Thursday, February 28, 2008

Plymouth plays three-in-three this weekend

The Plymouth Whalers (32-22-2-3) face another busy weekend and look to improve on their fifth-place standing in the competitive Ontario Hockey League Western Conference playoff race.

Here’s a closer look at the Whalers’ weekend:

Friday – Plymouth at Sarnia (32-26-0-2), 7:35 p.m. Sarnia Sports and Entertainment Centre. Sarnia has defeated Plymouth in three of four meetings this year, but the Sting is coming off a 9-0 defeat in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday at the Steelback Centre. Sarnia features Steven Stamkos (46-41-87), who could be selected first overall in this summer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft in Ottawa. Left wing Justin DiBenedetto (33-40-73) helps Stamkos up front and defensemen Ryan Wilson (6-55-61) and Mark Katic (4-25-29) provide offense from the blue line. Goaltender Andrew Perugini (2.95, .921) has missed two weeks with a groin injury suffered against Plymouth Feb.13 and could return Friday. If Perugini can’t play, Tomi Karhunen (3.59, .891) will be in goal for the Sting.

WHALERS OUTLOOK: Center Chris Terry (39-51-90, fifth in league scoring) leads the Whalers this month with 14 points. Terry leads the OHL with five shootout goals. Right wing Ryan Hayes (9-9-18 in 18 games) has given the Plymouth offense a shot in the arms just coming over from Boston College in January. Second-year center Vern Cooper (17-14-31) has picked up the pace over the second half of the season. NHL scouts continue to evaluate the Whalers’ draft-eligible players – AJ Jenks (25-22-47) and Michal Jordan (5-18-23, +9) – with interest. Plymouth goaltender Jeremy Smith (2.82, .921) is tied with Perugini for second place in the OHL in save percentage. The Whalers will play this weekend without suspended head coach Greg Stefan and defenseman Leo Jenner. Both will return Mar. 7 in Guelph. Injured defenseman Josh Bemis is close to returning from a broken wrist, but is still listed as day-to-day.

Saturday – Belleville (41-12-4-2) at Plymouth, 7:05 p.m. Compuware Arena. The Bulls roll into Plymouth as the OHL’s top team in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall in the Mosaik Mastercard Canadian Hockey League Top Ten Rankings. The Bulls come into the weekend 21-3-1-0 since Dec. 29.

Belleville features a deep roster, including goaltender Mike Murphy, who leads the OHL with a 2.26 goals against average and .930 save percentage. Montreal draft pick P.K. Subban (7-34-41) and Colorado draftee Nigel Williams (13-26-39) provide offense from the blue line, while NHL scouts are watching draft-eligible defenseman Shawn Lalonde (9-19-28, +30). Up front, Belleville has a veteran group, led by Florida prospect Shawn Matthias (27-44-71), Los Angeles draft choice Bryan Cameron (33-33-66), Detroit prospect Jan Mursak (16-47-63) and veteran Adam Perry (28-45-73). Belleville may play this weekend without Anaheim pick Matt Beleskey (40-43-83), who has a bad shoulder.

Sunday – Saginaw (30-23-4-2) at Plymouth, 2:00 p.m. Compuware Arena. Plymouth has won four of the six games so far with the Spirit. Saginaw comes into the weekend on a four-game winning streak, including a 3-1 victory over Kingston on Wednesday. Spirit goaltender Ryan Daniels (3.07, .906) has played very well over the last two months and has given Saginaw a lift. Veterans Jack Combs (38-51-89, +28), Ryan McDonough (40-40-80, +30) and Tomas Zaborsky (28-33-61) lead Saginaw offensively and the young Spirit blue line – led by T.J. Brodie (2-23-25), Adam Comrie (8-15-23, +14) and Nick Crawford (4-14-18) – improves as the season wears on.

Former Whaler and Jr. Wing Dan Pawlaczyk will be available for autographs and photos during the second intermission of Sunday's game against Saginaw.

'Shocks and Saves' game to feature Jiri Fischer

Former Detroit Red Wings defenseman and CHL alumnus Jiri Fischer will be skating in the ‘Shocks and Saves’ charity game on March 1 in Saginaw.

The occasion marks the first time that Fischer will participate in a hockey game since Nov. 21, 2005, when he collapsed on the Red Wings' bench due to heart complications.

The ‘Shocks and Saves’ charity game was organized by the Michigan Cardiovascular Institute (MCVI) Foundation and presented by Biotronik 'Excellence for Life,' Covenant Health Care, MidMichigan Medical Center-Midland, the MCVI and Mobile Medical Response.

The game will be played at 5:00 p.m. with a special $10 ticket that also includes admission to the following Saginaw Spirit home game against the Windsor Spitfires.

IceDiggers on the road this weekend

The Alpena IceDiggers will head out of town for three very tough road games this weekend.

Friday and Saturday, the IceDiggers will invade the Ice Zone in Boardman, Ohio, to take on the Mahoning Valley Phantoms. Both games start at 7:15 p.m. On Sunday, Alpena will travel to Ann Arbor to take on the U.S. National Under-18 Team for the first time this year. The puck drops at 3:00 p.m. for Sunday's contest.

The IceDiggers are coming off a disappointing weekend where they dropped three straight in picking up only one out of a possible six points. Traverse City defeated Alpena on Friday, 4-2, in Traverse City. On Saturday, the IceDiggers came from two down late in the third to send the game to overtime before falling in a ten-round shootout. On Sunday, the USA Under-17 Team took a 2-0 road win home with them.

"Last week was one of those weeks a coach likes to forget about, not much good came out of those three games," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "As a team, we need to find a way to fight through the little things it takes to win at this level."

Mahoning Valley didn't fair much better dropping two straight in St. Louis last weekend. The Phantoms are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. Alpena has only made one trip to Mahoning Valley back in November when the two teams split the weekend series. The Phantoms have a record of 14-6-1 at the Ice Zone.

"That is a tough building to play in," added Miller. "They are a team that plays well at home, so we will have our hands full."

The USA Under-18 Team is coming off a 5-2 win over Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The Under-18 team has defeated several teams at the D-I college level. Yale, Harvard, Minnesota Duluth and Northern Michigan have all fallen to the Americans.

The IceDiggers will return to Northern Lights Arena next Friday and Saturday when they play host to the USA Under-17 Team. The weekend series will wrap up the IceDiggers' regular season home schedule.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Soo junior team coming back?

