Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Rangers tender five for '08-09 season

The 2008-2009 North American Hockey League season is already underway for the Marquette Rangers as the team signed five tenders over the past several days to skate for positions on next years’ squad.

Three Honeybaked midget AAA players have been tendered along with two from the Chicago Young Americans midget AAA squad.

“All five of these guys have shown that they have the tools to compete at the next level of hockey,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “We’re confident that each one of them has the ability to help our organization build on the successes we’ve enjoyed in our first two seasons in the NAHL.”

The tenders include:

Brendan Bandyk (ban-dick) – 5’10, 180 - Defenseman – Chicago Young Americans
According to Rangers coaches, he’s a tough, steady defenseman who competes hard and is very physical in the defensive zone. Makes a good first pass and has potential to be immediate impact player in NAHL.”

John Lamorgese (Lamb-or-ge-see) – 5’11, 160 - Forward – Chicago Young Americans
A skilled forward, that is also tough, and has put up big points at the Midget level.

Andrew Chovich (cho-vitch) – 6’0, 175 - Defenseman – Honeybaked
Another solid defenseman that moves well in his own end, and breaks the puck out of the defensive end extremely well.

Doug Beck – 6’0, 185 - Forward – Honeybaked
A big, strong forward that has the ability to put up points at the Junior level.

Jeff Slusser – 6’2, 175 – Defenseman – Honeybaked
A solid, hard-skating defenseman that moves very well with the puck, and has the ability to add offense to the power-play.

Marquette hosts Alexandria Friday and Saturday

The Marquette Rangers will jump out of North Division play at Lakeview Arena this Friday and Saturday night, hosting the Alexandria Blizzard of the Central Division.

The Rangers swept the Blizzard (14-16-3) in early November in Alexandria by scores of 5-4 and 5-1.

Alexandria is currently in fourth place in the Central Division, ten points behind third-place Springfield. Marquette (21-18-3) is in fourth place in the North Division, seven points behind third-place Mahoning Valley.

“We’re really looking forward to playing at home this weekend,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “Our guys really like Lakeview and I think we responded pretty well last weekend when Traverse City and Alpena were here. We need to build some momentum off these two games this weekend seeing as we’re going on the road for the whole month of February.”

The Rangers won’t play at home after this weekend until March 7-8 when they host Mahoning Valley.

Enders also liked the fact that someone new would be the opponent this weekend.

“As great as our division rivals are to play, it’ll be nice for the fans and for our guys to see a team from a different division," added Enders. "We had some success against them earlier this season, but both teams are vastly different from November, so I’m confident we’ll see two high-quality and hard-fought games this weekend as we’re both trying to represent our divisions the best we can.”

Mikael Lickteig and Luke Nesper lead the Blizzard offensively with 39 points each, while Marquette continues to be led by Aaron Pietila with 42 points (17g, 25a) and Josh Bussell, who is coming off a five-point weekend last Thursday and Friday, second on the team in goals with 16.

Nick Condon has moved into second place in scoring on the Rangers with 31 points (3g, 28a) and continues to be among the scoring leaders for defenseman in the NAHL.

The games start each evening at 7:30 p.m.

Plymouth at home for three this weekend

The Plymouth Whalers will be participating in a first in their history this weekend when they host Ottawa on Friday at 7:05 p.m., Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. and Kingston on Sunday at 2:05 p.m. at Compuware Arena.

The Whalers have never played three consecutive games at home over a weekend since joining the Ontario Hockey League in 1990. The upcoming weekend wasn’t scheduled at the start of the season, but became a necessity when the OHL postponed Kingston’s game against the Whalers at Compuware Arena on Dec. 1 after a traffic accident injured a couple of Frontenac players and a staff member on Nov. 30.

