites McLintock and O’Hearn, spent last season together on the Soo Indians’ Midget AAA roster, which should provide for some additional cohesion in the early going this season.

“It’s pretty cool to all be together again, to already have some chemistry with your new teammates,” said O’Hearn, who actually spent the weekend in the bleachers after an upper body injury kept him out of the final camp. “We’re all pretty familiar with each other and the roles we play.”

Tender Phil Wendecker and top draft pick Tyler Stephens also earned spots, while a trio of former Flint Generals - forwards Kellen Michalak and Jarrod Labell and defenseman Jonathan Sheridan – will also open the season with the club. Forwards Clinton Bourbonais (Orchard Lake St. Mary's Prep) and Ben Dykstra (Ohio Jr. Blue Jackets) landed roster berths, while Brandon Stephenson (Victory Honda midget AAA) and Sault Ste. Marie product Miles Williams will battle for starting goaltending duties with Kniss.

“I thought I might have had a shot to make it, but I certainly didn’t take anything for granted,” said Kniss, who played for Palumbo last year at TC West. “Basically, playing here was my only option. I didn’t try out anywhere else, and I’m going to NMC (Northwestern Michigan College) this fall. I feel pretty fortunate to be able to stay home and play at this level.”

O’Hearn echoed those sentiments.

“It’s quite a privilege,” said O’Hearn, who led TC Central to a state championship two years ago before heading to the Soo for 2006-07. “Kids travel hundreds of miles to play junior hockey, and here we get to do it right in our own back yard.”

With a summer of camps now in the rear-view mirror, Palumbo and his staff are starting to turn their attention to the season-opening NAHL Showcase in Blaine, Minn., which runs from Sept. 19-22.

“I’m very, very excited about this team,” he beamed. “We can’t wait to get started. We think this year is going to be a success. I think we’re all pretty anxious to get started in earnest.”

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