By Randy Russon

More than 30 years ago, circa 1975, Paul Theriault started his coaching career behind the bench of the Michigan Soo Indians of the International Junior Hockey League.

Now a venerable coach who has had subsequent stops in the Ontario Hockey League (Soo Greyhounds, Oshawa Generals and Erie Otters), the National Hockey League (Buffalo Sabres) and gigs that have taken him to Germany, Italy and Japan, Theriault hopes to again be where it all started for him.

As the coach of a Michigan Soo junior hockey team.

The 57-year old Theriault is spearheading a bid to return a Michigan Soo franchise to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2008-09 season. The Michigan Soo Indians won the NOJHL title in 2006-07 with Kevin Cain as coach, but the franchise was revoked from erstwhile owner Charles Perdicaro last summer and mothballed for the 2007-08 campaign.

Enter Theriault, who has been busy this winter trying to gather the financial backing to revive the franchise for the 2008-09 NOJHL season.

"We've got an out of state investor with ties to the (Michigan Soo) community in place as well as commitments from local investors," said Theriault.

But the Canadian Soo native, who has maintained a Michigan Soo area residence with his wife Janice for more than 30 years, said he hopes to have more investors on board.

"We are trying to avoid what happened with previous ownerships," said Theriault, referring to when Perdicaro, who resides in East Rockway, N.Y., owned the Indians and when the franchise, known as the Northern Michigan Black Bears, was controlled by partners from outside the Upper Peninsula.

"We don't this to be a one-or-two-year thing," Theriault said. "We want to re-establish a junior hockey franchise (in the Michigan Soo) for the long term."

Theriault, who said he is "very confident" of a Michigan Soo return to the NOJHL for '08-09, said the team would play its home games downtown at historic Pullar Stadium. Both the former Indians and Black Bears played their games at Big Bear Arena on the outskirts of town.

"We need to draw from the downtown area and the Pullar, with its location and rich history, is the place for us to be," Theriault emphasized.

The ancient Pullar will be undergoing renovations over the next while after getting approval from Michiagn Soo's City Commission last week.

Theriault, who plans on coaching the revived Michigan Soo entry should it be a part of the NOJHL in 2008-09, said he only wants student-athletes on the team, preferably from the area,

"It will be a criteria for all of our players to be post-secondary school students at either Lake Superior State University, Algoma University or Sault College," Theriault added. "We don't want high school-aged players...we don't want to disrupt the area high school hockey programs."

Theriault added that his plan is for the team to practice at the Pullar in the morning and for the players to attend school in the afternoon and/or at night.

Theriault, who has had discussions with NOJHL commissioner Mark Seidel about a return of the Michigan Soo for '08-09, said he hopes to meet with league governors "sooner than later." Should the NOJHL grant the return, the franchise would also need the approval of USA Hockey in order to play in the Northern League.

It's not a given that if a Michigan Soo franchise returns to the NOJHL that it would be called the Indians though, according to Theriault.

"It's a different generation, maybe it's time for a name change, I don't know. We'll let the community decide that," said Theriault.

Al Jones, general manager and part owner of the Soo Thunderbirds, is hoping for the return of a crossriver Michigan Soo franchise.

"It would not only cut down on our travel, but re-establish the longstanding Twin Soo rivalry," said Jones.

Saginaw at home for three this week

The Saginaw Spirit swept their last weekend series with wins over the Brampton Battalion, the London Knights and the Oshawa Generals. The Spirit enter the week in eighth place in the OHL Western Conference with 64 points and a record of 29-23-4-2.

This week will find the Spirit taking on the Kingston Frontenacs on Wednesday, the Belleville Bulls on Friday and the Windsor Spitfires on Saturday. All three games will take place at TheDow Event Center in Saginaw, with a start time of 7:11 p.m. The Spirit are 16-12-0-0 at home.

The Spirit are playoff bound for their third consecutive season. The team clinched their post-season spot following a victory over the Knights last Friday.

The Spirit are currently in eighth place with 64 points. They are two points behind the seventh place Sarnia Sting (64 points) and three points behind the 6th place Guelph Storm (67 points). If the post season started this week, the Spirit would be facing the Kitchener Rangers in the first round.

Kingston Frontenacs, February 27th, 2008; 7:11 PM TheDow Event Center, Saginaw
The Spirit are set to faceoff against the Kingston Frontenacs in the game that was rescheduled from November. The Frontenacs are fighting to get into the post-season, currently in ninth place in the OHL Eastern Conference with 38 points and a record of 18-37-0-2. The Peterborough Petes are in eighth place with 51 points. The Frontenacs enters the week following a 7-4 win on Sunday over the Petes, the team’s first victory in Kingston’s newly-built K-Rock Centre.

The team lost a lot of veteran talent to trades this year, including winger Cory Emmerton, defenseman Jonathan Sciacca and Ben Shutron and goalie Jason Guy. Center Nathan Moon (26-32-58), winger Matthew Kang (25-27-52), center Bobby Mignardi (15-27-42), winger Josh Brittain (22-19-41), and center Andris Dzerins (17-23-40) have posted solid numbers up front, combining for 105 goals. Defensemen Justin Wallingford (5-34-39) and Taylor Doherty (3-9-12) filled the gap left by Sciacca and Shutron. Goalies Mavric Parks and John Murray, both former Kitchener Rangers, have shared time in net for the Frontenacs.

The Spirit last saw action against the Frontenacs on Oct. 19 in what would be a 7-1 win thanks in part to a Tyler Murovich hat trick.

Belleville Bulls, February 29th, 2008; 7:11 PM TheDow Event Center, Saginaw
The Spirit host the Belleville Bulls on Friday in what could be an exciting matchup featuring several former teammates squaring off against one another. The Belleville roster includes former Saginaw players Nigel Williams, Jan Mursak and Parker Van Buskirk. On the other bench, the Spirit roster now boasts former Bulls players Brendan Taylor, Kyle Tront and Edward Pasquale. The Bulls are currently the top team in the OHL Eastern Conference with 88 points and a record of 41-12-4-2.

Wingers Matt Belesky (40-43-83) and Bryan Cameron (66-33-66), who both notched a goal against the Spirit earlier in the season and tallied hat tricks in games last weekend, are at the forefront of an impressive offensive lineup featuring veteran winger Adam Perry (28-45-73), center Shawn Matthias (27-44-71) and Mursak (16-47-63). The Bulls defense is one of the best in the league, allowing only 153 goals this season (less than three goals per game on average). Defenseman P.K. Subban (7-34-41) and Williams (13-26-39) often chip in from the blue line while defensemen Geoff Killing (1-7-8) and Shawn Lalonde (9-19-28) have posted high figures in the plus/minus category with a plus-31 and plus-30, respectively. Goalie Mike Murphy is the reigning OHL Goalie of the Month, and has posted a 2.26 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 43 games.