Here’s a look at the upcoming weekend:

FRIDAY – Ottawa (22-22-2-2) at Plymouth (26-18-2-2), Compuware Arena, 7:05 p.m. The Whalers and 67’s meet for the first of two meetings this season. They’ll complete the series on Feb. 8 in Ottawa. The 67’s are led by Hall of Fame head coach Brian Kilrea, who leads the OHL with 1,146 victories over 31 seasons. Ottawa is led offensively by San Jose draftees Jamie McGinn (21-24-45) and Logan Couture (17-28-45), while defenseman Tyler Cuma (4-24-28, +6) is ranked 15th overall by the National Hockey League Central Scouting Bureau among North American prospects. The Whalers are led offensively by Chris Terry (33-43-76, +12 fourth in OHL scoring), Andrew Fournier (27-29-56) and AJ Jenks (22-18-40). The Whalers are getting a lift from center Joe Gaynor (five goals in January) and defenseman Michal Jordan (4-15-19, +13). Goaltender Jeremy Smith remains among the league leaders in goals against average (2.72) and save percentage (.922).

SATURDAY – Sault Ste. Marie (32-13-1-3) at Plymouth, Compuware Arena, 7:05 p.m. The Greyhounds have won two of three meetings against Plymouth so far this season and come into the weekend in first place in the OHL West, five points ahead of second place Windsor (27-13-5-4) and 12 points up on Plymouth. Veteran goaltender Kyle Gajewski (2.43, .912) is having his best year in the OHL and leads the league with 28 victories. The ‘Hounds have eight players scoring in double figures so far this season with Pittsburgh prospect Dustin Jeffrey (21-42-63, +10) and Los Angeles draft pick Wayne Simmonds (23-26-49) leading the way. Washington prospect and defenseman Josh Godfrey (15-21-36) has one of the hardest shots from the blue line in the Canadian Hockey League.

SUNDAY – Kingston (13-31-0-1) at Plymouth, Compuware Arena, 2:00 p.m. The Frontenacs are going through a tough season and are tied with Sudbury for ninth in the Eastern Conference race. Kingston is rebuilding with young players and left wing Josh Brittain (17-13-30, 118th by Central Scouting) and center Nathan Moon (17-22-39, 114th by Central Scouting) are worth watching.

IceDiggers back home Saturday night

The Alpena IceDiggers return to Northern Lights Arena at 7:00 p.m. to take on the Traverse City North Stars.

The IceDiggers are coming off a two-game sweep of the Marquette Rangers last weekend. On Friday, Alpena traveled to Marquette and came away with a 4-3 shootout win. Isaac Viau led the way with two goals and two assists and Jimmy McCusker chipped in a goal and an assist. Nick Graves made 23 saves to earn the win in net for Alpena.

On Saturday, it was all Alpena as the IceDiggers dumped Marquette, 4-0, in front of the home crowd. Erik Peterson scored two power-play goals and rookie JC Gulch added two assists. Graves picked up his second shutout of the season making 25 saves.

Traverse City is last in the North Division with a record of 12-18-10. Alpena took over second place in the North with their two wins last weekend and have a record of 25-13-3 and have a total of 53 points.

"As a team we know every night is going to be a battle," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "Every team in this division is capable of beating anyone on any given night. We have to continue to get better each and every day."

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Junior A hockey may return to the Soo

By Rob Roos
Soo Evening News

SAULT STE. MARIE - Junior A hockey may soon be making a comeback in Sault Ste. Marie.

Plans are in place for the former Soo Indians franchise to rejoin the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League for the 2008-09 season. A group of investors, led by former Sault resident Greg Eagle, is spearheading the movement to bring back a Soo Junior A team.

The team will be coached by OHL veteran Paul Theriault. The name of the Soo team has not been officially decided, and while the “Indians” will still be strongly considered, another nickname is also possible.

The ownership group still needs to complete some financial research, and hopes to reach an agreement with the City of Sault Ste. Marie to play at Pullar Stadium. The team is also seeking further local sponsorship and community support while it finalizes its plans.

“We want to make sure we can pay all of our bills every month, and make sure the team can cover all of its costs,” Theriault said. “Once we do that and reach an agreement with the city, I think if we put a good product on the ice, people will want to come and see it.

