Sunday, August 31, 2008

TC's Jean commits to Lake Superior State

It wasn’t long after Kyle Jean’s family moved to Sault Ste. Marie from California that the youngster began to take a rooting interest in the local Lake Superior State University hockey team.

Almost 15 years later, Lake Superior State has a rooting interest in Kyle Jean.

The Traverse City North Stars forward effectively fulfilled the ‘local boy makes good’ axiom by accepting a scholarship to play at LSSU, starting in the fall of 2009.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said Jean, who reported to Traverse City on Sunday for the start of the current campaign. “I used to love going to Lakers games, I had a Lakers jersey – Kurt Miller even gave me an autographed stick one time. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to actually play there, to play in the CCHA, and now it’s becoming a reality. It’s pretty sick.”

Ailments aside, Jean is described as a veritable kid-in-a-candy-store when he hits the rink by another Lake Stater, North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo.

“He has the talent and the work ethic, but he just loves the game of hockey,” said Palumbo, who hailed from just across the boarder in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and captained LSSU to an NCAA championship in 1989. “Kyle eats, breathes, and sleeps the game. His natural enthusiasm just to lace ’em up is something that has an effect on the (other) guys.”

Jean, seeking a regular shift in the North American Hockey League, asked the Marquette Rangers to trade him, and a deal was reached to bring him to TC early in January. He played in 42 games between the Stars and Rangers, collecting seven goals and four assists to go with 30 minutes of box time. All five of his goals with Traverse City came against his former team, including a trio of goals in the final weekend series of the 2007-08 season - a sweep that clinched the SmithBarney Challenge Cup series with Marquette.

“Kyle just scratched the surface of his immense potential,” Palumbo opined. “He’s a big kid (6-3, 210), but he can play the finesse game too. I think a local kid with his skill set and character will be a great fit for the (LSSU) program.”

Jean, who amassed a 3.5 GPA en route to the collegiate ranks, plans to major in business. In the meantime, he knows the North Stars – who narrowly missed the final NAHL North playoff berth by two points last season – have some unfinished business.

“Of course, the ultimate goal is to first get in the playoffs, then to advance and play for a national championship,” Jean offered. “I think we’d all agree on those goals, team-wise. I’m not looking for a certain number of goals or points or anything like that. If we go out and play the best we can, the wins will come – and part of that is just going out and having fun and playing like we did when we were kids.”

Kids with Lakers jerseys, that is.

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

Friday, August 29, 2008

Four Michigan natives on NTDP U-18 roster

Four players from Michigan have made the final roster for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program's Under-18 Team.

All four - defenseman Cam Fowler (Farmington Hills) and forwards Kevin Lynch (Grosse Pointe), Kenny Ryan (Franklin Village) and A.J. Treais (Bloomfield Hills) - played on the Under-17 Team last season.

Fowler has committed to Notre Dame, Lynch and Treais to Michigan and Ryan to Boston College. All commitments, except for Ryan (2010-2011), are for the 2009-2010 season.

Lynch is also a 2007 Plymouth Whalers draft pick (third round, 56th overall) and Fowler was a first-round pick of the Windsor Spitfires this past May, joining Ryan who went in the seventh round to Windsor last year. Treais was a 15th-round pick of the Niagara IceDogs in 2007.

Full roster HERE.

Treais photo courtesy USA Hockey

Thursday, August 28, 2008

More scrimmages for Plymouth today

The Whites came out in the morning with a 5-2 victory over the Blues in a Plymouth Whalers training camp scrimmage. AJ Jenks tallied two goals and an assist in the win.

Jan Látal (1-1), Ali Dakroub and Tyler Seguin (1-1) also added goals for the Whites. Tyler G. Brown and Beau Schmitz replied for the Blues. In the practice shootout, DJ Hastings and Peter Neal scored for the Whites, while Colin MacDonald and Ryan Hayes replied for the Blues.

The teams will meet again from 2-4 p.m. in another scrimmage this afternoon. The scrimmage is open to the public and rosters will be provided.


Free agent Ali Dakroub scored a pair of goals to lead the Whites to a 4-2 victory over the Blues in the scrimmage held this afternoon at Compuware Arena.

Peter Neal (younger brother of Whaler alum James Neal) and Christian Steingraber scored the other goals for the Whites. Patrick Lee and Beau Schmitz replied for the Blues.

The Whalers practice Friday moring at 10 a.m. and then will host Windsor in preseason action on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Compuware Arena.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Whalers start inter-squad scrimmages today

Tyler Seguin (2-1) and AJ Jenks scored two goals apeice as the Whites defeated the Blues, 4-3, in a Plymouth Whalers training camp scrimmage played played Wednesday afternoon at Compuware Arena.

Ryan Hayes scored twice for the Blues, while Chad Rutkowski added a single. Jordon O'Neill recorded two assists for the Whites.