The Spirit lost an overtime battle to the Bulls earlier in the season, 3-2, on Oct. 6. Rookie Jordan Szwarz tallied a goal in the effort.

Windsor Spitfires, March 1st, 2008; 7:11 PM TheDow Event Center, Saginaw
The Spirit will open the month of March with a game against the Windsor Spitfires. The Spitfires are currently in third place in the OHL Western Conference with 76 points and a record of 33-15-6-4.

Rookie center Taylor Hall (31-27-58) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (13-40-53) have taken the league by storm in their rookie season, quickly becoming a critical part in the Spitfires play this season. Winger Bradley Snetsinger (30-47-77) is the team’s leading scorer, and has tallied three goals against the Spirit this season. Center Joshua Bailey (24-49-73) and winger Greg Nemisz (26-26-52) round out the team’s top five scorers. Defenseman Mark Cundari (6-14-20 ) leads the Spitfires D-men with a plus-24 and Andrew Engelage has started in net 38 games this season, earning a 2.12 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.

The Spirit are 3-0-0-1 against the Spitfires this season and are riding a three-game win streak against their West Division rivals. Jack Combs has notched three goals against the Spitfires this season, with Ryan McDonough and Tomas Zaborsky each scoring two goals. Goalie Ryan Daniels has compiled an 1.71 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage against the Spitfires this season.

Friday, February 22, 2008

North Stars welcome Alpena tonight

The time is now for the Traverse City North Stars.

With three-quarters of the 2007-08 season in the books, the Stars will have to continue their roll if they hope to catch Marquette for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL North Division. Traverse City is currently eight points back with 13 games left – including four head-to-head meetings with the Rangers.

The stretch run gets underway on Friday evening, when the Alpena IceDiggers visit Centre ICE arena for the first in a home-and-home series that returns to Northern Lights Arena on Saturday.

“We’ve kind of stopped watching the standings and worrying about what other teams are doing,” Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “We’re tried to look at the next game, the next period, the next shift. Honestly, I don’t know who plays who, how many games are left against which teams, and all that stuff. I think you lose focus when you go that route.”

The last time the Stars and Diggers met (Feb. 1-2), Traverse City converted a home-and-home sweep that helped spawn a 4-1-3 record over its last eight games. The North Stars are coming off a victory at Mahoning Valley – the franchise’s first – and took three of four points against the Phantoms.

“I think we’ve come to a point where the guys understand what the coaches expect and we as a coaching staff have grown to understand our team better,” Palumbo explained. “The pieces seem to be fitting, and we’re getting contributions from a lot of guys.”

Few North Stars players are as switched on right now as center Nate Urbaniak. The Perrysburg, Ohio product set a new team single-season record for points (51) with a quarter of the season remaining. He has nine points over his past five games, including a two-goal, two-assist effort in a 4-2 win at Mahoning last Saturday. Urbaniak leads TC with 21 goals – tied for most in a season in the Stars’ three-year history – and 15 power play assists. He also had a goal on Monday at the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament all-star event.

“Nate is doing all the little things right,” Palumbo explained. “He’s responsible defensively, creative offensively, and has a really nice chemistry with Harrison (Niemann) and Kyle (Bonis).”

Erik Peterson is the Diggers’ biggest offensive threat overall, with 63 points – fourth among all NAHL skaters - including 23 assists on the power play. Jon Puskar (18 goals), Russell Anderson (17), Jimmy McCusker (16) and Isaac Viau (15) are also credible threats with the puck for Alpena. Mike DeGrazia has dished out nine assists in 12 games versus TC this season.

Niemann (49 pts.) leads the North Stars (15-19-11) with 31 assists and a +18 plus-minus rating, is second with 49 points, and had four helpers in last weekend’s twin-bill at Mahoning. He also dished out a pair of assists in Sunday’s all-star opener. Bonis has 21 points in just 24 games with TC, and has four goals in his past four games.

Friday’s game is set to face off at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s capstone contest gets underway at 7:30 p.m. The Stars will head to Ann Arbor on Wednesday to face the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Whalers host Brampton, Soo this weekend

Due to the tragic death of Windsor Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud, Plymouth’s game Thursday night in Windsor against the Spitfires has been postponed and will be rescheduled at a later date.

The Whalers (31-22-2-2, 66 points, fifth seed in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference race) get back to action this weekend with a pair of games at Compuware Arena:

Friday – Brampton (35-19-1-2) at Plymouth, 7:05 p.m., Compuware Arena: The Battalion march into Compuware Arena in first place in the OHL’s Central Division of the Eastern Conference. Brampton defeated Plymouth, 5-4, on Jan. 27 at the Powerade Centre in Brampton. In that game, Plymouth came all the way back from a 4-0 deficit to tie the game in the third period, but lost on John Hughes’ goal with 2:34 left in regulation.

WHO’S HOT FOR THE WHALERS: With 87 points through 57 games, Chris Terry (37-50) has 11 games remaining on the schedule to become the 14th player in franchise history to record 100 points in a season. The Whalers are getting production of late from a forward line featuring Vern Cooper (14-14-28), Kaine Geldart (10-24) and Joe Gaynor (8-9-17). Whalers’ veteran defenseman and OHL All-Star Wes Cunningham (6-43-49) will miss the rest of the season after undergoing finger surgery, but the Whalers are getting good work from NHL prospect Michal Jordan (5-17-22, +7), Carolina draftee Brett Bellemore (5-16-21, +6) and Ohio native Christian Steingraber (1-14-15, +9) in Cunningham’s absence. Brownstown’s Jeremy Smith (2.80 goals against, .920 save pct.) continues to have an excellent season in goal for the Whalers.

WHO’S HOT FOR BRAMPTON: The Battalion feature Red Wings prospect Cory Emmerton (19-33-52), who was acquired from Kingston earlier this year. Emmerton has a history of playing well at Compuware Arena. He’s been named the game’s first star for Kingston in two victories over the Whalers – Nov. 18, 2006 in a 5-2 win in which he scored two goals and an assist and Nov. 18, 2005 in a 7-5 win over the Whalers in which he also scored two goals with an assist. In all, Emmerton has scored seven goals with five assists for 12 points in seven games against Plymouth over his career.