“People in Sault Ste. Marie have always loved hockey. We want this to be a ‘community' hockey team. I feel the Sault would support the team and fill a void for developing local players.”

The Indians won the NOJHL championship in 2007, in their first season in Sault Ste. Marie. Former team owner Charlie Perdicaro, a New York land developer, was granted a one-year hiatus before the team went defunct. The Soo franchise must apply and be approved for re-entry to the NOJHL, before it can join the league again for the 2008-09 season.

Previously, the team was called the Northern Michigan Black Bears, and played its games in St. Ignace for its first three years. The Black Bears were the first American team in the NOJHL, before moving to Sault Ste. Marie and reclaiming the Indians' nickname.

Eagle, who grew up playing hockey in the Sault, is now in the real estate business in Florida.

“Greg is very proud to be from Sault Ste. Marie, which was known as ‘Hockeytown USA' when he was growing up,” Theriault said. “He wants to give something back to the community.”

Theriault said the Sault Junior A team will fill a void in the development of young local hockey players, providing them both an athletic experience and educational opportunity.

“It's about going from a boy to a man,” Theriault said. “There is so much potential in a lot of young players in that age group. A lot of good players can slip through the cracks because they just don't find the right opportunity to continue to play. We can hopefully provide that opportunity.”

A Sault Junior A team would bring an exciting brand of hockey back to the venerable Pullar Stadium.

“What better place is there to watch hockey than the Pullar?” Theriault said. “It's a great venue. I believe local hockey fans would love to see Junior A hockey at the Pullar.”

Theriault coached 14 years in the Ontario Hockey League with the Soo Greyhounds, Oshawa Generals and Erie Otters. He has been an assistant in the National Hockey League with the Buffalo Sabres, among his other coaching stops. Most recently, he coached with the Nippon Paper Cranes in Japan, helping lead the team to the Asia League championship last year.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Post-game skate in Alpena Saturday

Following Saturday night's game between the Alpena IceDiggers and the Marquette Rangers, the IceDiggers will host a free post-game skate with the players.

Face off is set for 7:00 p.m. Any fan in attendance can lace up the skates and enjoy a public skating session with their favorite IceDiggers player.

"This a fun way for all of our fans to get up close and personal with their favorite player and enjoy going out on the ice and skate with the boys," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller.

Ticket prices for the remaining home games are $10 for adults (18 - 61), $8 for seniors (62 +), $6 for students (13 - 17 with photo ID) and $5 for kids (12- under).

Northern Lights Arena will have skates available for fans that do not have their own skates to rent for only $3.

The IceDiggers (23-13-3, 49 point) currently sit in third place, two points behind Mahoning Valley (24-10-3, 51 points).

The IceDiggers will travel to Marquette on Friday for a 7:30 p.m. contest before returning home for Saturday's game.


Erik Peterson, Jimmy McCusker and Isaac Viau will suit up for the North Division team in February at the NAHL Prospects tournament in Ann Arbor.

"I am very proud of these three guys," Miller said. "They have earned the right to represent us in Ann Arbor. There were several guys that could have represented us down there."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Former Whaler Phillips passes away

The Plymouth Whalers and Michigan Junior Hockey send their deepest sympathies to the family of Jeff Phillips, who was killed in an accident on Sunday in Florida.

Phillips, 24, played a handful of games for the Whalers from 2001-2002, along with his younger brother, Steve.

A funeral service will be held on Sunday at Lynch & Sons, located at 404 East Liberty Street in Milford. Visitation will be held Saturday from 2-9 p.m. as well as Sunday from 12-2 p.m.


Jeffrey James Phillips was born on July 20, 1983 to Denise and Jeff Phillips and grew up in Westland, and later Highland Township, where he was a 2001 graduate of Milford High School.

He started playing hockey as a young boy and played AAA hockey for Honeybaked and junior hockey for the Plymouth Whalers.

