Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Mulliken native commits to Ohio State

The Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League have announced that second-year forward Jeff McNeil has committed to Ohio State University for next season.

“I’m extremely proud of Jeff's decision to commit to Ohio State,” said Wildcats head coach John Bowkus. “He’s a great team player and one of our leaders. He’s worked tremendously hard for this opportunity.”

An NAHL Top Prospects Tournament selection, McNeil, from Mulliken, has three goals and eight points after 25 games this season to go along with 68 penalty minutes.

In 2007-08, the 20-year-old scored eight goals for 17 points in 47 regular-season games. He also racked up 117 minutes in penalties.

“Ohio State has done their homework and have committed to a first-class player on and off the ice,” Bowkus added. “I wish him all the best."

Photo courtesy NAHL

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

North Stars sending six-pack to All-Star event

When the North American Hockey League’s Top Prospects Tournament kicks off next month in Ann Arbor, the Traverse City North Stars will be well-represented – both on the ice and the bench.

Five North Stars made the North Division roster – captain Kyle Bonis and repeat selection Nate Urbaniak, along with Chris Heineman, Kyle Jean and Travis White. Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo will serve as an assistant coach for the North.

The event will take place at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube from Jan. 18-20.

“I’m proud that we finished the first half (of the season) high enough to send five guys,” Palumbo said. “It’s a great event that’s well-attended by (college and professional) scouts and it’s a great honor to be a part of it.”

The event will feature all-star teams from the NAHL's Central, North, South and West divisions competing in a three-game, round-robin showcase. The U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-17 and Under-18 Teams will also play two games each over the three days.

“I give a lot of credit to our Top Prospects Tournament Selection Committee for their efforts in evaluating and selecting the best our league has to offer to compete in this prestigious event," said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld. "A number of student-athletes who competed in last year’s tournament were awarded college opportunities and we expect this year to be no different.”

Urbaniak, TC’s all-time leading scorer with 91 career points, partook of last year’s event along with former Stars Harrison Niemann and Jameson Raymond. The Perrysburg, Ohio product has eight goals and 10 assists through 22 games, including a team-best five power-play tallies.

“Nate has really started to come back into form after his bout with pneumonia earlier in the season,” Palumbo said. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of, and his best hockey of the year is still ahead of us. He’s starting to get back into his offensive rhythm.”

Bonis, of Lindsay, Ont., leads the club with 11 goals and assists on 12 others in 25 outings, and was another easy selection, according to Palumbo.

“Kyle is our captain, and along with Kyle Jean, our best forward night in and night out," Palumbo said. "It’s easy to look at what he does on the offensive end, but his work ethic and leadership are what sets him apart as a player.”

Jean, who has been as dominant a forward as there has in the NAHL this season, has racked up eight goals and nine assists this year, and the Sault Ste. Marie native has signed with Lake Superior State.

“He just continues to justify all the attention and interest he’s garnered over the years,” Palumbo said. “Kyle’s one of those players that you can watch and right away say that he’s obviously one of the best players on the ice. And he keeps getting better every day.”

White and Heineman (pictured) anchor the Traverse City blue line corps and Palumbo says that both players are more than worthy of the honor.

“'Heiney' has been here three years and is a big part of everything we do,” Palumbo explained. “The power play, the penalty kill, as a shot blocker – he does it all. And 'Whitey'’s as consistent on the (penalty) kill as anyone on the league. He’s a leader, an emotional spark plug-type, and the guys have great respect for him.”

Between the team’s New Year’s Eve clash at Alpena and the All-Star event, the North Stars will play host to Mahoning Valley this weekend in a critical three-game showdown. The Phantoms lead the Stars by five points following a two-game sweep over Alpena last weekend as TC sat idle. The series at Centre ICE arena gets underway with Friday and Saturday evening contests (7:00 p.m.), and the final Sunday matinee (12:30 p.m.) of the year.

Full Rosters
Central Division [.pdf]
North Division [.pdf]
South Division [.pdf]
West Division [.pdf]

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saginaw acquires Peters from Kingston

The Saginaw Spirit acquired goalie Anthony Peters today from the Kingston Frontenacs in return for a fifth-round pick in the 2009 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

Additional terms of the trade were not disclosed.

Peters is a native of Bylth , Ont., that was drafted into the OHL by the Oshawa Generals in 2006. He spent a season with the Generals before being traded to the Frontenacs, where played in seven games during the 2007-2008 season.

The 1990-born goaltender has seen action in 11 games this season.

Peters will be joining Spirit netminders Edward Pasquale and Joe Lepera on the Spirit roster.

Justin Peters, Anthony's older brother now in the Carolina organization, played for the Plymouth Whalers during the 2005-2006 season.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

North Stars skate into Motown Sunday

Santa Claus may be comin’ to town, but the Traverse City North Stars are heading to the Motor City in the interim.

Sunday’s matinee features teams currently at opposite ends of the NAHL North Division standings, but North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo isn’t expecting anything resembling a gift-wrapped victory under the tree at Wyandotte’s Yack Arena.

“Motor City is a much better team than what their record says,” Palumbo assessed. “They’ve made moves that have improved their club, they beat (NAHL champion) St. Louis a few weeks ago and have plenty of talented players on that roster. By no means should anyone in this division take them lightly and I don’t think they do.”

Among the recent personnel maneuvers by the Machine was the acquisition of former North Stars forward Adam Sponseller, most recently of the Wichita Falls Wildcats. Sponseller, who appeared in 57 games with the North Stars over parts of two seasons, has three points in his first three games with Motor City following the deal.

While the Machine (5-22-1) will look for home holiday cookin’ on Sunday, Marquette (15-13-4) knocked off host Mahoning Valley on Friday to pull within a single point of Traverse City in the North standings. Mahoning (16-7-2) is also just a point back and both the Phantoms and Stars each have a full seven games in hand on Marquette. Team USA (15-10-2) and Alpena (15-9-2) are just three points back of the top spot.

“You look at the standings and it’s amazing how tight everything is already,” lamented Palumbo. “We’re just 25 games into a 56-game schedule and we’re already into the playoff race. Three points separate the top five teams and there are just four teams that make it (the playoffs). That makes every single game that much more important.”

Ryan Misiak leads the Machine scoring attack with 21 points that include a team-best 16 assists. Jared Williams’ six goals pace Motor City, although recent acquisition Josh Bussell has 11 tallies between his former Marquette and Motown.

TC captain Kyle Bonis (11 goals, 11 assists) powers the Stars’ offense, while Nate Urbaniak has four points in his last three outings and Marc Thompson has already equaled his 57-game totals (16 points) from a season ago.

“We need to make this (road) trip count,” Palumbo added. “Two points are on the table in their building. We have to come down there ready to play 60 minutes worth of hockey.”

Sunday’s game faces off at 5:10 p.m.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lockwood and Vinson coming around for Jets

Steve Lockwood and Justin Vinson were at opposite ends of the spectrum at the start of the season, but lately, each has been creating more opportunities for themselves to make an impact with the Metro Jets.

“When the season first started, there wasn't much expected from ‘Woody,’ but there were a lot of expectation from ‘Vinny,’” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “He struggled out of the gate, but lately he's been playing at a level we had anticipated.”

For Lockwood (far right), an 18-year-old native of Clarkston, Mich., his season started to take an uphill turn four weeks ago in Dubuque.

“Woody’s biggest asset is his size and strength,” said Skop. “At the beginning of the season, he seemed very tentative to use it. He got into a good scrap in Dubuque (against Seth Burrow three seconds into the game Nov. 22), won that fight, and has been playing very confident ever since. Not only is he winning fights, but his entire game has gotten a lot better.”

With Vinson, a 17-year-old from Livonia, Mich., Skop said it was just a matter of time before the tide started to shift.

“Vinny's best asset is his speed,” Skop said. “It's very deceptive, but make no mistake, he's one of the fastest guys in this league. He's another guy who, at the beginning of the year, tried to do stuff he got away with in youth hockey, instead of using his great speed to his benefit. Once he finally figured that out, he's been playing very strong lately.

“Each guy has come light years from the beginning of the season.”

Lockwood is currently second in the CSHL with 114 penalty minutes and Vinson is now tied for sixth in Jets’ team scoring.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Saginaw's Pasquale gets Top Prospects nod

Saginaw Spirit goaltender Edward Pasquale has been named to the roster for the 2009 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game.