Brampton also features center Cody Hodgson (35-35-70, +10) and defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti (21-36-57, +10), a New Jersey native who was a first round pick of the New York Rangers in last summer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft.

Saturday – Sault Ste. Marie (36-15-2-4) at Plymouth, 7:05 p.m., Compuware Arena: The Greyhounds are battling with Windsor for first place in the OHL’s West Division and have split four games with Plymouth so far this season.

WHO’S HOT FOR THE SOO: Leading scorer and captain Dustin Jeffrey (24-50-74, +16) is a Pittsburgh Penguins draftee who has already been signed by the Penguins. Los Angeles pick Wayne Simmonds (28-31-59) brings grit and skill to the rink. Defenseman Josh Godfrey (15-28-43, +26) has one of the hardest shots in the OHL and has been signed by his NHL team, the Washington Capitals. Veteran goaltender Kyle Gajewski (2.50, .910) is a National Hockey League free agent playing for a pro contract next season.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rangers off to Ann Arbor this weekend

Following their final off week of the season, the Marquette Rangers return to North American Hockey League North Division action this Friday and Saturday in Ann Arbor battling the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 Team.

The puck drops at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7:00 p.m. Saturday.

Marquette is currently in fourth place in the North Division with 46 points (23-20-3) and leads the NTDP (21-18-2) by five points heading into the weekend.

There is, however, an added sense of urgency for Marquette as the NTDP has played five fewer games this season due to international competitions in Canada and Europe. Achieving some separation before those games-in-hand come into play is at the top of the Rangers’ agenda this weekend.

“Back in the fall we talked about how tight the division was going to be this year,” Rangers head coach Randy Enders said. “Every game is important through the course of the season, so obviously keeping our lead over those guys at this stage of the game is going to be crucial. These four points this weekend could be the difference at the end of the season, so we need to do the things we do best, take advantage of the off week and come out ready to go.

“I like our team right now - we’ve got an exciting balance of veterans and younger guys who can deliver a lot of firepower. The key for us is getting that on a consistent basis and it looks more and more like that’s happening, which is exciting at this time of year.”

Although the team enjoyed some time away, two Rangers’ players were busy participating in the recent North American Hockey League Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor.

Forward Aaron Pietila and defenseman Derek Grogan represented the Rangers and the North Division in the round-robin event that featured teams from all three NAHL divisions and a team representing the NTDP.

The showcase was designed as an opportunity for scouts and coaches to watch the top players in the NAHL for future recruiting opportunities.

Pietila finished the three games with an assist and a plus-minus rating of plus-2, while Grogan ended the tournament with an assist and a plus-3 rating. Both players are expected back in the Rangers’ lineup for the two games this weekend.

North Stars rescued by Marquette bus

ALONG I-75 NORTH, NEAR MILE MARKER 169 – The three Traverse City North Stars all-stars were heading home from the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, drained after a weekend series in Mahoning Valley and three days of all-star games.

Somewhere near Kawkawlin – about 20 minutes north of Bay City – the SUV in which Harrison Niemann, Jameson Raymond and Nate Urbaniak were riding lost its transmission and ground to a halt near the Beaver Road on-ramp. AAA Road Service could not arrange for a 150-mile tow and accommodate all four travelers, and it seemed as if the players were headed for an unexpected stay at a local motel – if they could find one, and find a way to get there.

Just then, Niemann remembered that the Marquette all-stars were also on their way home, and in a bus that the league had chartered for use ferrying players about at the tournament. Urbaniak furnished the mobile phone number of Marquette’s Aaron Pietila – a former North Stars standout who was on the bus – and rivals became rescuers.

The Rangers bus had already passed the stranded Stars’ location, but turned around and picked up the trio, dropping them in Grayling where another party brought the players home.

“It was a funny way to end a long weekend,” said a road-weary Niemann. “We became teammates with guys we go out and battle against every night, and then to get picked up on the side of the interstate late at night by one of your biggest rivals – it sort of gives you a little perspective on things.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the North Division capped its three game run with a 2-1 setback to the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad. Alpena’s Jimmy McCusker had the North’s lone goal, while Robbie Czarnik registered the game-winner for the U-18s 5:29 into the third. Overall, the North and Team USA both finished with 2-1-0 records, followed by the Central (1-1-1) and South (1-2-0).

“It was good hockey with a crisp pace,” said Raymond. “It was fun to get a chance to play with the best players in our league.”

The trio combined for five points over the three-game span. Raymond had a goal and an assist, Niemann assisted on two North goals, while Urbaniak rang up a rare feat: the bottle-buster. The Stars’ all-time single-season scoring leader (51 pts.) broke in on Central Division netminder Robby Moss (North Iowa) early in the third period of Monday’s contest, and unleashed a blast that beat Moss - and shattered the Gatorade bottle sitting in the top netting.

“I think that’s a first for me,” Urbaniak quipped.

The North Stars get back to work this weekend with a home-and-home series with Alpena. Traverse City (15-19-11) will host the IceDiggers on Friday at Centre ICE arena (7 p.m.) before heading west for Saturday’s finale.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Plymouth game in Windsor postponed

Mickey Renaud and Plymouth goalie Jeremy Smith in action earlier this season at Compuware Arena.
Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers.

Due to the sudden, tragic death of Mickey Renaud, the captain of the Windsor Spitfires, who passed away Monday, the Plymouth Whalers game on Thursday in Windsor has been postponed until a later date.

Michigan Junior Hockey's thoughts and prayers are with the Renaud family and the Windsor organization during this sad and difficult time.

Alpena back at NLA for division action

The Alpena IceDiggers will play three games this weekend with two of them coming at Northern Lights Arena.

On Friday, the IceDiggers will travel to Traverse City to play the North Stars before returning home on Saturday to finish up the home-and-home series. Faceoff for Saturday's game is 7:00 p.m.

"This weekend is a big weekend for us," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "We need to make sure we play as well as we did last weekend in order to be successful."

The USA Under-17 Team returns to Northern Lights Arena for only the third time this season on Sunday. The puck drops at 5:00 p.m.

Alpena is coming off a weekend where the club took three out of a possible four points on the road in St. Louis versus the North Division-leading Bandits. On Friday, the IceDiggers came from behind to win 4-3 in overtime. On Saturday, the two clubs went to overtime again and this time the hometown Bandits came away with a 6-5 win.