Jeffrey recently dedicated his life to Jesus Christ and was actively working in Florida with his father for Ric Man Construction.

He is survived by his parents, Jeff and Denise Phillips; grandparents, Jim and Joan Phillips and Elmer and Sue Wagner; brother, Steve Phillips, and numerous cousins, aunts and uncles.

Jeffrey will reunite with his loving grandmother, Judith Pendo and great-grandmother, Sitto.

A Funeral Service will be held at Lynch & Sons Funeral Home, 404 E. Liberty, Milford, on Sunday, January 27th, at 2 p.m., with Rev. Tim Forsthoff officiating. Friends may visit Saturday 2-9 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. until the time of service. For further information please phone 248-684-6645.

North Stars trifecta named All-Stars

One all-star game isn’t enough for the North American Hockey League. So, from Feb.17-19, the league will have six.

Star-studded rosters hewn from each of the NAHL’s three divisions, along with the U.S. National Team Development Program, will play a three-day round-robin at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. The Traverse City North Stars will be represented by forwards Harrison Niemann and Nate Urbaniak and defenseman Jameson Raymond, who will all play for the North Division.

The North Division all-stars will face off against the Central Division on Feb. 17, then take on the South Division on Feb. 18, and close out the event against the USA Under-17 Team the following day.

“It’s a good way of having an all-star kind of event,” surmised Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “Instead of just one game, scouts can see the kids over the course of three days, which would seem to give everyone more opportunities to showcase their skills.”

Niemann and Urbaniak are tied atop the North Stars stat sheet with 35 points each, while Raymond leads all TC blue-liners with 16 points.

“Harrison is a guy we had some pretty high hopes for at the beginning of the year and he’s lived up to it,” Palumbo said. “He’s been our most consistent forward, and leads us in a lot of ways.

Niemann, who has 13 goals and 22 assists, is tied for 15th in the NAHL with a +16 plus-minus rating, is 17th among league skaters with 118 shots on net and has 10 multiple-point outings this season. Urbaniak is tied for 21st in the league in shooting percentage (.192), leads the team in goals (14) and recorded just the second home hat trick in Stars annals back on Nov. 21 against Alpena. That outburst commenced a run of 11 points in five games.

“That was an amazing stretch Nate had, a pace no one could keep up,” Palumbo said. “He’s really become an important part of our attack, and this is a nice honor for him – for all three guys.”

Raymond, who rarely gets to come off the ice, is 11th among NAHL defensemen with 15 assists and is widely considered one of the top do-it-all rearguards in the league. He has just 32 minutes of penalty time in 37 games despite a regular shift and duty on all special teams units.

“'Reg' is our anchor, our rock back there,” Palumbo said. “He’s on the ice in pretty much every situation, and he’s just as smart and smooth as you’re going to find.”

The event, the first of its kind in the NAHL’s 32-year run, is expected to draw a gaggle of scouts, especially given the USNTDP’s presence, and the NAHL Midget Showcase series that is being held at the same time.

“This is shaping up to be an exciting event that can’t help but draw a significant number of college and professional scouts,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld.

Between now and the Top Prospects Tourney, the Stars have eight contests that could go a long way in determining their playoff posture. That run starts on Thursday when TC visits Marquette. The USA Under-17 Team comes to Centre ICE this weekend for a Friday-Saturday series. Both games are set to face off at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Plymouth plays three in three this weekend

The way Plymouth Whalers head coach Greg Stefan sees it, his team is looking to rebound from a three-game losing streak in a big way this upcoming weekend when the Whalers play three games in less-than-three days, hosting Owen Sound on this Friday and Peterborough on Saturday at Compuware Arena before playing in Brampton on Sunday afternoon.

“Adversity can make you stronger as a team,” Stefan said. “When I was with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, we lost a couple of games that season by scores of 9-3 and 9-1 and came out if it stronger. We went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.”