Hayes tallied the only goal in the post-game shootout for the Blues, scoring on goaltender Scott Wedgewood. Matt Hackett pitched a shutout in the shootout for the Whites, going 7-for-7.

The Blues and Whites played two 30-minutes halves with one fight - Buddy Wightman vs. Mike Yovanic early in the second half.

Whites - Tyler Seguin (Jordon O'Neill, Vern Cooper) 0:23
Blues - Ryan Hayes (Tyler G. Brown, Chris Terry) 11:33.
Whites - Tyler Seguin (Tyler J. Brown, Buddy Wightman) 14:16

Whites - AJ Jenks (Jordon O'Neill, Christian Steingraber) 4:20
Blues - Chad Rutkowski (Mike Yovanic, Myles McCauley) 6:20
Blues - Ryan Hayes (Chris Terry, Patrick Lee) 8:15
Whites - AJ Jenks (Tyler Seguin) 8:43

The Blues and Whites meet from 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. in scrimmages on Thursday. The scrimmages are open to the public. Rosters will be provided.


Brendan McLeskey scored the deciding goal in a shootout as the Blues defeated the Whites, 6-5, in the Plymouth Whalers first training camp scrimmage held this morning at Compuware Arena.

Goaltenders Jeremy Smith and Scott Wedgewood went eight shooters apiece before McLeskey won the game. Beau Schmitz scored the other Blues goal in the shootout. AJ Jenks replied in the shootout for the Whites.

Before the shootout, Patrick Lee scored twice for the Blues and added an assist. Chris Terry (1-1), RJ Mahalak (1-3) and Ryan Hayes scored single goals, while Jamie Devane added two assissts. Tyler Seguin, Tyler J. Brown, Kaine Geldart (1-1), Christian Steingraber and Jenks (1-1) scored for the Whites with Jan Látal notching two assists.

The teams played two 30-minute halves this morning with no fights.

Blues - Chris Terry (Tyler G. Brown, Colin MacDonald) 5:02
Blues - Patrick Lee (Jamie Devane, RJ Mahalak) 7:26
Whites - Tyler Seguin (AJ Jenks, Jan Látal) 10:30
Blues - Patrick Lee (Jamie Devane, RJ Mahalak) 12:53
Whites - Tyler J. Brown (Joe Gaynor, Kaine Geldart) 14:21
Blues - Ryan Hayes (Chris Terry, RJ Mahalak) 17:56

Whites - Kaine Geldart (Ryan Jablonski, Leo Jenner) 8:10
Blues - RJ Mahalak (Patrick Lee) 12:40
Whites - Christian Steingraber 15:13
Whites - AJ Jenks (Jan Látal, Vern Cooper) 16:31

The Blues and Whites play again this afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

Saginaw opens exhibition play next Saturday

The Saginaw Spirit will play its first exhibition game of the season against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds on Saturday, September 6 at 7:11 p.m. at the Saginaw Bay Ice Arena.

General admission tickets for the game are on-sale now at several Spirit ticket locations for only $7 each.

The team will play the Greyhounds the following day at Sault Ste. Marie and then play a two-game series against the Niagara IceDogs September 13 and September 14. The first game of the series will be played in Niagara and the second game will be played in Woodstock, Ont., in support of charity.

Plymouth training camp has much intrigue


Plymouth Goaltending – The three Plymouth Whalers goaltenders are in different stages of their respective careers. Jeremy Smith – already signed by the NHL’s Nashville Predators – comes back as one of the best goaltenders in the OHL. Eighteen-year-old Matt Hackett – acquired by the Whalers from Windsor last November in the Michal Neuvirth deal – came to the Whalers as an unknown quantity, but established himself as a capable OHL goaltender. Rookie Scott Wedgewood comes in highly touted and will see playing time with the Whalers when Smith is away at Nashville’s camp at the start of the season and at the World Junior Championship.

We’re An American Band, Part I – Smith is in a battle with Guelph’s Thomas McCollum and Kitchener’s Josh Unice (Chicago) to represent the United States in the upcoming World Junior Championship in Ottawa. How each plays over the first half of the OHL season will go a long way to determining their chance to play for Team USA. Smith was the number one man last year for Team USA, but some observers as saying now that McCollum (the first round pick of the Red Wings this summer) has moved ahead. Smith will definitely have something to say about that.

The Whalers open the season September 19 in Kitchener, host Guelph on September 27 and then play in Guelph on November 7.

We’re An American Band, Part 2 – The Whalers start the season with a lot of local talent on the roster. Plymouth’s training camp roster includes Smith (Brownstown), Josh Bemis (Clarkston), Christian Steingraber (Oregon, OH – just outside of Toledo), RJ Mahalak (Monroe), Beau Schmitz (Howell), AJ Jenks (Wolverine Lake), Tyler J. Brown (Westland), Mike Yovanic (Highland), Austin Levi (Farmington Hills), DJ Hastings (Grosse Ile), Brendan McLeskey (Pinckney), Myles McCauley (Sterling Heights) and Ali Dakroub (Dearborn).