St. Louis holds the best home record in the entire NAHL at 37-8-2. The IceDiggers are the only team in the league this season to claim at least three points in a weekend series at the Summit Center in Chesterfield, Mo.

"Last weekend was a good test for our guys and they responded well," added Miller. "For us to go down there and come away with three points was big for our teams confidence."

Several IceDiggers had multiple-point games this past weekend. Jimmy McCusker led the way with four goals and two assists, Erik Peterson had three goals and two assists, Isaac Viau chipped in a goal and two assists and Jon Puskar and Russ Anderson had three assists each. Goalie Nick Graves went 1-0-1 and made a total of 77 saves.

This weekend's games against Traverse City will wrap up the regular-season series between the two clubs. The IceDiggers hold a record of 7-3-2 against their in-state rival.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Saginaw plays two at home this weekend

This weekend, the Saginaw Spirit hosts the Brampton Battalion Thursday night, head to London Friday to take on the Knights and then return to home for a Saturday matchup against the Oshawa Generals.

Brampton Battalion
February 21st; 7:11 PM
TheDow Event Center, Saginaw

The Brampton Battalion is ranked first in the OHL Central Division and second in the OHL Eastern Conference with 73 points and a record of 35-19-1-2. Thursday’s contest marks the second of two games between the two teams with the Spirit having beat the Battalion, 2-1, on Dec. 16. Jack Combs and Tomas Zaborsky tallied goals in the contest.

The Battalion boasts one of the most offensive defenseman in the league in Bobby Sanguinetti, who has posted 57 points (21-36--57) in 50 games this season and is currently one of the top three scoring defensemen in the OHL. Former Plymouth Whaler Zack Shepley (0-5-5) and captain John de Gray (3-12-15) are also staples on the blue line. Forwards John Hughes (27-55-82), Cody Hodgson (35-35-70) and Detroit Red Wings' prospect Cory Emmerton (19-33-52) drive the offense that has tallied 216 goals in 57 games this season. Goalie Bryan Pitton has posted a 2.56 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 32 games this season.

London Knights
February 22nd; 7:30 PM
John Labatt Centre, London

The London Knights are currently in possesion of the fourth playoff seed and home ice advantage in the OHL Western Conference with 71 points and a record of 33-19-3-2. The Spirit is 1-1-1-0 against the Knights this season, having lost their last contest, 5-2, on Jan. 4. Combs and Zaborsky have each tallied four points against London this season.

Rookie Patrick Maroon (32-51-83) has jumped right into the scoring gap left by Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks) and Sam Gagner (Edmonton Oilers). He currently leads the team’s offense that also features Akim Aliu (25-30-55), Phil Varone (10-38-48) and Justin Taylor (23-23-46). Defenseman Steven Tarasuk (5-27-32) leads the blue line with a plus-29 rating. Goalie Jason Guy has posted a 4.22 goals-against average and a .882 save percentage in 33 games this season.

Oshawa Generals
February 23rd; 7:11 PM
TheDow Event Center, Saginaw

The Oshawa Generals are ranked third in the OHL Eastern Conference with 76 points and a record of 35-14-2-4. The Spirit lost 4-2 to the Generals on Dec. 6. Combs and Ryan McDonough have each notched a goal against the Generals this season.

Winger Brett MacLean (50-54-104) and center John Tavares (35-65-100) are in a scoring race against each other, with the two combining for over 200 points. Former Spirit winger Patrick Asselin (37-28-65) is the team’s third leading scorer. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto (13-40-53) leads the defensemen in scoring production, while defenseman and captain Eric Regan (6-37-43) leads the team with a plus-22. Goalie Michal Neuvirth, another former Whaler, has posted a 2.89 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage in 25 games.

Friday, February 15, 2008

North Stars' Greener gets some good news

Following some anxious hours, Traverse City North Stars winger Joe Greener got some good news on Thursday following medical consultations with team doctors.

Greener, who suffered an injured medial collateral ligament during Wednesday’s team practice, was told it was a second-degree injury, meaning the ligament was not fully torn.

“That’s good news, I suppose,” said Greener, who has nine goals and 12 assists in 41 games so far this season. “The healing time for that injury is three to four weeks with no surgery, so that’s encouraging.”

Greener and defenseman Jonathan Sheridan became entangled during a 3-on-2 drill during practice on Wednesday.

“It felt it (the knee) slide a little bit – not sure if I was trying to jump out of the way of the hit, but I could tell something wasn’t right pretty quickly,” Greener surmised.

Greener has posted 21 goals and 27 assists in 103 career games with the North Stars and is the club’s leader in career penalty minutes with 277 over two seasons. If all goes well, Greener could be back on the ice by early March.

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” said Greener. “I’ve still got a lot of hockey left in me.”

Rangers reflect during off week

The Marquette Rangers, coming of a split at second-place Mahoning Valley, will be off this weekend before resuming play in the North American Hockey League North Division February 22-23.

The Rangers beat the Phantoms, 6-2, last Friday, before suffering a 4-1 setback Saturday night.

Despite the loss on Saturday, head coach Randy Enders was pleased with the overall performance of the team and says he feels good about where the Rangers are with 12 games remaining.

“Our older guys are really starting to pick it up as we head into the last part of the season," said Enders. "Nic Weight has been finding the net on a regular basis, Jimmy Gallagher is up there in scoring leadership now (and) we’re getting points from (Mike) Macari and (Derek) Grogan night after night which will only spell good things for our club.

“Mix in the young talent we have - guys like Josh Bussell, Austin Mattson, Garrett Ladd, Chad Pietila, Collin Saint-Onge - guys who aren’t rookies anymore after all the games we’ve played and we’re a pretty solid lineup every night. The tough part is staying focused during a 58-game season, so this weekend off is at a great time for us to get rested and ready to go for the playoff stretch."

When the Rangers do return to action it’ll be with two consecutive series on the road. First up is the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 Team in Ann Arbor, before heading to Traverse City to battle the North Stars February 29-March 1. Marquette finishes the season with six out of their last eight at home at Lakeview Arena.

Although in the midst of a 34-day swing off of home ice, the Rangers say they like the way the schedule plays out to end the season.