Here’s a look at the upcoming weekend:

FRIDAY – OWEN SOUND (18-25-2-2) at PLYMOUTH (24-17-2-2), 7:05 p.m. Compuware Arena. The Whalers have won two of the three games with the Attack this season. Plymouth will look to rebound with leading scorers Chris Terry (32-42-74, +11), Andrew Fournier (25-27-52), AJ Jenks (21-16-37) and Vern Cooper (11-7-18). Ryan Hayes – just over from Boston College – has added six points in six games. Goaltender Jeremy Smith (Brownstown) remains among the league leaders with a 2.81 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
The Attack is in ninth place in the Western Conference playoff race and eight points out of the final playoff spot with 21 games left, so each game is important for Owen Sound. Matt Carter (26-17-43) has four goals against the Whalers in three games and Chris MacKinnon (18-30-48) – over from Sault Ste. Marie for veteran Wayne Simmonds – is a player Owen Sound feels they can build around. Rookie Tyler Beskorowany (3.47, .909) is a goaltender worth watching. Defenseman David Kolomatis (8-28-36) is Owen Sound’s highest rated NHL prospect.

SATURDAY – PETERBOROUGH (20-22-0-3) at PLYMOUTH, 7:05 p.m. Compuware Arena. The Whalers defeated Peterborough, 5-2, on Dec. 13 at the Peterborough Memorial Centre. The Petes feature defenseman New York native Zack Bogosian (9-35-44), currently ranked third overall by NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau among all North American prospects. Former Whaler John Armstrong (17-26-43) – a draft choice of the Calgary Flames – has recently been signed by the Flames and is playing some of the best hockey of his OHL career. Trevor Cann (3.79, .902) has been a good netminder in the OHL for a long time.

SUNDAY – PLYMOUTH at BRAMPTON (27-16-1-2), 2:00 p.m. Powerade Centre. The Whalers play the Battalion for the first time this season. Brampton is putting together a solid season and is challenging Belleville and Oshawa as the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Battalion features a balance attack with nine different players scoring in double figures already this season. Cody Hodgson (32-29-61) and John Hughes (18-43-61) are the leaders up front, but New York Rangers prospect Bob Sanguinetti (18-30-48) adds plenty of offense from the blue line.

Rangers place trio on prospects roster

The North American Hockey League announced Monday the 20-man rosters for its first annual Top Prospects Tournament, which will be held February 17-19 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor.

Three Marquette Rangers are on the North Division squad, including forward Aaron Pietila and defensemen Nick Condon and Derek Grogan.

Pietila is the team's leading scorer with 40 points (16g, 24a) while Condon (third) and Grogan (seventh) are two of the NAHL’s top scoring defensemen.

“We are proud of these three guys for being chosen to represent the Marquette Rangers at the NAHL Prospect Tournament," Marquette head coach Randy Enders said. "They have all played a huge role for us the first half of the season and we are excited to watch them play with all the other top players in our league. We have no doubt that they will do our organization and themselves proud when they play in Ann Arbor.”

IceDiggers return home Saturday night

The Alpena IceDiggers will return to Northern Lights Arena on Saturday night to take on the Marquette Rangers at 7:00 p.m.

The IceDiggers will host a free post-game skate with the team following the game. All fans are encouraged to come and skate with the team. The players will sign autographs for all fans in attendance. Northern Lights Arena will offer skate rental for $3.00.

The team has also announced for the remaining six home games kids ages 5-12 can attend the games for $5.00, while students 13-17 with a school ID can enjoy IceDiggers hockey for only $6.00.

"It is important to get the kids of Alpena out to the games and support us as we make our push to the playoffs," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "Our support has been good, but we could always use more people in the stands, and at these prices, the kids can come out and watch us."

The IceDiggers went 2-1-1 at the North Division Showcase last weekend. Alpena split two games with the U.S. Under-17 Team and defeated the defending national champion St. Louis Bandits, 6-2, in their opening game before losing in a shootout, 4-3, on Monday to the Bandits.