Like the goaltenders, all the local players are in different parts of their careers. Smith, Bemis, Jenks, Steingraber, Mahalak, Brown and Yovanic return from last season. Schmitz – the Whalers’ first round pick from 2007 – comes over from the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor with promising reviews. Levi, Hastings and McLeskey are Whaler draft picks who may play with Plymouth or skate with the Compuware Midget Majors. McCauley is an older 14th round draft pick from 2007 with good skill. Free agent Dakroub earned an invitation to training camp after playing for the Whalers at the rookie orientation last May.

Chris Terry – With 195 points (75 goals and 120 assists) in 200 career games with the Whalers, Terry comes into the season 124 points shy of Pat Peake’s all-time franchise record of 319 points. 2008-09 is an important year for Terry for a couple of reasons:

It’s his signing year and the Carolina Hurricanes will be watching Terry with great interest.

Terry played well enough at Canada’s National Junior Evaluation Camp over the summer to rate a chance to play for Team Canada in the upcoming World Junior Championship.

Terry will finish his Whaler career somewhere in the top ten in all franchise scoring categories.

More importantly, Terry is a young man who has grown up literally before our eyes in Plymouth. The maturity he has exhibited in befriending the late Bobby Suvoy is something we can all be proud of.

Third Year Charm – Do a little research and you’ll find a lot of OHL forwards in their third year break out offensively. Terry is a case in point, going from 28 points as a rookie in 2005-06, to 66 points during the Whalers championship year in 2006-07, to 101 points last season. Other examples include former Whalers James Neal (6-44-53), Dan Collins (22-46-49), Tom Sestito (4-20-64), John Mitchell (18-55-82) and Chad LaRose (25-59-117).

To be fair, the three year progression doesn’t happen with every forward on every team, but it does happen somewhat regularly. Jenks, Kaine Geldart and Vern Cooper all have a chance to develop in the same manner.

Schmitz and Michal Jordan – Schmitz is a smooth skater and an offensive-minded defenseman who plays with grit. It’s no accident that he led the NTDP last season with 108 penalty minutes with no fighting majors. To paraphrase a baseball expression, Schmitz definitely plays to contact. He will be fun to watch this season.

Some will say that Jordan was over-hyped last season, but he was one of the youngest players to skate in the 2008 World Junior Championship last season and by all accounts played well. And like him or not, he played well for the Plymouth, even though he probably had to play too much at times.

Schmitz and Jordan are a year older and stronger this year and will be integral members of the Plymouth blue line.

The Overage Question – Plymouth head coach Greg Stefan has said he’s satisfied with one overage player on the roster (right wing Patrick Lee) and that he wants to play as many young players as he can. Most championship teams in the OHL are a little older than the Whalers are now, so Plymouth general manager Mike Vellucci will be watching OHL rosters closely. If he adds two OAs, they’ll be done with care.

Watch trades around the OHL and overages (this season, 1988 birthdays) are moved frequently around as the teams sort their respective rosters. A good overage player usually doesn’t cost much in terms of trade, because GMs know they’re receiving a player for one season only.

Free Agents – Two free agents made the Whalers training camp roster. Dakroub (Hampton Roads Jr. Whalers) and David Morden (Sarnia, Chatham Maroons) played well enough at Plymouth’s rookie orientation last May.

Two other potential Whalers on the training camp roster – Chad Rutkowski and Buddy Wightman – were inactive last season due to injuries and are trying to make it back on the roster.

Steingraber photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saginaw makes Walch signing official

The Saginaw Spirit have added a Saginaw native to its roster with the signing of local hockey standout Brad Walch.

“The signing of Brad Walch is a very special moment that brings great recognition to the Walch family, the city of Saginaw and the Saginaw Spirit hockey club,” stated Spirit GM Don Edwards.

Walch, from Thomas Township, is participating in the Spirit 2008 training camp this week at the Saginaw Bay Ice Arena in preparation for his first season in a Spirit uniform. The 1991-born defenseman is the first Spirit prospect from the Tri-County region to sign a contract with the team.

"We have all looked forward to the day when we would have a local player play for the club," said Saginaw owner Dick Garber. "I'm glad it's Brad because he will be not only a great representative of our club and community on the ice, but off the ice as well. He is a terrific young man. This is certainly a milestone that we hope will further connect the club with the region."

“He gained valuable experience last season and proved that he is now ready to make a big impact at the OHL level. Brad is a very reliable defensive defensemen, a strong skater who plays a poised, steady and physical game. He is a valuable addition to our hockey club, and will certainly become a local crowd favorite,” added Edwards.

Walch was drafted by the Spirit in the fifth round of the 2007 OHL Priority Selection, but choose to play for the USHL's Des Moines Buccaneers last season to keep his NCAA eligibility. Walch compiled four assists in 53 games with the Buccaneers and joins the Spirit for his first year of NHL draft eligibility.