“I think it’s almost like a reward for these two long road trips,” said Rangers goaltender Beau Christian. “We need as many points as we can get on the road, but if we can get back home in decent shape, I know we’ll be OK. We have such great fans, and we’ve proven we can win at home, so I’m really looking forward to ending the season here. We just need to win as many games as we can before then and let things play-out. It was like this last year too and it was really good for us to play at home at the end of the season."

Marquette (23-20-3) currently sits in fourth place in the North Division with 49 points, four points behind third-place Alpena and five points ahead of the fifth-place U.S. National Team Development Program.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

North Stars battling injuries right now

There are three letters that Traverse City North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo doesn’t want to hear right now: M-C-L.

With medial collateral ligament injuries to a pair of Stars regulars, the club will be a little lighter heading into a two-game weekend series at Mahoning Valley on Friday and Saturday.

Winger Joe Greener tore his MCL and possibly his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) during a freak practice mishap on Wednesday at Centre ICE and is likely to miss the remainder of his final junior season, while goalie Brandon Stephenson is still recovering from an MCL injury suffered during a sweep of Alpena back on Feb. 1-2 and will not be in uniform this weekend.

“Those are some key losses, no question,” Palumbo opined. “But we have no choice but to saddle up and go forward.”

Chris Paliafito will see all the action between the TC pipes until Stephenson returns, with backup netkeep Dallas Kniss available only if Paliafito suffers an injury.

The North Stars (14-19-10) are still chasing fourth-place Marquette for the final playoff berth in the NAHL North Division, and will try to close the 11-point gap some this weekend against second-place Mahoning Valley (26-13-4). Traverse City has not won at the Phantoms’ home rink in 15 tries over three seasons.

“They’re a darn good team, and when they get it going in their own building, they’re a handful,” Palumbo explained. “We have to take care of the puck when we play them, because like we showed in our last series down there, you can’t give them easy chances off turnovers or they’ll burn you.”

Derek Graham (Schoolcraft) paces the Phantoms with 26 goals and 32 assists through 43 games, and has found some success against the Stars this season, registering 13 points in the teams’ nine meetings, while Miles Winter has matched that output versu TC, including seven goals. Netkeep Garrett Bartus has been tough against Traverse City as well, with a 6-0-0 record and .912 save percentage in seven outings.

Nate Urbaniak leads the North Stars with four goals and four assists in nine games against the Phantoms this season, while Harrison Niemann and Tyler Stephens have seven points each over that span.

Urbaniak, Niemann and defenseman Jameson Raymond will stop off in Ann Arbor on the way home for the three-day NAHL Top Prospects all-star event, where they’ll join forces with the other top players in the North Division to face the Central Division and South Division all-stars, as well as the U.S. National Team Development Program, during the competition.

Traverse City returns to the friendly confines of Centre ICE arena on Feb. 22, when Alpena visits town.

Delvecchio appearing in Saginaw this Sunday

Former Detroit Red Wings forward and CHL graduate Alex Delvecchio will make a celebrity appearance at the Saginaw Spirit home game this coming Sunday, courtesy of GM PowerTrain, Steven’s World Wide Van Lines and Century 21 Signature Reality.

The Spirit will take on the Kitchener Rangers at 2:00 p.m. at TheDow Event Center in Saginaw. The former Stanley Cup winner will be at the game to participate in a ceremonial puck drop and sign autographs for fans in the Bud Light Blue Line Club.

Picture and puck packages are available for fans to purchase. An 8x10 photo of Delvecchio and a Red Wing logo puck package is available for $15 and an 11x14 photo and puck package is available for $25, while supplies last. Fans can get one additional item signed by Delvecchio for each photo and puck package purchased.

Rangers announce trades week after deadline

The Marquette Rangers spent the final days before the trade deadline last week working on a deal that will bring the team a new forward and a new defenseman as the team starts its’ preparations for their upcoming playoff run.

North American Hockey League teams needed to have trades completed by Feb. 6.

Added to the Rangers lineup are Bryan Murphy, a forward who skated 38 games with the Kenai River Brown Bears of the South Division and defenseman Jake Hannon, who comes from the St. Louis Bandits of the North Division. To complete the St. Louis trade, the Rangers sent defenseman Nick Condon to St. Louis.

The Rangers also made a move for the future, acquiring the rights to a Midget AAA player in the trade - Adam Wiesner, a forward, from Rochester, Minn., who currently plays for Russell Stover in Kansas City.

“This move does a few things that help us out,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. "We get a solid defenseman back at the blue line with Hannon coming in and some extra grit and experience up front with the addition of Murphy. We’re excited to add them to what we already have here and we’re confident both will make an immediate impact.”

Hannon, 19, hails from Buffalo. He has four goals and eight assists on the season having played 25 games with the first-place Bandits. He is also a plus-18 with 12 penalty minutes on the season. He is the older brother of current Rangers forward Luke Hannon and has committed to playing collegiately for Army.

Murphy, from Sterling Heights, also has four goals and eight assists on the season in 38 games for Kenai River.

“There’s been a lot of movement in our league as teams try and solidify their lineups,” Enders added. “We’re confident these two players will be a positive addition to our team and really compliment our core guys. We’ve been piecing this puzzle together for awhile now and we’re very happy with how all of this all fell into place.”

Saginaw to have two new radio shows

The Saginaw Spirit are pleased to announce the debut of two new weekly radio features – “The Spirit Hockey Show” and the “The Spirit Hockey Update."

Both will be aired on NewsRadio 1250 AM, a member of the WNEM and Meredith Corporation broadcast family.

“The Spirit Hockey Show” will air every Monday night from 8-9 p.m. starting Feb. 18 through the conclusion of the Spirit's postseason. Spirit broadcaster Terry Ficorelli will recap the weekend and bring the fans up-to-date on the latest Spirit news and happenings. The show will also feature interviews from the Spirit coaching staff, Spirit players and more.

“The Spirit Hockey Update” will air every weekday at 5:26 p.m. Ficorelli will report daily on the latest Spirit news and promote the upcoming weekend.

“We are excited to bring more Spirit hockey to the fans and the mid-Michigan community,” stated Ficorelli. “These programs are an opportunity for our great fans to get more in touch with the team, the league and our impact on the local community.”

Plymouth and Saginaw rivalry continues

The Plymouth Whalers (29-21-2-2) face three important Western Conference opponents this week as the Ontario Hockey League season moves into the final six weeks of the regular season.