The showcase, taking place from January 13-14 in Oshawa, Ont., features 40 of the top CHL players eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. The rosters for the event were determined by NHL general managers and NHL Central Scouting.

Pasquale has been an anchor in net this season for the Spirit, backstopping the team to a 20-10-0-2 record. The Toronto native has posted a 2.66 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in 32 games this season.

Eagles and Beavers pull off 1-for-1 deal

By Randy Russon/Osprey Blogs

The West Division of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League got a little wilder today as the Blind River Beavers and Soo Eagles pulled the trigger on a deal that features two players from the opposite sides of the International Bridge at Sault Ste. Marie.

Blind River got a bit older in the trade by getting sought-after 19-year-old right winger Jake Watchorn from the Michigan Eagles in exchange for 17-year-old rookie left winger David McCaig.

Blind River will also get a player to be named by January 2010 to complete the transaction.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound McCaig posted 7-9-16 totals in 22 games with the Beavers while the 6-foot, 190-pound Watchorn was 5-9-14 in 19 games with the Eagles.

McCaig made the Beavers after playing AA midget hockey in the Canadian Soo last season.

Watchorn, a Michigan Soo native, had joined the Eagles after playing in the North American Hockey League last season and debuting in the NOJHL with the old Northern Michigan Black Bears three years ago.

The spirited McCaig fits in with the youthful direction of the Eagles, a first-year NOJHL squad.

Watchorn, meanwhile, brings a gritty, grimy game to a Blind River team that has never won a playoff series in franchise history but is within four points of the West Division-leading Soo Thunderbirds going into play this week.

Watchorn was being pursued by at least one team in the Ontario Junior Hockey League and the North Bay Skyhawks of the NOJHL were also in the running to get the hard-nosed winger.

Eagles’ director of player personnel Ritchie Donaghue said he and head coach Paul Theriault gave Watchorn the choice of which NOJHL team he wanted to go to — North Bay or Blind River.

“At first Jake told us he wanted to go to North Bay but within a few hours of his telling us that he said he thought it over and that Blind River would be a better fit for him,” Donaghue told me.

Watchorn said he changed his mind because going to Blind River will allow him to continue to live at home in the Michigan Soo and attend school at Lake Superior State University.

“I was all set to go to North Bay but then I thought about being able to stay in school at Lake State and to commute to and from Blind River for practices and games,” Watchorn explained.

Watchorn added that he hopes to have more of a role with the Beavers than he did with the Eagles.

“I’m excited to be going to Blind River. I’ve heard good things about their coach (Todd Stencill) and it’s obvious the Beavers are trying to win when they go out and get a goalie like Billy Stone.”

Stencill, for his part, said he didn’t want to part with McCaig.

“David’s a great kid and I love him but I felt we could use the the added experience that a tough kid like Jake will bring to us. The Eagles wouldn’t give us Jake unless we gave them David.

Personally, I think it’s a good trade for both kids and both teams.”

McCaig said he’s “sad to leave Blind River. I loved playing for Todd and for the Beavers. But this is junior hockey and trades are a part of what goes on and if I could have chosen another team to play for it definitely would have been the Soo Eagles.

“People who I respect like yourself all tell me what a great coach Mr. Theriault is and that Mr. Donaghue is someone you can trust. I’m closer to home now and I can’t wait to put on an Eagles’ jersey and step onto that great ice at Pullar Stadium.”

Machine helping those less fortunate

The Motor City Machine has taken a local family from the First Step Western Wayne Co. Project on Domestic and Sexual Violence under the wing for the giving season to make their holidays more enjoyable.

Over the past few weeks, the Machine’s office staff has been hard at work collecting donations and various items to brighten the skies for those less fortunate.

While the Marquette Rangers were in town this past weekend, the Machine collected over $300 in donations, clothing items and gift certificates to help a local family in need.

“We’ve worked all weekend and to see this kind of support is amazing,” stated the Machine’s Jacob Collins.

"With many families in times of despair around these times of year, I’m glad to be a part of it,” added defensemen Alec Thieda.

Rangers continue road swing in Ohio

The Marquette Rangers continue their five-game road swing this weekend with their furthest trip of the year traveling 645 miles to Youngstown, Ohio, to play the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

The Rangers (14-13-4, 32 pts.) are within two points of Mahoning Valley for second place in the North American Hockey League North Division. Traverse City leads the Phantoms by one point for the top spot heading into this weekend’s action.

With his team coming off three road wins, head coach Kenny Miller says his team looks like it may have turned a corner as they head into a key weekend.

“Any time you can get six points on a road trip, it’s a good thing,” Miller said. “We’ve obviously got a long way to go, but we’ve got a little momentum going now heading into the break with four wins in our last five games. We’ve gotten better as the season has gone along, which is the goal of any team and every coach.”

Miller was optimistic when asked about a possible letdown with his team leaving for such a long road trip right before the holiday break.

“The key is to make sure our veterans take charge, keep leading us and playing hard so that our rookies and younger keys have an example set for them on how to handle this type of situation," Miller said. "We’re an experienced enough team that I really don’t think it will be an issue.”

“They’re a great team,” Miller added of Mahoning Valley. “Any time you go there you’re playing a well established team that’s coached very well; so we’ll have our hands full. Our guys know this and I think we’ll be ready."

The Rangers are led in scoring after last weekend by Chad Pietila’s 29 points (11g, 18a) and Marquette native James Gallagher, who’s netted 27 points (11g, 16a) on the season. Aaron Pietila follows them in team scoring with 26 points on the year (11g, 15a.)

Mahoning Valley (16-6-2, 34 pts.) has been led in scoring this season by Jordy Trottier (17 points) and Brandon Saad’s 16 points, but the big story in Mahoning Valley so far has been the play of goaltender Jordon Tibbett.

With a record of 13-2-0 on the year to compliment a goals-against average of 1.90 and a save percentage of .928, Tibbett’s numbers are good for second place overall among goaltenders in the entire NAHL.

Only Bryce Merriam of the Topeka RoadRunners boasts better statistics heading towards the holiday break.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marquette captain commits to Michigan Tech

Aaron Pietila of the Marquette Rangers has become the third member of this year's squad to commit to playing Division I hockey as he has committed to play at Michigan Tech University, a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, starting in 2009.

“This is something I’ve always wanted,” Pietila said. “Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to play at Tech, so this is really just a dream come true. My dad went there, they’ve got great tradition, it’s a great school and I’m really grateful for the opportunity to play at that level and to play for the Huskies.”

The Brighton native is in his second year in a Rangers uniform. He played for Traverse City before coming to Marquette in a trade between the two clubs prior to the 2007-08 North American Hockey League season. The 20-year-old Piteila also serves as the Rangers' team captain.

Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said Pietila is a natural leader who should do very well at the next level.

“Aaron’s a guy who’s played junior hockey for awhile now, so he knows what will be expected of him,” Miller said. "He’s the kind of guy who will do everything it takes to be successful and we’re confident he’ll go up to Tech and be a great addition for them. We’re thrilled for him and his family and we know he’ll represent our organization well at the college level.”

Pietila is currently tied with two others as the team's leading goal scorer with 11 on the season, and is third in overall scoring with 26 points. Pietila led the team in scoring in 2007-08 with 52 points (20g, 32a).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Chemistry clicking for newest Whalers

By Pete Krupsky/Plymouth Whalers

In another life and profession, I was a chemist in the refining industry. One of my jobs was to experiment with new and existing compounds to try to make improved coal-tar products.

Some experiments went very well and may still be used in a business I’m no longer part of. Others literally blew up in my face. I didn’t mind the explosions nearly as much as the clean-up of my laboratory afterwards.

Plymouth Whalers president, general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci isn’t a chemist, but he knows a few things about building a successful team. When Vellucci acquired veteran center Matt Caria from Sault Ste. Marie December 9 in exchange for three draft choices, he was looking for a talent to click with Whalers captain Chris Terry.

“Anytime you can acquire a talent of Caria’s caliber without giving up a player from your lineup, it’s a plus,” Vellucci said. “I’m really excited to see how Caria and Chris Terry mesh together.”

After making his Whalers debut December 10 in a 5-2 victory over Saginaw, Terry and Caria had chemistry together for the first time two games later in a 5-2 win over Kitchener during the Whalers’ Teddy Bear Toss Night December 13.