Alpena now sits in third place with a record of 23-13-3, good for 49 points.


ALL STARS: Veteran forwards Erik Peterson, Jimmy McCusker and Isaac Viau were named to the NAHL North Division team that will compete in the NAHL top prospects tournament in Ann Arbor next month.

RED HOT: Mike DeGrazia and Russ Anderson have both been red-hot as of late. DeGrazia has six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in his last 10 games, while Anderson has added eight goals and seven assists good for 15 points in his last 10 contests.

BACK STOP: Nick Graves has ran his unbeaten streak in regulation play to 11 games. Graves has a 9-0-2 record since joining the IceDiggers. Graves is ranked fifth overall in the NAHL among goaltenders.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

North Stars get liquor license

There’ll be more than just great hockey on tap when the Traverse City North Stars take the ice at Centre ICE arena. Beginning with the team’s Jan. 25-26 homestand, North Stars fans ages 21 and over will be able to enjoy beer and wine during the club’s remaining home dates.

“For those adults who choose to enjoy an adult beverage with their hockey, I think it adds to our game night experience,” said North Stars owner-president Steve Fournier. “Watching the game of hockey and the responsible enjoyment of a cold one by those age 21 and up – that’s a natural combo.”

Fans who wish to consume beer or wine must furnish government-issued photo identification and receive a wristband. The purchase and consumption of adult beverages will be limited to select areas of the arena – including a concourse lounge that overlooks the playing surface, and inside the rink behind the glass below the scoreboard. No alcoholic beverages will be permitted in the main grandstand or general admission bleachers.

“We think that we have come up with a way to implement this fan option without limiting any of the others,” Fournier added “It’s just one more dimension to the North Stars experience.”

The U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad visits Centre ICE arena on Jan. 25-26, while geographic rival Alpena comes to town on Friday, Feb. 1.

Traverse City draws NAHL's best at Showcase

Despite the fact that his team will be facing the defending North American Hockey League champion and runners-up from last year twice each at this weekend’s Phantoms Showcase in suburban Youngstown, Traverse City North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo knows exactly what he’s looking for.

“Eight points,” he said. “With four games in four days, it’s going to test our depth and I’m confident in our depth. We have to be able to get offensive contributions from some guys who aren’t among our usual goal-producers.”

The North Stars take on the reigning Robertson Cup champion St. Louis Bandits on Friday and Sunday, with games against the host Mahoning Valley Phantoms on Saturday and Monday.

“Probably the two best teams in the league,” Palumbo asserted. “But we know we can skate with anyone.”

St. Louis has the NAHL’s top record at 28-6-1 and a full 13 points ahead of second place Alpena in the North Division standings. The Bandits have scored a league-high 158 goals over 35 contests and their 2.54 goals-against average is third-lowest in the NAHL. Ben Warda leads St. Louis with 47 points – including 34 assists – while Kyle O’Kane has 25 goals, which is tied for second among the league’s skaters. Ben Miller, who came to the Bandits in a trade from Texas, has 16 goals and assists on 12 more in his 21 games since the deal.

The duo of Mike Johnson (13-2-1) and Cal Heeter (14-4-0) backstop St. Louis and both are among the NAHL’s top 10 netkeeps in terms of save percentage and goals against average.

“They’re just about as solid a team all the way around as you’re going to see,” Palumbo said. “They have quite a group, and they’re playing very well together.”

The North Stars surprised the Bandits last season at Centre ICE arena, opening the season’s final homestand with a 4-1 trouncing of the eventual champs on March 23. Joe Greener scored the first and last goal in that affair.

The host Phantoms have slipped from challenging St. Louis for the division penthouse to third place in the hotly-contested North, but only because Mahoning Valley has played just two games since Dec. 22. Schoolcraft native Derek Graham leads the Phantoms with 25 goals and 27 assists, leading a balanced offense.