The Spirit's 2008-2009 slogan ‘Here Today, NHL Tomorrow’ is a good fit with this recent signing according to Spirit president and managing partner Craig Goslin.

“Having a local player of Brad's caliber on our roster will connect the dots with many in our community in regards to those that have not yet made the NHL connection between our league and the NHL," Goslin said. "Our league is the premier development league to the NHL, similar to what NCAA Division I football is to the NFL. The top four picks, and 80 of the top 100, selected in last year’s NHL draft came out of our league.

"We are looking forward to putting Brad in an environment where he can develop his talents and to see if he, too, can be one of the NHL draft picks that comes from the Saginaw Spirit and the OHL."

"The OHL is the finest development league in the world for young hockey players,” stated Garber. "I acknowledge Brad and his family for recognizing this and thank them for the confidence they have shown our organization."

More from the Saginaw News HERE.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fitzgerald turns to coaching, Lock traded

Former Plymouth Whalers captain Randy Fitzgerald has been hired as an assistant coach by the Oshawa Generals.

Fitzgerald, 28, played for the Whalers from 1996-2000, playing in 233 regular-season games and another 54 playoff games. He was a solid left winger who played in the OHL finals in his final season as a player.

Drafted by the Hartford Whalers in the 1997 NHL Draft, Fitzgerald later signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Wild and played in their farm system before injuries forced him to retire.

“After having numerous discussions with prospective coaches, I found that Randy was the right fit for where we are as an organization and where we are going," Oshawa head coach-GM Chris DePiero said. “The experience he brings of his playing days in the OHL and in professional hockey will be invaluable for our forwards. He played the game hard and with passion, and was a leader - all very good traits for a coach.”

Fitzgerald joins Rich Ricci behind the bench with DePiero this season and joins fellow Whaler alums Jamie Allison (Brampton) and Troy Smith (Kitchener) who work in the OHL as assistant coaches.

In other Plymouth news, the Whalers traded forward Steve Lock to Kitchener today for a 15th-round pick in next year's draft and a conditional pick in 2010. Lock made the Whalers out of training camp last season after being acquired from Peterborough, but left the team prior to the start of the season.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Eagles host final tryouts next week at Big Bear

The new Soo Eagles will hold their final training/tryout camps from August 24-26 at the Big Bear Arena in Sault Ste Marie.

Tryout times are August 24 - 8:45 am-10:05 am, 1:15pm-2:35pm; August 25 - 9:15am-10:35am, 3:15pm-4:35pm; August 26 - 9:15am-10:35am, 3:15pm-4:35pm.

The Eagles currently have 19 players committed to the new organization, so camp tryouts should be very intense as players compete for limited team positions.

The Eagles will begin their exhibition games with a back-to-back series against the Alpena IceDiggers of the NAHL. They will host the Icediggers at Pullar Stadium on Friday, September 5 with a 7 p.m. start time. They will then play the IceDiggers in Alpena the following night at 7 p.m.

The team has also finalized their new jersey designs as well as mounting an aggressive marketing campaign trying to establish a hometown fan base. The Eagles offer the lowest ticket prices in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League at only $6 per game, as well offering season tickets at the incredible cost of $125 for 25 home games.

Central Savings Bank has stepped up to offer sponsorship and fans can purchase season tickets using credit cards or bank cards at any Central Savings Bank location. The Eagles are also offering an new "Super Fan Season Ticket" package that lets fans order an official Soo game jersey and hat with their ticket purchase. For $250, true fans can get a game jersey customized with their choice of number and their name on the back.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Walch to Saginaw, Golembiewski to USHL

According to the Western College Hockey blog, two players from last season's United States National Under-17 Team won't be back to play with the Under-18 Team this season and one United States Hockey League skater is also moving on.

Two have implications with the Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit.

Des Moines Buccaneers defenseman Brad Walch (pictured) will be playing with Saginaw. Walch received some college interest last season, but is a Saginaw native, so he will be playing close to home. The Spirit drafted Walch, the first Saginaw native to play for the Spirit, in the fifth round (82nd overall) of the 2007 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection out of the Honeybaked '91s.

NTDP defenseman Bjorn Krupp signed with the Belleville Bulls. Krupp, and his father, Uwe, reportedly didn't feel that Bjorn received enough playing time with the NTDP last season.

Also, NTDP forward and Michigan State recruit Zach Golembiewski has left the NTDP and will be playing for the Indiana Ice next season. The Whalers selected Golembiewski, a St. Clair native, in the fifth round (93rd overall) in 2007 after he won a national title with the Belle Tire minor midgets.

Golembiewski's teammate from Belle Tire, smallish defenseman Torey Krug (Livonia), will also be playing for the Ice this season and Krug is also a Plymouth draft selection, having been taken in the 13th round (259th overall) a year ago.