Playing on a line together with Patrick Lee first and later with Kaine Geldart, Caria and Terry clicked for three points each – Caria as the game’s first star with two goals and an assist and Terry the game’s second star with a goal and two helpers.

“As a team, I think we worked hard,” Caria said after the game. “We concentrated on the backcheck and the forecheck and played a solid game. Terry is such a skilled player I knew once we got one goal, things would start to open up. I also have to give credit to Lee, who jumped into the play and got a couple of points with us and also Geldart was in on a goal. It doesn’t matter who we have out there – we’re all capable of making plays.”

Caria and Terry have put up similar offensive numbers during their time in the Ontario Hockey League. Through December 13, Caria has 77 career goals with 126 assists for 203 points; Terry has 90 goals with 136 assists for 226 points. It makes sense that given time, the two veterans would start to click together.

And in the tight Western Conference race – where one loss can move a team from seventh overall to tenth and a victory goes the other way – adding a key veteran can make a difference.

But Vellucci wasn’t finished adding players. After the Saginaw victory on December 10, Vellucci acquired overage defenseman Scott Fletcher from Niagara.

While Caria is a proven point producer, Fletcher works on the other end of hockey periodic table. In 203 OHL games in his career, Fletcher has scored one goal with nine assists for 10 points and 561 penalty minutes. Fletcher started the season with Providence of the American Hockey League before returning to Niagara.

Fletcher, from Haslett, was originally selected by Saginaw in the second round (22nd overall) in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection and was traded to Niagara in 2007.

Although some fight fans see Fletcher as a one-way player – YouTube is filled with his fights – he can play the game and takes a thinking man’s approach to a sometimes dirty job.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help this team,” Fletcher said. “I’m not a rusher, but I can play solid defense on the back end. If there’s a problem on the ice, where a guy needs to be taken care of, I’ll be there one-hundred percent for my teammates.

“There’s always a time and a place for a fight, but there’s also a place for a big check or being strong along the boards. You can also be tough by not taking stupid penalties and by being smart in you own zone.”

The Whalers finish up before Christmas with three games on the road – December 17 in Owen Sound, December 18 in Barrie and December 19 in Mississauga. Plymouth opens up after Christmas with a pair of home game – December 27 against Saginaw and then December 29 at 2 p.m. against Sarnia.

Plymouth will get their first look at the brand-new Windsor Family Credit Union Arena in a New Year’s Eve matinee.

Plymouth will play the rest of the month without Michal Jordan (pictured), who was selected to try out for the Czech National Team to play in the upcoming World Junior Championship and without Tyler G. Brown, who is out until January with a broken finger.

Vellucci has until the January 9 OHL trade deadline to continue to tinker with the Whalers' lineup.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Monday, December 15, 2008

CSHL showcase this weekend in Burton

The Central States Hockey League will descend on the Ice Mountain Arena Complex in Burton from December 19-22 for the league's annual showcase consisting of each team playing four games apiece.

This showcase will feature some of junior hockey's youngest and brightest stars.

The CSHL has been home to some of the top players in the midwest, such as NHLers Paul and Yan Stastny, NHL draft picks Scott Darling, Joe Vitale and Chris Butler and former Hobey Baker finalist Eric Ehn.

Tier I Junior A, Tier II Junior A, NCAA DI and DIII and ACHA teams are expected to be in attendance.

The CSHL boasts four teams from Michigan in the Flint Jr. Generals, Grand Rapids Jr. Owls, Metro Jets and Motor City Chiefs.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Spirit giving tickets to GM, Delphi employees

The Saginaw Spirit, in conjunction with local Meijer stores, Frito Lay, Nabisco and Pepsi, are pleased to invite General Motors and Delphi employees and their immediate families to this Saturday’s home game against the Erie Otters.

These great community partners are providing tickets to GM and Delphi employees as a token of appreciation given the current state of affairs affecting the automotive manufacturing industry.

“The Saginaw Spirit is a community project,” stated Spirit president and partner Craig Goslin. “Our mid-Michigan community has many GM and Delphi families hurting today as a result of the current economic state of affairs concerning the automotive manufacturing industry. We are pleased to invite these families to join the Spirit and your local Meijer stores this Saturday night when the team takes on the Erie Otters at 7:11 p.m.”

GM and Delphi employees can show their identification badge at the team's ticket and merchandise store at 5789 State Street in Saginaw to receive complimentary upper level tickets to the game. Employees can also call 989-497-7747 or email Jon Schiebner at the Spirit and give their identification badge number to have tickets left at the TheDow Event Center will call booth the night of the game.

GM AND DELPHI EMPLOYEES MUST SHOW THEIR EMPLOYEE IDENTIFICATION BADGE AT THE SPIRIT STORE OR THE ARENA WILL CALL BOOTH - AFTER THEY HAVE PUT THEIR TICKETS ON HOLD VIA A PHONE OR EMAIL ORDER - TO RECEIVE THEIR COMPLIMENTARY TICKETS.

GM and Delphi employees that have already purchased tickets for this Saturday’s contest can visit the Spirit store this Friday or Saturday to receive complimentary upper level tickets to next Friday’s home game against the Windsor Spitfires. Deadline for ticket holders to receive this offer is tomorrow at 4:00 p.m.

To assist with this great offer, the team store will be open tonight until 7:00 p.m. and tomorrow from 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Tomorrow night's game also marks the annual Meijer Teddy Bear Toss, where fans can throw teddy bears onto the ice for charity after the Spirit score their first goal of the evening. Fans can bring their own teddy bear to the game or purchase one for $5 at a special Meijer Teddy Bear Toss booth in TheDow Event Center atrium. The bears collected are being donated to the Covenant HealthCare Pediatrics Ward and the Salvation Army’s Toys for Tots Campaign. The proceeds from the sale of teddy bears is going to support local food banks on behalf of local Meijer stores.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jets looking for improved second half

Seriously, it hasn’t been that bad for the Metro Jets this season.

But with a 3-19-0-1 record and sitting near the basement of the Central States Hockey League standings, finding positives might be a difficult task.

That said, the second half of the season starts this weekend for the Jets and if nothing else, optimism is sky-high.

“Putting the first half behind us will be hard, but we've used it as a learning experience and we now know what we have to do to get where we want to be,” said Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop. “We've gotten rid of some cancerous guys in the room and replaced them with good character guys. This will help us move forward.”

“Players must put forth their best effort,” said Jets general manager Butch Wolfe. “To get better, the players who outwardly show they want to improve must hold those who they perceive as ‘mailing it in’ accountable. This is not kid hockey; we need the leaders in the dressing room to push themselves and others.”

As for highlights, the Jets’ three wins jump out, as does the fact veteran defenseman Brett Grech (Hartland, pictured) has been near the top of league scoring for defensemen all season long. In Metro’s 9-6 win over Grand Rapids on Oct. 18, Brandon Nault (Madison Heights) registered a hat trick on goals scored three different ways (5-on-5, shorthanded and power-play) – all in the first period.

Now, if the team’s success can come more frequently, a playoff berth isn’t out of the question.

“I expect to be competitive in the second half – no more getting blasted on a nightly basis,” Skop said. “Our young guys have learned how to work and how to compete at this level. All that's left is to prove it on the ice.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Fletcher dealt to Whalers as team's third OA

The Niagara IceDogs announced today that they have traded overage defenseman Scott Fletcher to the Plymouth Whalers for London’s eighth-round pick in 2010.

Fletcher, a Haslett native, had been a member of the IceDogs since the 'Dogs made a trade with the Saginaw Spirit midway through the 2006-07 season.

During his time with the IceDogs, Fletcher accumulated six assists and 267 penalty minutes in 83 games.

“We would like to thank Scott for his contributions to the IceDogs organization both on and off the ice and wish him the best of luck with Plymouth," said Niagara general manager Dave Brown.

The 20-year-old Fletcher is the third overage (1988 birthday) on the Plymouth roster. OHL teams can carry three overagers and Plymouth has had right wing Patrick Lee on the roster all season and acquired center Matt Caria from Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday. Caria made his debut tonight, skating on a forward line with Chris Terry and Kaine Geldart.

Fletcher was originally selected by Saginaw in the second round (22nd overall) in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection. In 201 OHL games in his career, Fletcher has scored one goal with nine assists for 10 points and 561 penalty minutes. Fletcher started the season with Providence of the American Hockey League before returning to Niagara.

Rangers head south for three games

The Marquette Rangers will head below the bridge this weekend hoping to earn six points in the North American Hockey League North Division.