Wednesday – Sarnia (30-21-2-0) at Plymouth (29-21-2-2), 7:05 p.m., Compuware Arena. The Whalers have not defeated Sarnia in three games this season and Sarnia star Steven Stamkos has a lot to do with it. Stamkos, rated the top North American prospect by the National Hockey League's Central Scouting Bureau, is becoming a Whaler killer. He has four goals and an assist in three games this season against Plymouth and has 42 goals with 38 assists for 80 points in 46 games overall.

WHAT TO WATCH WITH THE WHALERS: While veterans Jeremy Smith, Wes Cunningham, Chris Terry, Andrew Fournier, AJ Jenks and Brett Bellemore lead the Whalers in ice time, Plymouth head coach Greg Stefan is starting to depend on some of the younger Whalers as the season wears on. Second-year forwards Vern Cooper and Kaine Geldart and rookie wingers Tyler J. Brown and Tyler G. Brown, among others, are starting to see ice time in all situations as the Whalers try to balance winning while developing their young group.

There’s a good chance Stefan will not be behind the bench this week. The Ontario Hockey league suspended Stefan, along with Kingston head coach Larry Mavety, after a fight-filled third period last Sunday in Kingston’s 7-4 victory over the Whalers at the Kingston Memorial Centre. If Stefan is not behind the bench, assistants Joe Stefan and Brian Sommariva will work behind the Plymouth bench.

Friday – Plymouth at Saginaw (25-21-4-2), 7:11 p.m., Dow Event Center. The rivalry between the Whalers and Spirit continues to grow with Plymouth winning three of the five games played so far this season. Saginaw’s offense revolves around veterans Jack Combs (34-47--81), Ryan McDonough (36-27--73) and Tomas Zaborsky (25-27--52).

Saturday – Kitchener (40-9-1-2) at Plymouth, 7:05 p.m, Compuware Arena. The Whalers bring in the top-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League during Hockey Day in Michigan. During the game, the Whalers will be celebrating Hockey Day in Michigan by honoring the Compuware Youth House program, also known as the I-275 League, as the Compuware AAA '98s, who won the Whitby Silver Stick tournament earlier this season.

Alpena heads south for two in St. Louis

The Alpena IceDiggers will make their only regular season trip to St. Louis this weekend for a two-game set against the Bandits. The puck drops at 7:15 p.m. both nights.

The IceDiggers players enjoyed a few days off before hitting the ice Monday for an on-ice workout. Alpena's last game came on Saturday, Feb. the 2 when the dropped a 3-1 decision to Traverse City.

"The guys had a few days to rest and relax now it is time to get back to work and get ready for a talented St. Louis club," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller.

St. Louis (36-8-1) swept the Texas Tornado in Frisco last weekend. The Bandits sit atop the North Division standings while Alpena is in third place in the tight division.

"This is a big test for us," added Miller. "We are going on the road and playing the best team in the league this is a challenge we will be ready for."

The two teams met at the North Division showcase in Boardman back in January with the IceDiggers winning the first game by a score of 6-2. Nick Graves picked up the win making 28 saves. Erik Peterson had a a goal and two assists in the win. In game two, the IceDiggers lost 4-3 in a shootout. Once again, Graves was stellar in net making 34 saves. Former Bandit and current IceDiggers forward Bryan Ross scored a goal in the loss.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rangers brighten teenager's world

From left, former Ranger Kyle Jean and current Ranger goaltender Matt Brooker pose with Marquette’s Daren Hillier and Rangers forwards Collin Saint-Onge and Austin Mattson during a recent visit at Marquette General Health Systems.

After being on the road for most of February, the Marquette Rangers return home March 7-8 to play Mahoning Valley at Lakeview Arena. And you can bet that if he’s able to be there, Daren Hillier will be in the southwest corner of Lakeview Arena cheering on his team.

The 13-year-old Marquette resident loves hockey, but due to physical limitations, he will never be able to play the sport he loves so much. However, that doesn’t stop the middle school student from taking in his cousin's youth games and as many Rangers games as possible.

But for several weeks late last year, Daren wasn’t at any Rangers’ games due to his health.

In November, the Rangers were made aware of a long hospital stay Daren was undergoing due to two complicated back surgeries and decided they wanted to give back some of the support they had received from the Hillier family by visiting Daren at Marquette General Health Systems in between surgeries.

Goaltender Matt Brooker, along with forwards Collin Saint-Onge and Austin Mattson, now former Ranger Kyle Jean and head coach Randy Enders made the short trip from Lakeview Arena to surprise the family after practice.

“Daren’s eyes just lit-up when the Rangers players walked in the door,” said Daren’s mother, Shelby Hillier. “The whole team had signed a jersey and they gave it to Daren, which was extra special, and they stayed for awhile and encouraged him to get well after his operations.”

Several days later, Daren underwent the second successful operation and the family received an unexpected visitor when Brooker returned and brought a game puck from the previous weekend.

“Daren loves the goalie position, and if he could play he’d want to be a goaltender, so for Matt to come back and visit on his own made our long stay in the hospital a little easier,” Shelby Hillier added. “Matt came in and told Daren he had been thinking about him and wanted to see how he was doing after his second operation. For him to make that extra gesture…what a terrific young man.”

Enders said this visit, and others like it, are typical of the type of person the organization looks for when picking the team.

“We want our players to excel on the ice, but we also try and present our guys opportunities to give back to the communities that support the team," noted Enders. "We’re about hockey players, but we’re also in the business of building young men and trying to help shape them into the citizens they’re going to become.

“Plus, visits like this are great memories for our guys, too, so we try and get out as often as we can. Knowing Daren is a fan of the team made it even more special for us, and you can tell this kid had an impact on our players as well. He’s an inspirational young man and the kind of guy you never forget.”

Once home and feeling better, Daren and the Hillier family returned for the Rangers home game against Traverse City Dec. 28 where they received another unexpected gift from the team.

“After warm-ups, a Ranger player brought a puck to us and after the game the whole team skated down to the corner of the rink where we always sit with Daren and they saluted him before heading off the ice," Shelby Hillier said. "There wasn’t a dry eye in our entire family. It’s something we’ll never forget."

Spirit play three tough games this week

The Saginaw Spirit was on the road last weekend for two games, beating the Guelph Storm, 4-1, on Friday and the Erie Otters, 5-1, on Saturday. The Spirit is 5-4-1-0 over the last 10 games. The team not only swept the weekend, but the four-game season series against the Otters as well.

The Spirit enter the week with 56 points and a record of 25-21-4-2.