Goaltender Brett Bennett, a one-time Plymouth draft pick in 2004, (seventh round, 133rd overall, Honeybaked '88s), left Boston University after last season and will also play in Indiana this year. Bennett should be pushed by Chris Paliafito, who played part of last year with the Traverse City North Stars.

Saginaw's second-round pick (38th overall) from this past May, forward John Parker, has also signed with Indiana.

Whalers start training camp next week

The Plymouth Whalers get back to action next week with their annual training camp, set for Tuesday, August 26 through Friday, August 29 at Compuware Arena in Plymouth Township.

Prior to camp, the 11th annual Plymouth Whalers Golf Outing, which benefits the players' education fund, will be held Monday, August 25 at the Northville Hills Golf Course.

For more information or to register, contact Char Merckel at 734-453-8400 or email her.

But the next day, it's down to business for the Whalers, the 2007 Ontario Hockey League champions, but a team that was swept in the first round of last year's playoffs by the eventual champion Kitchener Rangers.

Training Camp Schedule:

Tuesday, August 26 – Off-ice testing
Wednesday, August 27 - Blue vs. White scrimmages, 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Scrimmages are open to the public
Thursday, August 28 – Blue vs. White scrimmages, 9-11 a.m. and 2-4 p.m. Scrimmages are open to the public
Friday, August 29 – On-ice practice at 10 a.m. The practice is open to the public

Rosters will be provided at the scrimmages.

The Whalers play their first preseason game of the season on Saturday, August 30 at 2 p.m. against the Windsor Spitfires. Plymouth opens the 2008-09 regular season on Friday, September 19 in Kitchener, with the home opener on Saturday, September 20 against Erie.

Plymouth (34-28-2-4 last season) brings back a full roster for 2008-09, which includes a host of Michigan players: Jeremy Smith (Brownstown), Josh Bemis (Clarkston), RJ Mahalak (Monroe), Beau Schmitz (Howell), AJ Jenks (Wolverine Lake), Tyler J. Brown (Westland), Mike Yovanic (Highland), Austin Levi (Farmington Hills), DJ Hastings (Grosse Ile), Brendan McLeskey (Pinckney), Myles McCauley (Sterling Heights) and Ali Dakroub (Dearborn).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dalpe not reporting to Plymouth

Courtesy Raleigh News & Observer

The Carolina Hurricanes won't have their second-round draft pick, forward Zac Dalpe, at training camp next month.

Dalpe informed the team Monday that he has decided to attend Ohio State this year (and not report to the Plymouth Whalers, who made him their own second-round pick in May's OHL Priority Selection), Canes general manager Jim Rutherford said Tuesday. Rutherford said Dalpe was offered a contract.

"I guess he can revisit it next year," Rutherford said. "We'll see how he plays next year and we'll revisit it.

"This does not change our position on drafting him or his future with us. Our staff was excited and surprised to get him in the second round. Hopefully, they were right."

Dalpe, the 45th overall pick of the 2008 NHL draft, was at the Canes' prospect camp this summer and impressed with his hustle and attitude. He had 27 goals and 36 assists in 46 games last season with Penticton (BCHL).

Traverse City's Breeden commits to UW-Stout

Once the 2007-08 hockey season ended, Traverse City North Stars defenseman Alex Breeden started thinking about the 2008-09 hockey season.

Breeden, who skated in 160 junior games - including his final 83 with Traverse City – is heading off to the University of Wisconsin-Stout this fall to ply his trade for the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association’s Blue Devils. He also discovered that he wasn’t alone in his future focus.

“I’m going to a team that just came off their first NCAA Tournament appearance,” Breeden said of the 18-9-3 Stout squad that skated into the Division III national playoffs this past spring. “And I kind of started thinking about wanting to get back there and maybe even further. I talked to a few of the returning guys and it was on their minds, too. It’s a program on the rise, and I’m excited for the opportunity.”

Known as much for his stay-at-home defensive posture as his almost-legendary gym regimen, Breeden should be a productive player at the next level, according to at least one observer.

“The guy is all hockey, all work, all the time,” opined Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “Alex brings a tremendous intensity to the ice, the locker room, and he lives in the weight room. They’re getting a player in Alex who can contribute in the rink, in the classroom, in the community, and in the locker room.”

Breeden, a Ft. Collins, Colo. native who registered a pair of goals and eight assists over 47 contests last year, didn’t rush into his college decision. In fact, he got to see two vastly different sides of the northern Wisconsin campus.

“I went for a visit in the middle of winter when we had a weekend off, and then I went back after our season, early in the summer,” he explained. “Quite chilly the first time, but I really enjoyed the campus. It’s got a small-town feel and there’s a river that runs right through the center. It seemed like a good fit for me.”