The Rangers will play the Alpena IceDiggers at Northern Lights Arena Thursday night, followed by a two-game series Friday and Saturday night versus the Motor City Machine at Yack Arena in Wyandotte.

Following a split with the United States National Team Development Program, head coach Kenny Miller says his team is playing well, but needs to put together a full effort to be successful.

“We have to be better for 60 minutes,” Miller said. “When we sit back and don’t play our style, we get ourselves into trouble and that is what happened last weekend. When we’re able to put together a full three-period game we’re a very good hockey team. When we find that consistency level, our chances improve a great deal.”

Miller went on to say even though the distraction of the holiday break is approaching, he likes the attitude and character of this team.

“We have enough veteran leadership to get us through these next few games before the break," said Miller. "Personally, I think it is good to play on the road. The guys will eat together, bond together and it will give them a chance to just focus on hockey, which is what we need to do right now.”

Defenseman Mike Thompson says the team feels as though they’re heading in the right direction at the mid-point of the season

“We think we’re playing OK, but obviously there’s room for improvement,” Thompson said. “The nice thing is that we’re heading into the second half of the year and we haven’t peaked as a team yet. Last year, we were really good early, and then faded down the stretch. This year, we know we can still improve on a lot of different parts of the game and get better during the second half of the season.”

The Rangers are led in scoring by Chad Pietila with 26 points and Jimmy Gallagher with 23 points. Not far behind Gallagher is Aaron Pietila with 22 points on 10 goals to go along with 12 assists.

Marquette still remains in a fourth-place tie with the Ice Diggers at 26 points apiece. Both teams continue to chase the first-place Traverse City North Stars who are currently sitting at 33 points in the North Division standings.

The Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. Thursday in Alpena and at 7:10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Motor City.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Whalers acquire OA Caria from the Soo

The Plymouth Whalers announced today the acquisition of 20-year-old center Matt Caria from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

Caria (pronounced CARY-ah) was acquired for Windsor’s third-round pick in the 2009 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, Plymouth’s second-round pick in 2010 and the Whalers' sixth-round selection in 2011.

Ontario Hockey League teams can carry three overage players, or 1988 birthdays, on its roster. Caria, a Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native, joins right wing Patrick Lee as the Whalers’ second overage player.

Caria, originally taken in the sixth round (118th overall) in the 2004 draft by the Toronto St. Michael’s Majors (now in Mississauga), is currently 11th in scoring in the OHL with 10 goals and 25 assists for 35 points in 30 games. He is a proven offensive player with 75 goals and 125 assists for 200 points in 202 career games. In 18 career playoff games, Caria has eight goals with nine assists for 17 points.

Caria’s best offensive season came in 2006-07 when he scored 33 goals with 42 assists for 75 points in 59 games and was named to the OHL Eastern Conference All-Star team.

“Anytime you can acquire a talent of Caria’s caliber without giving up a player from your lineup, it’s a plus,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “I’m really excited to see how Caria and (Plymouth captain) Chris Terry mesh together.”

Terry is the only other Whaler player with 200 points in his career. Terry is currently 11th on the Whalers all-time career scoring list with 88 goals and 133 assists for 221 points in 220 games.

Vellucci has been stockpiling draft choices since the Whalers’ championship season in 2006-07 and that fact made the deal possible. Even with Caria’s acquisition, Plymouth still has an ample allotment of draft choices remaining.

Caria is expected to report to Plymouth in time for the Whalers game Wednesday when they host Saginaw at 7:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Machine signs California native Emerson

Gage Emerson, the leading goal scorer for the San Jose Jr. Sharks 18U AAA team, has left the squad to play for the Motor City Machine of the North American Hockey League, Jr. Sharks coach Tony Zasowski said Saturday.

Emerson, who is second on the team with 28 points in 38 games, has 15 goals for the Jr. Sharks.

Motor City did not play this weekend, but returns to action Friday when it plays host to Marquette.

The Jr. Sharks, meanwhile, tied the California Wave, 2-2, and the Jr. Kings, 1-1, on Saturday in their first games without Emerson.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Metro alumni making impact at all levels

When a player moves on from the Metro Jets, it’s the goal of the coaching staff and team management to see that player succeed at the next level.

Perhaps no one succeeded more than former forward Eric Ehn, who during his junior season at Air Force in 2006-2007, was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award after finishing the season with 64 points, good for second in the nation.

Ehn played in Waterford from 2000-2002 and is now stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara, Calif., in space and missiles training, but did play one game with the ECHL’s Bakersfield Condors this year.

“When we had Eric, you could just tell he was a special player,” Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. “But did I ever think he would go on to be one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker? Not in a million years. He showed that hard work definitely pays off, that’s for sure.”

One of two Jets’ alumni in the North American Hockey League this year is North Iowa Outlaws’ defenseman Jacob DeSano. The other is Mahoning Valley Phantoms forward Nick Kenney, who was Metro’s top scorer during the 2006-2007 campaign with 31 goals among 66 points (tied for sixth in the entire CSHL).

DeSano played with Metro last year and recorded nine goals and 23 points in 46 games along with 154 penalty minutes.

“We are proud to have given Jake the experience to get to the next level,” Wolfe said.

Several other former Jets are playing professionally such as forwards Jeremy Scherlinck (Wheeling/ECHL), Dominic Osman (Fort Wayne/IHL), Wylie Rogers (Rio Grande Valley/CHL) and Tyler Sims (Mississippi/CHL).

Steve Oleksy is playing Division I hockey with Lake Superior State and a handful of others are honing their skills at the Division III and ACHA levels.

Though their season might not reflect it, the Jets are looking to promote a handful of players next season and one in particular, goaltender Colin Greeley (Howell), was a fourth-round pick of the Ontario Hockey League’s Saginaw Spirit last May and had a terrific camp with the Spirit this past September before signing with the Jets.

“Colin has seen a lot of shots this year and his record may not show it, but he’s played well and kept us in a number of games,” added Wolfe. “We’ve also had inquiries from teams in the NAHL, and even some colleges about some of our players, so we look forward to seeing our players moving up the hockey ladder.”

Kenney photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Whalers still making adjustments

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

The situation is starting to look up for the Plymouth Whalers.

Even after a 6-1 loss to Peterborough to close out November on Saturday, the Whalers are 3-2-1-0 with Mike Vellucci as head coach and are starting to show signs of life.

Plymouth’s 2-1 victory over the top-ranked Windsor Spitfires on Thanksgiving Eve and a 4-3 win in Sarnia November 28 is direct proof.

Whalers goaltender Matt Hackett backstopped the Windsor win as the game’s first star, stopping 34 of 35 shots in goal. After Eric Wellwood gave Windsor a 1-0 lead at 7:51 of the first period, Michal Jordan tied the game late in the period when he accepted Tyler J. Brown’s pass at center and skated into the Windsor zone to the right circle. Jordan beat Windsor goaltender Andrew Engelage with a hard shot that caught the Windsor netminder back in his blue crease.

Hackett took over from that point and was the difference in the hockey game. He saved his best work of the game in the third period when he stopped the OHL’s leading scorer Taylor Hall and then Dale Mitchell on breakaways.

The Whalers have revived their forecheck under Vellucci and used that skill to take their only lead of the game in the third period. Good work deep in the Windsor zone by the forward line of Vern Cooper, AJ Jenks and Kaine Geldart resulted in Cooper’s goal on a scramble in front of the Windsor net at 10:57.

With Jenks already serving a tripping penalty at 18:44 of the third period, Windsor head coach Bob Boughner called a time-out and pulled Engelage for a 6-on-4 manpower advantage. Hall’s shot from the right circle clanged off the cross bar in the final minute and the Whalers blocked several Windsor shots to preserve the victory.

“I’m very proud of the team,” said Vellucci after the game. “You saw at the end (of the game) there, Geldart going down, blocking shots, then he turns his back on the play to block another shot. With that kind of heart and determination, it doesn’t matter what kind of team you have – if you’re very talented or not, you have to block shots and you have to pay the price. Our guys did that tonight.”

Vellucci feels the Whalers are starting to believe they can turn things around.

“It’s all about belief,” Vellucci said. “The guys are a little down right now, but we’re 2-1-1-0 in our last four games and probably should have won against Sault Ste. Marie (5-4 overtime loss last Saturday). Our guys are working hard, working hard in practice. We’re fixing a few little things and those things are working out right now."