This weekend the Spirit takes on the Windsor Spitfires on Thursday, the Plymouth Whalers on Friday and the Kitchener Rangers on Sunday.

Windsor Spitfires
February 14 - 7:30 PM
Windsor Arena, Windsor

The Windsor Spitfires continue to be a dominant force in the OHL Western Conference, in second place with 73 points and a record of 32-14-5-4. The Spits are 8-2-0-0 in the last 10 games and are 18-4-3-2 when playing at home.

The Spirit will be visiting Windsor on Thursday for their fourth matchup of the season against the Spits. The Spirit lost the first contest, 4-3 in a shootout on Oct. 4, but rebounded for a 3-2 win on Dec. 31 and a 3-0 shutout victory on Jan. 5. The Spirit are 2-0-0-1 against the Spits this season and 14-15-1-1 over the last five seasons. Ryan McDonough and Jack Combs have each tallied two goals against Windsor this season, while Ryan Daniels has backstopped the Spirit in all three contests for a 1.62 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

Windsor has one of the highest scoring teams in the league thanks in part to the efforts of winger Bradley Snetsinger (30-45--75) and center Joshua Bailey (23-49--72). The Spits have a solid foundation in two of the top rookie scorers in the league – center Taylor Hall (28-25--53) and defenseman Ryan Ellis (13-38--51). Defenseman Mark Cundari (6-13--19) anchors the blue line with a plus-23, while goalie Andrew Engelage mans the net with a 2.62 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 37 games this season.

Plymouth Whalers
February 15th - 7:11 PM
TheDow Event Center, Saginaw

Saginaw’s rival will be in town Friday night – the Plymouth Whalers are sixth in the OHL Western Conference with 62 points and a record of 29-21-2-2. The Whalers are 5-5-0-0 in the last 10 games and are 11-12-2-2 when playing on the road.

This is the sixth contest between the two teams this season. The Whalers bested the Spirit, 4-1, on Nov. 21, but saw the Spirit drop them in back-to-back games. The Spirit won 4-2 on Dec. 27 and 6-3 on Dec. 29. Plymouth has won the last two games, 4-2 on Jan. 9, and 3-2 in a shootout on Jan. 14. The Spirit are 2-2-0-1 against the Whalers this season and 11-28-3-1 over the last five seasons. Combs has notched five goals and six assists against the Whalers this season, while the goalie tandem of Daniels (2.94 GAA and .905 save percentage in four games) and Edward Pasquale, 3.00 GAA and .903 save percentage in one game), have posted impressive numbers against the team’s chief rival.

Center Chis Terry (35-49--84) leads the Whalers in scoring and has tallied five goals and four assists against the Spirit this season. Center Andrew Fournier (31-32--63) and winger AJ Jenks (23-20--43) round out the top three scorers on offense, while defenseman Wes Cunningham (5-43--48) often contributes from the blue line. Rookie forward RJ Mahalak (1-5--6) has made an impressive showing in his first season, posting a plus-16 in 48 games. Goalie Jeremy Smith continues to prove day in and day out why he is one of the best goaltenders in the league, often a big factor when Plymouth wins. This season Smith has posted a 2.90 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 32 games.

Kitchener Rangers
February 17th - 2:00 PM
TheDow Event Center, Saginaw

The Kitchener Rangers – the top team in league with 83 points and a record of 40-9-1-2 – will be in Saginaw on Sunday. The Rangers are 6-4-0-0 in the last five games and are 18-6-0-1 on the road.

Despite the points and the record, the Rangers haven’t been able to breeze by the Spirit this season. The Spirit beat the Rangers, 5-4, in a shootout on Nov. 18 and, courtesy of Daniels and the Spirit defense, shutout the Rangers, 2-0, on Dec. 1. Daniels has posted a 1.92 goals-against average and .934 save percentage against the Rangers this season.

The Rangers have an explosive offense featuring center Justin Azevedo (32-68--100), who recently hit the 100-point marker on the season. Center Nick Spaling (29-27--56), center Nazem Kadri (20-33--53), winger Mikkel Boedker (21-29--50) and winger Matt Halischuk (12-38--50) bolster the offense, while defensemen Dan Kelly (1-15--16; plus-21) and Alex Dzielski (5-7--12; plus-19) steady the blue line. Goalie Steve Mason, with a 2.79 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 31 games, has been called up by the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets throughout the season. However, if he is called up on Sunday, the Rangers have little to worry about in net thanks to rookie standout Josh Unice, who has earned a 2.55 goals-against average and .905 save percentage in 37 games this season.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Marquette continues road trip

For the second time this season, the Marquette Rangers are staring at a long stretch of games away from Lakeview Arena.

In January, the team was on the road for 27 days before returning home. Now the team embarks on a journey that will keep them off of home ice for 34 days before returning March 7-8

“It’s going to be a long month, but that’s part of hockey at this level,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “It’s tough, there’s no other way of putting it, but it’s not just a Marquette thing. Every team at this level faces this sort of challenge. Our veterans know how to deal with the road and our new guys aren’t rookies anymore after 40 or so games, so I’m not too worried about it.”

In addition to three series on the road, the Rangers will also have an off-week in the schedule the weekend of February 15.

First up this weekend is the longest of the three trips as the team heads back to Boardman, Ohio and a Friday-Saturday set with Mahoning Valley. The Phantoms currently sit in second place in the North American Hockey League North Division with a record of 25-12-4 (54 points) and are coming off a split with division leader St. Louis this past weekend.

Marquette, having split their series this past weekend with Alexandria of the NAHL Central Division, remains in fourth place in the North Division with 47 points (22-19-3), seven points behind third-place Alpena and three points ahead of the fifth-place U.S. National Team Development Program.

“Each weekend is going to be important because every point is crucial as we head into the last part of the season,” Enders added. “We knew our division was going to be a tight race from start to finish and we need to take the momentum of Saturday’s win against Alexandria to set the stage for some success in some very tough places to play.

“We’ve proven we can compete with these teams that are ahead of us and now we need to go to the next level and consistently win against them. I’m confident that we can if we play the way we’re capable of.”

After the trip to Mahoning Valley, the Rangers take the following week off and then head to Ann Arbor to take on the USNTDP Under-17 Team before wrapping up the road trip at Traverse City February 29-March 1.

“Our schedule is back-loaded with home games in March, so if we can get some wins on this road swing we’ll put ourselves in a terrific shape as the playoff picture starts to shape-up,” said Enders. “But we need success on the road first to make that happen.”