Breeden plans to room with former teammate Matt Morin (North Iowa defenseman) and will be reunited with another former North Stars rearguard, Eric Scovill, who is entering his sophomore season with the Blue Devils. He credits his junior experiences in North Iowa and Traverse City with helping to prepare him for the overall collegiate undertaking.

“It’s been a great learning time in juniors – the game speeds up and you have to learn to make faster decisions,” said Breeden, who plans to enroll in Stout’s pre-law curriculum. “But there’s been some value off the ice as well, with managing your time and money. You can draw on those experiences when you’re juggling classes, practice, assignments, work, and all the stuff that go with playing college hockey.

"But I feel pretty fortunate to be able to continue to play the game and get a quality education at the same time.”

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

PHOTO: Centre ICE with new front

Local hockey heroes grace the entrance of Traverse City's Centre ICE.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Machine ready to hit the Ice Box ice

The Motor City Machine will officially take the ice as a team for training camp on August 25 at the Ice Box in Brownstown.

After three long months of preparation, not only in the office but on the ice, the MCM are gearing up for their first-ever season in the North Division.

With a selected roster of 25 young, energetic and talented players, the Machine will be one of the youngest teams in the North Division. Familiar faces from Trenton, Wyandotte, St. Clair Shores, Orchard Lake and Dexter will be gracing the Downriver’s newest addition to the North American Hockey League.

Fans, friends and family can get a first look at the newly formed Machine on September 6 when they host the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, last year’s Robertson Cup runners-up.

The Machine isn’t releasing any roster information until after training camp and their first game for protection of the players, according to the team.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Centre ICE to get facelift this week

With nearly 400,000 annual visitors, Centre ICE arena is far and away the busiest sports entertainment venue in northwest Michigan.

By Wednesday, it’ll be one of the best-looking as well.

As part of the Hockeytown North unification effort – bringing each of the area’s hockey user groups together (Red Wings training camp/golf classic, NHL Prospects Tournament, Traverse City North Stars, TC Central High, TC West High, Bay Reps and the Grand Traverse Hockey Association) – the first phase of a building beautification project is slated to commence on Tuesday.

The first phase will be covering the front windows with a space-age appliqué that will feature TC’s own Dallas Drake hoisting the Stanley Cup following Game 6 of last June’s Stanley Cup finals, plus bigger-than-life cutouts of Red Wings Nick Lidstrom and Chris Osgood and former North Stars greats Eric Elmblad and Steven Oleksy. Additionally, parking lot banners featuring Red Wings Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk and current North Stars Kyle Bonis, Chris Heineman, Brandon Stephenson and Nate Urbaniak will be unveiled.

Future plans include prodigious art of local high school players and GTHA members.

“It’s a pretty exciting time for the Hockeytown North family,” said business manager Rick Deneweth. “We have a pretty amazing product here, and this is just another step in the process of taking it to that next level. It was a way to honor one of our own in Dallas, and to help create some excitement around the one of the busiest hubs of activity in the region. The Red Wings and their people have been so helpful in putting some aspects of this together. It’s an emblem of honor for Hockeytown North.”

While local media concern Britten will commence the installation process around 8 a.m. on Tuesday, the entire first phase of the project should be completed by the end of the business day. Arena visitors will walk underneath the giant photo of Drake to enter the rink.

“It’ll probably be a little weird at first to see my ugly mug up there,” joked Drake, who retired from the NHL after claiming his first cup this spring with the team that originally drafted him in 1989. “But it’ll be pretty cool having the Stanley Cup on the front of our building.”

The other window treatments include a pair of North Stars alums who have gone on to play NCAA hockey. The photo of Elmblad, now playing for the University of Michigan, depicts his celebration following an overtime victory over Team USA in the first round of the 2006 North American Hockey League playoffs. Oleksy, now starring at Lake Superior State University, is among the Stars’ most popular players ever and ended the 2005-06 campaign as the club’s captain.

“We wanted to honor the guys who helped take the North Stars program to where it is today,” said Kevin Endres, director of marketing. “And with the Red Wings coming into the building each fall, we wanted to acknowledge them as members of the Hockeytown North family as well.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Whalers trade Carnevale to Oshawa for picks

The Plymouth Whalers have traded 17-year-old center Taylor Carnevale to Oshawa in exchange for the Generals’ second-round draft choice in 2011. The Whalers also sent a fourth-round pick in 2011 to Oshawa and received the Generals’ fifth-round pick in 2011.

Carnevale, selected by the Whalers in the second round (30th overall) of the 2007 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, scored six goals with seven assists for 13 points in 57 games last year as a rookie for Plymouth.

With veteran centers Chris Terry, AJ Jenks, Vern Cooper, Joe Gaynor and Tyler G. Brown all returning and 2008 first-round pick Tyler Seguin also a center, Carnevale faced a numbers game in Plymouth.