Hackett had a good month of November, posting a 2.84 goals against average and .907 save percentage in six games.

“'Hack' played great,” Vellucci said. “He came up big and made some big saves when we needed them. He has a calming effect in the net. He keeps everything in front of him and deserves to win tonight as much as anybody.”

Hackett was the third star in Sarnia, stopping 30 of 33 shots as Plymouth built leads of 2-0 and 4-1.

The Whalers had a territorial edge in the first period, outshooting Sarnia, 15-6, in the period and receiving a pair of goals from Ryan Hayes (pictured) at 16:46 (tap of a rebound from the right wing off Tyler J. Brown’s shot from the left boards) and 18:05 (power play goal scored with a quick one-timer from the left hashmark). Sarnia cut the Plymouth lead to 2-1 at 8:37 of the second period on Jordan Hill’s shot from the left point that deflected over Hackett’s shoulder. But Plymouth came back to score a pair of goals 1:08 apart to build a 4-1 lead and chase starting Sarnia goaltender Dan Spence when Jenks ripped a hard shot from the left hashmark at 10:16 and Patrick Lee scored on a shot from the right-wing half-wall at 11:24.

"The first period we played like we were still on the bus coming home from Sault Ste. Marie," Sarnia head coach Dave MacQueen told the Sarnia Observer. "We knew Plymouth would come in here and play with a lot of energy and we didn't respond. But in the second and third periods we played hard and generated a lot of chances. We have a few guys snake-bitten around the net right now. I think Steve Reese had five point blank shots, but couldn't put one in."

MacQueen added, "When we cut the lead to 2-1 in the second period, we needed a couple of saves and we didn't get them. Those third and fourth goals are pucks that have to be stopped."

Spence was replaced by rookie goaltender Shayne Campbell at that point in the game. Spence – playing in his 15th straight game – stopped 20-of-24 shots he faced.

Sarnia cut the Plymouth lead to 4-2 with four seconds left in the second period on Neal’s one-timer from the slot and came to within one on Jamie Arniel’s put-back of a rebound from the right doorstep off a Justin DiBenedetto shot from the slot.

Plymouth killed off two Sarnia power plays in the third period when Leo Jenner went off for holding at 5:29 and Tyler J. Brown was called for hooking at 13:30. Sarnia outshot Plymouth, 11-4, in the third period, but Hackett and the Plymouth penalty killers did a good job. Hackett made a good stop on Reese with five minutes remaining after he was set up in the slot by Neal, who was behind the Plymouth goal.

MacQueen pulled Campbell with about a minute left in regulation for the extra attacker. With a faceoff in the Plymouth zone, MacQueen called a time-out with 41.2 seconds remaining, but the Sting couldn’t find the equalizer. With 2.9 seconds left and another faceoff in the Plymouth zone, Vellucci called a time-out to set defensive strategy. Jenks lost the draw to Arniel, who tried to take a shot off the faceoff from the right circle, but his shot went wide as time expired.

On Saturday, Peterborough took a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes and rode goaltender Jason Missiaen’s goaltending in the second period when the Whaler tried to come back in the game.

"We got to their goalie who didn't have his best night," Peterborough head coach Ken McRae told the Peterborough Examiner. "We got a big lead and were able to hang on. 'Mish' played really well especially in the second period. We knew they were going to come out hard in the second period and we were kind of on our heels.

"When you get up four or five goals everybody thinks they're going to get six points and they get away from what got you the lead."

The Whalers hit the road this week, playing in Peterborough on Thursday and Oshawa on Friday before returning home on Saturday to face Sault Ste. Marie. Captain Chris Terry is back skating with the team and is listed as day-to-day, but Tyler G. Brown suffered a broken finger in blocking a shot last weekend and will be out of the lineup this weekend.

PLYMOUTH SCORING IN NOVEMBER: The Whalers featured balanced scoring in November. Four players scored eight points in November – AJ Jenks (5 goals and 3 assists), Patrick Lee (4-4), Vern Cooper (4-4) and Tyler J. Brown (2-6). Three Whalers scored seven points – Tyler Seguin (3-4), Kaine Geldart (2-5), Michal Jordan (1-6). Two more players scored six points – Joe Gaynor (2-4) and Beau Schmitz (2-4).

WHALERS STANDING PAT FOR NOW: Vellucci was recently featured by Jim Parker of the Windsor Star last Saturday and told the reporter he’ll continue to evaluate his team into December.

"In a month, I’ll know better where we're at," Vellucci said. "I believe we should be there (contending), but believing it and getting there are two different things."

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

NTDP, Teddy Bear Toss on tap for Rangers

For the first and only time in the month of December, the Marquette Rangers will skate at Lakeview Arena, taking on the U.S. National Team Development Program this Friday and Saturday evening.

Marquette (10-12-4, 24 pts) currently sits in a fourth place tie with the Alpena Ice Diggers in the North Division. Both Marquette and Alpena trail the NTDP by two points coming into this weekend.

The Rangers come into this series with mixed results from last weekends’ NAHL North Division Showcase hosted by Mahoning Valley.

“We are obviously not happy with the 1-2 record,” Marquette head coach Kenny Miller said. “The way we were playing before the Showcase, we felt as though we could get all six points, so to get two out of six points was not what we expected.

“In order for us to win we need our best players to be better than the other team's best players, and that really showed Saturday night (a 5-2 win over Mahoning Valley.) Unfortunately for us on Sunday, we got production from those players, but it wasn’t enough to get the win against Alpena.”

The Rangers return home to take on an Under-17 team that swept the Rangers earlier this season in Ann Arbor by scores of 4-0 and 3-2. John Hynes’ team continues to be lead in scoring by Emerson Etem and Matthew Nieto, two California natives each with 11 points on the season.

The NTDP did not play in the Showcase last weekend.

Miller knows his team has to be ready to play.

“We will continue to play our game plan, but may be more physical with them then we normally would,” Miller continued. “We will stick to the things that make us successful, which is competing, playing hard, and solid goaltending. If we can do that, it will translate into offensive and everything should work out accordingly.”

The Rangers are lead in scoring by Chad Pietila with 24 points (7g, 17a) and Jimmy Gallagher with 22 points on nine goals to go along with 13 assists. The Rangers have also been getting solid offensive production from their defensive corps this season. Defensemen Michael Thompson, Reed Rushing and Ryan McGrath are all in the top 12 among defensive players in scoring in the NAHL.

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The Marquette Rangers will be conducting the team's first-ever “Teddy Bear Toss” this Friday night when they take the ice against the U.S. National Team Development Program. Once collected, the team will take all the stuffed animals to the Marquette General Foundation to be distributed among pediatric related units within Marquette General Health Systems.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to have some fun with our fans and to help local kids,” said Rangers spokesman Mark Evans. “Other groups have conducted similar toy drives in the past and we certainly don’t want to take away from their efforts and the groups that they support. But unlike many toy drives where the animals go to charity, our bears and animals will go directly to kids who are in the hospital and away from family and friends.”

Evans added that some of the toys will go to help kids who may be facing serious distress and trauma.

“We’ve been told that MGH EMS has requested some of the animals to have for their ambulance crews," Evans said. "I have two kids and I know nothing calms a frightened child quite like a furry new friend. Sadly, some of these kids might be facing a scary situation with a sick or injured family member right in their own home, the place where they’re supposed to feel the safest. If crews in the field have these animals with them, that can go a long way to helping the situation.”

The only requirement is that the animals be new and that the store tags be attached if at all possible.

When and how the teddy bears are tossed at the game will also have a different twist to it. Fans are asked to hold their animals until the Rangers score their first goal of the game. To celebrate the goal, fans are asked to toss their animals out on to the ice. The Rangers players will then collect and bag the animals from the ice for distribution at the MGH Foundation.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

North Showcase lives up to its billing

By Brian McDonough, NAHL.com

It’s only been around a couple of years, but the NAHL’s North Division Showcase is quickly becoming another highly-regarded scouting spectacle for the league to hang its hat on and it proved that again over Thanksgiving weekend.

With the exception of the U.S. National Team, every club from the NAHL’s North Division, along with the South Division’s St. Louis Bandits, converged on the Youngstown, Ohio, area for three games and, as expected, the event hit on all cylinders.

“The tournament was a tremendous success from a scouting standpoint,” said Traverse City North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo, whose team finished 1-1-1 at the Showcase. “There were many Division I and III scouts there to provide great exposure for our players. It was a really great opportunity for our players to showcase their skills.”

No less than 40 Division I and III schools were represented at the three-day event, including Bowling Green State University, Brown University, Ohio State University and Merrimack College to name a few.

“As players, I don’t think our guys could’ve asked for a better place to showcase themselves in front of all the college recruiters in attendance throughout the weekend,” added Alpena IceDiggers assistant coach Justin Bracci, whose team posted a 2-1 mark at the Showcase.

“It's what we're all about at this level - getting our players prepared and moved onto the next level,” said Mahoning Valley Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt, whose team went 2-1. “Getting scouts and coaches into the building is a huge part of the Showcase and we're thrilled to have had so many in attendance this year.”

And speaking of attendance, the fan support didn’t disappoint either.

Well over 5,000 people made their way to the Chevrolet Centre and the Ice Zone, which played host to the nine games over the weekend, much to the delight of the Phantoms staff.

“Obviously, the scout exposure is the key to this event, but we’re very excited to have such a large fan turnout over a holiday weekend,” said Mainhardt.

One of the highlights of the Showcase was Mahoning Valley’s spirited 3-2 shootout win over Traverse City on Friday, as over 3,900 came through the Chevy Centre turnstiles to see the hometown Phantoms kick off the event with a win.

“It was an experience our boys will talk about long after their hockey careers are over,” said Palumbo. “The atmosphere was incredible and the fans couldn’t have been treated to a more entertaining game.”

And for Phantoms forward Jordy Trottier, who tallied a goal in regulation and one in the shootout, the game held extra meaning.

“I was pumped up because my uncle Bryan (Trottier) was in the crowd," said Jordy. “It always gets the juices flowing to know there's an NHL Hall of Famer in the house watching me play.”

Staged in January last year, the Showcase was moved to November this season to offer more exposure for the division’s players just two months after the NAHL Showcase Tournament, which is held annually in Minnesota.

“The timing couldn't be better,” said Mainhardt.

Neither could the competitiveness.

No team at this year’s event left with a perfect record and all but two games were decided by two goals or less.

“I think that’s just an indication of the parity in our league and that you need to be ready to play every night,” said Palumbo.

“We've been saying all year that we play in the toughest division in the league and I think the tournament results are a testament to that,” added Mainhardt, whose team sits atop the North Division heading into December. “The North Division showed that its teams can beat anyone, which is going to make for an exciting race the rest of the way.”

St. Louis forward Andrew Hamburg led the tournament's charge offensively with a goal and eight assists, with teammate Justin Kirchhevel right behind him with four goals and three assists. Marquette Rangers forward Chad Pietila tallied a goal and five assists. The Bandits’ Keith Kincaid and the Phantoms’ Jordan Tibbett each picked up two victories between the pipes.

St. Louis finished with a 2-1 record, Motor City at 1-1-1 and Marquette at 1-2.

“Having a great facility like the Chevy Center to stage this event, and the support from the city of Youngstown, was a tribute to how far the NAHL has come in the development of so many young hockey players,” said Bracci.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Machine players hope to read 10,000 books

Motor City Machine players Nate Taurence, Bennett Schneider, Ali Dakroub and Alec Thieda joined Taft Elementary School in Wyandotte in their goal to read 10,000 books by year’s end.

“Every week we get the chance to meet different kids in the communities and help them through their toughest challenge in life, school,” explains Thieda.

Motor City has been to over 12 different schools ranging from ages 5-14 throughout the Downriver area as they introduce themselves to the communities. Taft has been a hot spot for Machine players because of its location right down the street.

“The students get so excited when they hear the whispers of hockey players returning to the classrooms," says school principal Christine Mathews. "It helps us keep them focused on their reading goals as these young players demonstrate reading skills and interact with them about their school work."

Motor City will continue to visit more schools as the year goes on, but Taft has become an anchor in leading the way to promote education over everything else in life.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Team leaders hope to lead Jets' turnaround

No one is making excuses for the horrid season the Metro Jets are having, but several players are taking steps to hopefully turn things around as early as this weekend.

“I think we could have a good second half if we all buy into the systems and stop having so many mental lapses,” third-year defenseman and assistant captain Brett Grech (Hartland) said. “We just have to make simple and easy plays. As one of the older guys, we all try to lead on the ice during games and everyday at practice.”

Second-year forward Steve Wiechec (Troy) has optimism that the Jets (3-15-0-1) can get untracked, but it won’t be easy.

“The only way we are going to do this is to show more heart and working harder on and off the ice,” Wiechec said. “Some of the steps we have taken so far are leading by example during practice. If the guys see you working your bag off during practices and games, then they are going to want to do the same thing.

“Part of our problem is that we have young, immature guys that don’t have the work ethic yet. We just have to keep pushing them.”

Scoring goals and preventing goals have been the two glaring problems this year and a third, goaltending, is only a matter of time before that rights itself.

“We’ve been rotating our three goalies and we’re still waiting for one to go on a run and steal us a game,” Metro head coach Jamie Hayden said. “Or at least keep us in a game.”

As hard as it is to forget the first 19 games of the season, moving forward seems to be the only choice for Metro and Saturday night can’t come soon enough.

Rangers off to North Division Showcase

Following a three-point weekend in which the Marquette Rangers earned their first ever win against the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 squad, Marquette now heads to Boardman, Ohio, for the second annual North American Hockey League North Division Showcase hosted by Mahoning Valley.

Marquette (9-10-4, 22 pts.) will play three games over three days at both the IceZone and the Chevrolet Center. The Rangers will face the two-time defending Robertson Cup champions, the St. Louis Bandits, on Friday evening and the host Phantoms on Saturday evening before taking on Alpena Sunday afternoon.

“This is a great opportunity for our kids,” Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said. “They’ll get the chance to play in front of a lot of college scouts, which is always a good thing. We do have to make sure we go down there and do our job, though, and make sure to put on a good show for the people who are there to watch our guys.

“With three games in three days we know it will be a tough test as we have a tough schedule facing the defending champions and then the top team in our division (Mahoning Valley), so we know we need to be ready.”

Marquette has won three of their last four games to climb into fourth place in the North Division standings, two points behind the USNTDP heading into this weekend.

“We’re getting very good goaltending and we’re starting to figure things out as a team,” Miller added. “We’ve changed our style a bit with the personnel changes we’ve made, but we still need to play 60 minutes every night to have success and the past few weeks we’ve been doing that, so I like where we are heading into this weekend.”

James Gallagher and Chad Pietila continue to lead the team in scoring with 18 points apiece heading into the showcase. Eight Rangers players have scored in double digits for Marquette during the first quarter of the 2008-09 season.

Dan Sullivan continues to see the bulk of the workload in net for the Rangers. After seven games in a Rangers uniform, Sullivan has a 4-2-1 record and boasts a 2.12 goals-against average and a save percentage of .923.

This weekend’s action could see some separation in the North Division standings as Traverse City and Mahoning Valley are now tied for the top spot with 28 points apiece, followed by the USNTDP (who is not in the Showcase) with 24 points. Marquette has 22 points, Alpena 20, Motor City eight.

The Rangers return home next weekend to face the USNTDP Under-17 squad Friday and Saturday at Lakeview Arena.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Romaniski resigns as Machine coach, GM

The Motor City Machine announced today that Matt Romaniski has resigned as the team’s head coach and general manager, effective immediately.

Machine assistant coach Sean Clark will take over as the team’s interim head coach.

“Matt has been an important part of this organization from the beginning and we can’t thank him enough for all the hard work and contributions he’s made to help get this team off the ground,” said Machine president Marc Schneider.

Clark, from Troy, spent his college playing days in the WIAC at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire before moving on to the professional level with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL.

After his playing career, Clark became an assistant coach for the Metro Jets of the Central States League before serving as head coach of the Michigan Jaguars during the 2006-07 season. After leaving the Jaguars, Clark jumped on board with the USA Hockey Select 17 staff in 2008.

Since 2006, Clark has been with CORE Sports Fitness, where he serves as a skating instructor, performance coach and business director. He’s also the creator, director and head instructor of Kris Draper’s CORE Fundamentals Hockey School.

Friday, November 21, 2008

North Stars readying for North Showcase

The Traverse City North Stars will get to enjoy an early Thanksgiving holiday in the company of kith and kin, but not for long.