“We have a lot of strength up the middle,” Plymouth general manager Mike Vellucci said. “The trade allows Taylor to play at his natural position.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Bellemore one step closer to NHL dream


There’s a certain beauty in following the Ontario Hockey League.

Players like Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Patrick Kane, Eric Staal, Rick Nash, Joe Thornton and other OHL stars over the years deserve their status as high draft picks and sign National Hockey League contracts befitting their status.

But there’s also room in the OHL for players like former Plymouth Whalers defenseman Brett Bellemore, Plymouth’s 12th round pick in 2004 and a sixth round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

After being skipped over during his first year of eligibility, Bellemore wasn't even on Central Scouting's draft list for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft when Carolina decided to select him, working on a recommendation from Plymouth president and general manager Mike Vellucci, who had coached Bellemore for two seasons.

With no fanfare, the Hurricanes signed Bellemore last spring to a multi-year, entry-level contract. So instead of playing an overage year this season in Plymouth, Bellemore is penciled in to start in the American Hockey League with the Albany River Rats.

Bellemore’s career path is different from Stamkos and the rest of the high-end talent in the OHL, but the end result won’t be much of a change from his OHL days if he faces Stamkos again in the NHL.

“Brett is a big and smart defenseman who can log a lot of minutes,” said Ron Francis, Carolina assistant general manager and director of player development. “He played well in Albany at the end of the year and we look forward to watching his development as a professional.”

“I’m really excited about it,” Bellemore said with a smile. “Nothing’s final, of course – I still have to work really hard going into training camp and play well – but it’s exhilarating and a lot of fun. It just goes to show you that anyone can do well in this league and make an impact on a team, whether it’s something small like being a stay-at-home defenseman or anyone of those big-name guys that puts up the points.”

“We saw a lot of potential in Brett, even though he was a 12th round draft pick at the time,” said Plymouth head coach Greg Stefan. “We thought with his size and reach, there would be something there. Fortunately for us, he came into his own during our championship year (2006-07) and became one of the better stay-at-home defensemen of all of junior hockey.

“He came back last year and was a stalwart defenseman for us in playing 30 minutes a game. After we were eliminated in the playoff, Carolina decided to give him a chance in the playoffs with Albany of the AHL. It’s going to hurt us, in losing him, because he was going to be a go-to guy. But on the other hand, it’s great to see our players reach their goals by signing NHL contracts. We wish him the best.”

Go back to the 2006-07 and Bellemore was a healthy scratch for the six weeks of the season. It was tough to watch, but to Bellemore’s credit, he kept a positive attitude.

“Obviously, it wasn’t fun sitting out,” Bellemore said. “The coaching staff (Vellucci and Todd Watson at that time) was good about it, telling me what I needed to do. I believe I worked really hard and worked my way up and good things started to happen.”

A funny thing happened on the way to a championship year. Bellemore and defensive partner Zack Shepley complimented each other so well they became the Whalers shut-down defensive pairing against all the top lines in the OHL. Bellemore led the entire Canadian Hockey League with a +48 plus-minus rating.

“Zack and I are the exact kind of player – a stay-at-home d-man,” Belemore said. “We had fun trying to shut down guys. It was awesome.”

Fast forward to last spring after the Whalers were eliminated by Kitchener and Bellemore headed to Albany. There’s always an adjustment for players moving up a couple of levels. Albany’s head coach then, Tom Rowe - who has since moved to Carolina as an assistant - expected Bellemore to go through a learning process.

“To be honest, I thought he might be overwhelmed at this level,” Rowe said about Bellemore during his time in Albany. “But he’s done a great job for us and he’s definitely in the mix to play for us in the playoffs. At this level, he needs to continue to learn how to do things quicker and deal with the pace of the game. But Belly’s a real competitive guy and is not afraid to stick his nose in there.”

Some players say the game can get easier as they move up the hockey ladder. Bellemore kept his approach simple in Albany.

“If you’re going up against big-name players up front, all you have to do is chip the puck off the glass and they’re gone. It’s also tougher (because) the players are faster, a lot stronger and a lot bigger. So it’s a little bit of both.”

Bellemore has worked out in Plymouth periodically this summer, but is not scheduled to attend the Whalers’ training camp starting August 25. Instead, he’ll report to Carolina’s camp.

“Plymouth’s a great place to play and that was on the agenda before I went to Albany,” Bellemore said. “I love playing in Plymouth, along with the guys and the coaches. But the plan right now is to start in Albany, so I hope everything turns out well.”

Things have worked out well for Bellemore, the anti-Stamkos.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Plocar off to MSOE for hockey, academics

Ben Plocar loves hockey and brats.

The former Traverse City North Stars defenseman will get plenty of both – and a healthy dose of academics – as he heads off to the Milwaukee School of Engineering to play for the Raiders this fall.

Plocar, who hails from Elkhart Lake, Wisc., signed with MSOE, an NCAA Division III school in the bratwurst capital of North America, where he’ll try to help the school to it’s fourth Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association title in five years. But it isn’t just the icy returns that Plocar is looking forward to.