After seven straight weeks of North American Hockey League action, the team enjoyed its first break of the season two weeks ago and picked up two of a possible four points last weekend in Marquette. The first-place Stars (13-3-2) will soak up a holiday respite this weekend, in advance of the Nov. 28-30 North Division Showcase in Youngstown, Ohio.

“We used that first weekend off to get healthy, and we’ve been able to work on our power play this week,” said Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo, whose club went 0-for-16 in Marquette and fell from second in the league in power play efficiency to sixth. “It’s been struggle for us (on the power play), even before the Marquette series we could kind of see it. So this week has been just what we needed to focus on that aspect of the game.”

While players will get a chance to head home for the brief break, there’ll be plenty of scoreboard-watching as well. Second-place Mahoning Valley plays a pair of contests at the third-place Team USA U-17s, Marquette also visits Ann Arbor for two against the U-18s and Alpena visits Motor City in a Saturday-Sunday series. Mahoning can grab a share of the NAHL North lead with a sweep.

The teams will get a chance to sort it out for themselves the following weekend in Youngstown, with Traverse City facing off against Mahoning Valley, Alpena and interdivisional foe St. Louis at the three-day, two-venue showcase.

“It’s really a great event,” Palumbo added. “The response from colleges has been phenomenal and there’ll be a lot of them there to watch. Everyone will be trying to put their best foot forward all weekend.”

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Jets finding rough times in '08-09 season

It’s easy to look at the standings and realize that the Metro Jets haven’t had the easiest of times early on in the Central States Hockey League season.

After all, the Jets’ 3-13-0-1 record is good for 11th overall in the 12-team CSHL.

But Metro head coach Jamie Hayden isn’t about to give up hope that the season can’t be salvaged and pointed to the obvious, while being blunt about the team’s situation.

“The past two games, we haven’t been competitive,” Hayden said. “Last year, our record wasn’t very good, but we must have lost 15-20 games by two goals or less. We weren’t getting blasted like we are this year. It’s all mental preparation where the guys aren’t ready to go when we get on the ice and it snowballs where we get down by two, three, even four goals and they get the ‘Ah, here we go again’ feeling. That needs to change.”

That said, Hayden wants the players to take ownership of the team and to start showing a sense of pride each time they put on a Jets jersey, even if the team’s next four games are against three of the top teams in the CSHL (at Dubuque, home vs. St. Louis, at Toledo) and the Jets haven’t beat any of those teams yet this season.

“We have a lot of guys who are great practice players, but when the games start, for whatever reason, they just can’t go,” said Hayden. “All of our systems are very basic and nothing, I think, that is above their ability. Every one of our players needs to look in the mirror and figure out what they’re bringing to the table or what they’ve done so far or recently. They have to make those changes individually.

“But until those changes are made or corrected, we’re not going to look too impressive out there.”

Whalers making changes in right direction

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

If you chat informally with Plymouth Whalers president, general manager and head coach Mike Vellucci, he might tell you about the way he cuts his lawn. Like many of us, Vellucci is a creature of habit when it comes to his yard work. The grass has to be cut a certain way – and the job really isn’t finished until the lawn is edged properly.

It’s going to take a little more time than edging the lawn, but the Whalers showed definite signs of improvement during Vellucci’s first two games behind the bench. Playing before sellout crowds November 14-15 at Compuware Arena, the Whalers defeated Saginaw, 5-1 and lost, 6-2, to London.

Plymouth played with emotion and purpose over Scouts Weekend at Compuware Arena.
After taking over the team on November 10 for practice and then playing four days later, it seemed like Vellucci didn’t have a whole lot of time for changes in Plymouth’s systems. That wasn’t the case.

“I thought our forecheck struggled a bit before,” Vellucci said. “We want to get after the other team all the time and don’t let them make plays. We’re a big, strong, physical team and we want to go after the smaller defensemen. I thought we forechecked well tonight. I thought on our power play, our puck movement was very good with a lot of shots and a lot of traffic in front.”

Plymouth captain Chris Terry – out for the next couple of weeks with mononucleosis – saw a difference in his team.

“Mike is an old coach for me, but he’s actually pretty new to a lot of the guys,” Terry said during the London game. “This week in practice, we looked really good, really sharp. There’s a lot of good, positive energy out there and it showed last night and I think last night it showed in a good win. We played a good team game against Saginaw, with lots of scoring spread out. I think we can turn it around.”

In the victory over Saginaw, rookie Tyler Seguin emerged as the game’s first star with a goal and two assists. The Whalers also received goals from Tyler J. Brown, Tyler G. Brown, Vern Cooper and Ryan Hayes. In addition, goaltender Jeremy Smith was sharp, stopping 26 of 27 shots in earning the game’s third star.

“Smith made some critical stops when it was 2-1 or 3-1,” Vellucci said after the game. “Jeremy’s a great goalie. I know he’s been getting blamed lately, but I don’t think we were helping him much in our own end as much as we did tonight. There were a lot of guys blocking shots and paying the price tonight. I may have counted 25 or 30 blocked shots tonight. And that’s the kind of effort we need.”

In Terry’s absence, Vellucci put together a forward line of Seguin (the Whalers first-round pick last spring) with Hayes and Tyler J. Brown and the line clicked for three goals and four assists in the victory.

“We talked before the game as a team and (it seemed) like we clicking for the entire 60 minutes,” Seguin said. “At the beginning of the game, Coach Vellucci asked our line to have a real hard-hitting first shift so we could get things going for the rest of the game.”

“We had a great shift to start the game,” Hayes said. “One of our goals at the beginning of the game was to get it in deep and start banging bodies. Every line was going great. Seguin’s got some offensive gifts. It’s nice to play with guys like that.”

Whalers defenseman Josh Bemis – who scored his first OHL goal in the game against London – saw a difference after one period of play.

“We came out with an edge in the first period and if we continue that for the rest of the game we’ll be happy,” Bemis said. “One thing we worked on all week was our forecheck and making sure we’re pressuring them hard in their zone. It paid off, definitely.”

Bemis said that the Whalers know that with a coaching change, the onus now falls on the players.

“We know we all have to step it up for sure,” Bemis said. “We’re not happy with the way things have been so far. If we all step it up, things will improve.”

Even in losing to London the next night, the buzz returned to Compuware Arena – and it wasn’t just the fact the scouts thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The hard core Whaler fans saw a team playing with emotion.

The rest of the OHL is watching the Whalers with interest.

“There are going to be a lot of teams – not just in the Western Conference, but in the Ontario Hockey League – who will be watching Plymouth very carefully,” said London Knights play-by-play voice Mike Stubbs. “Because, as much as they may not be number one, two, or three in the standings, with Mike Vellucci back behind the bench, it’s one of those cases where this team doesn’t rebuild. You don’t get used to seeing the Plymouth Whalers down in the standings at all. I don’t think they’re going to stay there very long.

“Plymouth has always been a skating team, even dating back to the days of Peter DeBoer. Plymouth comes at you and comes at you and is relentless. If you’re not ready to play, they’ll catch you and they will make you pay for it. I have no doubt that that’s the kind of team they’ll be turned into. So the climb up the ladder has started for the Plymouth Whalers.”

Much like using a weed whacker, Vellucci and the Whalers will continue to chip away at improving and making the playoffs.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rangers travel to NTDP this weekend

Fresh off a sweep of top-ranked Traverse City, the Marquette Rangers head to Ann Arbor this weekend for a series with the United States National Team Development Program's Under-18 squad.

Marquette usually plays the USNTDP U-17 team, but North American Hockey League North Division teams must all play the U-18 squad twice each season, with both games counting in the NAHL standings.

“We feel really good,” Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said. “Any time you can take four points from the first-place team it’s always a plus. We think if we compete and play hard like we did last weekend we should have some success down there against USA.”

The coach went on to say he feels like things are coming together for his squad as the season goes along.

“We’ve made some personnel changes that most people are aware of and these guys have brought some experience and some leadership to this team and have come in done what we expected and the rest of the team has responded," said Miller. "We still need to work hard to get better every day to continue to have the success we saw last weekend.”

Going into this weekend's series, the Rangers (8-10-3, 19 pts) trail Team USA by two points for third place in the North Division and are three points ahead of fifth-place Alpena.

The USNTDP leads the season series over Marquette, 2-0, with the two wins in Ann Arbor in October. So far in four NAHL games, the U-18 squad is led in scoring by Drew Shore (4g 4a, 8pts) and Jeremy Morin (2g 4a, 6pts).