“It’s a great place for me to be, and I feel pretty fortunate,” said Plocar, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound blueliner. “I had pretty good grades in high school, so I wanted to use that to help me get into the best possible school. I’ll be in the International Business program and there is a 98-100 percent placement for graduates, so I’m hoping to get a good job right out of school.”

Plocar scored four goals and assisted on 14 others last season with Traverse City, and levied 16 goals to go with 48 assists over a four-year, 146-game junior career that began in Springfield (Ill.). His ability to join the play yielded seven points over six games during one stretch last season.

“Ben has the ability come in and be a player for them right away,” said North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “He can provide support on both ends of the ice, and even more importantly, has a tremendous opportunity at a widely-respected school.”

The rigors of the North American Hockey League have had a positive impact on Plocar, both on and off the ice.

“I think over four years, I grew up a lot,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of things, met a lot of different people, and made a lot of friends along the way. On the ice, just working every day – whether it’s practice, games, or getting in the weight room – I think that kind of regimen helps prepare you to play, study, and succeed at the next level.”

There’ll also be a couple of North Stars reunion games this season, as fellow former Stars Matt Hughes, Jameson Raymond and Jonathan Sheridan will suit up for MCHA-rival Lawrence University against the Raiders twice during the regular season.

“That’ll be a lot of fun,” Plocar added. “It’s an exciting time. I’m going to a great school with a winning program that has an unbelievable new athletic facility right in downtown Milwaukee, I grew up playing with a couple of my new teammates, and I’m playing close to home. I’m looking forward to it.”

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hughes and Raymond continue their bond

For the past 10 seasons, Traverse City North Stars Matt Hughes and Jameson Raymond have been teammates – from mites through three years of North American Hockey League action.

So it’s no surprise that the tandem will play college hockey – and baseball – together.

Hughes and Raymond made it official last week, signing to play this fall at Division III Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisc.

“Coach (Mike) Szkodzinski had been talking to us since the beginning of the year,” explained Hughes, a forward who had 29 goals and 16 assists over 111 contests in Traverse City. “He came to the (NAHL) Showcase, saw us in Marquette and also in Traverse. It’s a great school and it seems like a good fit. We didn’t plan on going off to school together, it just worked out that way.”

Raymond, a defenseman who scored eight goals and assisted on 48 others in his two seasons with the North Stars and was one of the club’s representatives at the NAHL Top Prospects All-Star event, says he picked Lawrence for its scholastic repute.

“This isn’t something that Matt and I have discussed since we were kids or anything, but the opportunity came along to play at a great academic institution and that’s what we’re her for first and foremost is get an education,” the Flint native explained. “I guess there’s a sort of comfort zone knowing that Matt and 'Sherry' will be there, too.”

‘Sherry’ - fellow North Stars blueliner Jonathan Sheridan - signed with Lawrence earlier this summer. All three should be able to contribute at the next level right away, according to North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo.

“These guys are getting a world-class education at one of the Midwest’s premiere schools, and Coach Szkodzinski is getting some guys who will be productive college hockey players," said Palumbo. "That’s a program on the rise, and a good place for them to be.”

Both Hughes and Raymond plan to play baseball for the Vikings in the spring – both are middle infielders – but both say that the rigors of the NAHL have prepared them for the collegiate experience both on and off the ice.

“I learned a lot in juniors,” said Hughes, who played with Raymond for the now-defunct Bozeman IceDogs in 2005-06. “That first year was pretty hard, and I was injured, but the past two years I’ve had a chance to develop my skills, and get bigger. I started off at 150, and I’m past 170 right now.”

“The biggest thing I’ll take away from my experience playing junior hockey was the discipline of it,” Raymond added. “You have to manage your time and resources, and you have to be here or there at a certain time and place or you won’t play. I don’t think I’d be as successful in school if I hadn’t been part of that kind of structure while being on my own and away from home over the past few years.”

Friday, August 01, 2008

Michigan natives dot NTDP Under-17 roster

USA Hockey today announced the 21-player roster for the 2008-09 U.S. National Under-17 Team within USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

Six players from Michigan and another two from out of state that played on Michigan-based minor hockey programs were named to the roster.

Goalies Jack Campbell (Port Huron, Honeybaked major midget) and Will Yanakeff (Jerome, Honeybaked minor midget) will be in net for Team USA.

On defense, Brighton native Jon Merrill (Little Caesars major midget) is the lone skater with Michigan ties.

Up front, Austin Czarnik (Washington, Belle Tire minor midget), Stuart Higgins (Troy, Compuware minor midget), Luke Moffatt (Phoenix-area native, Compuware minor midget), Bryan Rust (Bloomfield Hills, Honeybaked minor midget) and Jason Zucker (Las Vegas native, Compuware minor midget) all made the final cut.

Download roster HERE