In net, head coach Ron Rolston has split time between Brandon Maxwell and Adam Murray. Maxwell is undefeated in NAHL play at 2-0 with a 4.00 goals-against average to complement a save percentage of .795. Murray sports a 3.87 GAA and a save percentage of .800.

The Rangers continue to be led in scoring by James Gallagher (6g 11a, 17pts). The recent University of Connecticut recruit also notched the game-winning goal last Saturday in a 2-1 overtime win against Traverse City. Chad Pietila (5g 11a, 16pts) and Aaron Pietila (7g 8a, 15pts) continue to keep pace with Gallagher for scoring leadership on the team.

The big story for the Rangers has been the emergence of Dan Sullivan in goal. The York, Pa., native is 3-2 since joining the team from the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League. Sullivan’s two wins this past weekend, coupled with a GAA of 1.78 and a save percentage of .928, earned him GDI/NAHL Goalie of The Week honors on Monday.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Overtime work pays off for Marquette

Courtesy NAHL.com

The Marquette Rangers couldn’t have picked a better weekend to pocket their first sweep of the season, knocking off the North Division-leading Traverse City North Stars twice in dramatic overtime fashion.

“We knew going in we would have our hands full,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller, whose team improved to 8-10-3 on the season. “That’s a good Traverse City team, so for us to come out and play with that kind of emotion was good to see as a coach.”

On Friday, Michael Thompson’s goal in the extra session lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 victory.

Kyle Heck and Dustin Partacz (pictured) scored in regulation for Marquette and goaltender Dan Sullivan turned aside 34 shots.

James Gallagher struck in overtime the next night as the Rangers bested the North Stars, 2-1.

Reed Rushing rang up the other Marquette marker and Sullivan made 22 saves between the pipes.

“We played hard, competed for loose pucks, won the 1-on-1 battles and we got solid play in our own end,” said Miller.

And Sullivan took care of the rest, allowing only three goals the entire weekend. Since being acquired recently from the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, the 19-year-old from York, Pa., is carrying a stingy 1.78 goals-against average along with a .928 save percentage in five appearances.

“Dan has been outstanding back there,” said Miller. “He gives us a chance to win every night and when your goaltenders do that, good things usually happen for your hockey club.”

Gallagher, who recently committed to the University of Connecticut for next season, has led the Rangers’ offensive charge in the early goings. The 20-year-old Marquette product has 17 points on six goals, including his sweep-clinching tally on Saturday.

“When Jimmy is going and playing hard and doing all the little things to help this team win, he’s a guy who can turn a game around,” said Miller. “He worked hard for his OT goal and I’m happy for him.”

Miller is also ecstatic with the early returns of Rushing, a defenseman whom the Rangers acquired in a trade for forward Josh Bussell earlier this month. In his first five games with Marquette, the 20-year-old NAHL veteran from Seattle has pitched in a goal and two helpers.

“He’s starting to take on a leadership role on the blue line and you can tell by his play,” said Miller. “He’s very poised back there.”

With a fourth-place position in the North Division standings, Miller, in his first season behind the Rangers’ bench, was hoping for a better start to the season, but is confident last weekend’s wins over the North Stars will inject some newfound energy into his locker room.

“We had a slow start, but we feel we’re starting to turn the corner and we also understand that we have to play each and every night with the kind of passion we played with this past weekend,” said the coach. “We like our team’s makeup, so it should be interesting to see how we do on this road trip we have coming up.”

That road swing entails the Rangers playing nine of their next 12 games away from Lakeview Arena, starting with a two-game set in Ann Arbor against the U.S. Under-17 Team this weekend. Marquette has only won one game on the road this season (1-7-3).

“We haven’t had much success on the road so far, but I think if we play hard and do all the little things we do when we play here at Lakeview, then good thing are bound to happen for us,” said Miller.

And that means a repeat performance of last weekend, in which the Rangers has command of all three zones of the ice for a majority of play.

“We have to compete like that every night in order to be successful,” said Miller.

Despite the sub-par start, that hasn’t stopped the Rangers from making headlines on the college front with the recent commitments of Gallagher and Kevin Gravel (St. Cloud State University). Miller has little doubt more good news will follow in that department.

“This team, in my opinion, has several players that can play at the collegiate level and there are several schools showing interest in these guys,” he said. “I’m excited about the prospects we have and we hope we can add to our list of committed players in the near future.”

Photo by RJ Meyer/NAHL

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jets' Eby oozing potential on back end

Ryan Eby is one of those players that a coach feels safe with in his own end and knows he can insert him in any situation.

This season, Eby, in his second season with the Metro Jets, started up front in his natural position at forward, but moved back to defense in the middle of an early-season game in Flint.

“He started the year on our top line and the first time in Flint, our ‘D’ was atrocious and we couldn’t get the puck out of our own end,” said Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop. “We were looking for a way to get the puck on his stick and get him some time, so between the first and second periods, we moved him back there and he hasn’t been back up since.”

Eby, a Linden native who turns 18 in January, has all the potential in the world, according to Skop, but just needs to polish his high-end skills and playing at a much-higher level is not out of the question.

“Ryan’s one of the most, if not the most, skilled defensemen in the league,” Skop said. “When we partner him up with (Brett) Grech, it gives us a dimension no other team in the league can match. We need to continue to correct some of he small, day-to-day-type mental mistakes, but assuming he does that, no doubt he will find himself moving on sooner than later.

“He’s definitely come a long way this season. Coming into the year, there were some questions about his work ethic and his intentions with hockey. During summer workouts, he was the first guy there, last one to leave and led all of the running drills. He showed a work ethic I didn’t think he had.”

So far this season, Eby has tallied two goals and nine assists for 11 points in 15 games. His totals are second only to Grech, a Hartland native, among Metro blueliners and he’s also tied for ninth in CSHL defensemen scoring (Grech leads the league with 16 points).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rangers host North Stars this weekend

The Marquette Rangers resume action at Lakeview Arena this Friday and Saturday taking on the Traverse City North Stars - the team with the second-best record in the entire North American Hockey League.

This weekend’s series will also feature two games towards the winner of the Smith Barney Challenge Cup for 2008-09. The teams are tied in this years’ race towards the Cup, donated by Smith Barney offices in both Marquette and Traverse City, having split a weekend back in late September. Marquette won 4-3 at Lakeview Arena on September 26, while the North Stars won 3-2 the following evening at Centre Ice Arena in T.C.

“There’s no question we’ll have our hands full,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “They’re one of the top teams in our entire league, so we certainly need to be ready to play. There are obviously a few things from this past weekend with Alpena we need to work on and fix this week, but overall, even though we only picked up the one win, I thought our level of play and our intensity were pretty good last weekend.

“It’s all about scoring chances and being able to finish them off at this level. We’re getting better defensively and that will help us a lot in the offensive end as we go along. We’re excited to have them in our building this weekend.”

Traverse City (13-3-0, 26 pts.) has, so far, taken the North Division by storm. They lead Mahoning Valley by six points and are seven points ahead of the U.S. National Team Development Program heading into this weekend. Their three losses have come at the hands of the Rangers, the Alaska Avalanche at the NAHL Showcase, and Mahoning Valley.

For the North Stars, it’s been a balanced attack up front, backed by solid defense and goaltending. Kyle Bonis leads the offense so far (14 pts) with Eric O’Hearn, Nathan Urbaniak and Mark Thompson each adding 11 points so far on the season.

In net, Brandon Stephenson and C.J. Motte have shared the duty effectively for head coach Anthony Palumbo’s squad.

Stephenson is 7-1 on the season with a 2.24 goals-against average and a save percentage of .907. Motte has been equally as strong sporting a record of 6-2, a GAA of 2.50 and a .910 save percentage.

Dan Sullivan, recently acquired in a trade with Omaha of the United States Hockey League, will most likely get the nod in goal for Marquette this weekend. Sullivan put up solid numbers in his Rangers debut against Alpena - a GAA of 2.01 and a .910 save percentage while going 1-2 on the weekend.

Marquette is led in scoring by James Gallagher. The recent University of Connecticut recruit has five goals and 11 assists for 16 points after 19 games. Chad Pietila, who scored twice against the North Stars on September 26, has 15 points while his cousin, Aaron Pietila, is third in scoring with 14 points (7g 7a.)

Faceoff each night is at 7:30 p.m.