“The division is packed with talent, so it really doesn’t matter which we’re playing,” Palumbo added. “We’re chasing these teams in the standings, but we feel like we’re playing our best hockey right now. If you look at the season, we’ve lost 10 of the 14 one-goal games we’ve been in and seven of those we lost in overtime or the shootout. If we had gotten a bounce in just half of those games…”

The Stars head to Marquette on Jan. 24 before coming back to Centre ICE arena on Jan. 25-26 when the Team USA Under-17s visit.

“It’s a stretch of our season where we have seven games in nine nights,” Palumbo said. “We’re going to need everybody ready to chip in.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rangers ready for North Division Showcase

The Marquette Rangers will again be on the road this weekend in North American Hockey League action, this time at the NAHL North Division Showcase hosted by the Mahoning Valley Phantoms at the Ice Zone in Boardman, Ohio.

In addition to all six North Division teams from the NAHL, a Midget AAA showcase will also be taking place, offering an outstanding recruiting opportunity for North Division coaches.

“This stretch is going to be a real test for our guys,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “Not only do we have our longest trip of the year in miles, but it’s four games in four days which is a lot of wear and tear on players at this time of the season. It’s similar to our league showcase in Blaine (Minn.) in the fact that we’ll play every day, but it’s going to be much more challenging because it’s right in the middle of a long run of road games for us.

“We did go 3-1 in Blaine, though, so I think this format fits our guys and our team's mentality of grit and hard work pretty well. I think it will be a good measuring stick for where we are as a hockey team right now. We tell our guys all the time that when you fight through tough situations it makes you a better hockey player and a stronger person. These long trips are tough, but it’s part of playing in this league and at this level, so we’ll go down there with the mindset that we’re going to be successful and that we’re going to play well and come home with some points.”

One notable difference between the NAHL Showcase in September and the North Division Showcase this weekend is how the teams are scheduled. Marquette will play two games with the host Phantoms and two games with the U.S. National Team Development Program. The Rangers will not play Alpena, Traverse City or St. Louis during the showcase.

All games will count in the league standings.

The Rangers (20 -13 -3) are currently in fourth place in the NAHL North Division with 42 points, one point behind third-place Mahoning Valley and two points behind second-place Alpena. The St. Louis Bandits continue to the lead the division with 57 points heading into this weekend.

Marquette opens against Mahoning Valley Friday at 7:30 p.m., then play the USNTDP Saturday at 4:30 p.m., Mahoning Valley again on Sunday at 7:30 before closing with Team USA Monday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

IceDiggers gear up for weekend showcase

The Alpena IceDiggers finished off a two-game sweep against the Marquette Rangers on Saturday with a 4-2 win at Northern Lights Arena.

Rookie Jon Puskar led the charge with a two-goal performance, while Ryan Timar and Jerrod Hartman each chipped in a goal apiece. Timar netted the game-winner.

Isaac Viau had two assists and goaltender Nate Pellegrino made 27 saves to pick up his 12th win of the year.

The IceDiggers will now head to Mahoning Valley this weekend to take part in the NAHL North Division Showcase. Alpena will play the St. Louis Bandits and the USA Under-17 Team twice each during the four-day event.

On Friday, the IceDiggers will take on Team USA at noon. On Saturday, the 'Diggers face off against St. Louis at noon. Alpena plays Team USA on Sunday at noon before finishing off the showcase with a game on Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. versus St. Louis.

"We need to take the same type energy that we have played with at home the last few weeks on the road in order to be successful," said Alpena head coach Kenny Miller. "We will have our hands full with St. Louis and USA, but our guys will be up for the challenge."

St. Louis currently leads the entire NAHL with 57 points. Alpena sits second in the division with 44 points. This showcase marks the first time since the league-wide showcase the IceDiggers will play four games in four days.

"Four game in four days will be a test for all the teams there," added Miller. "But we have worked hard at our conditioning, so I feel we will be able to play a full 60 minutes each game."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

North Stars tender two from Chicago academy

The greater Chicagoland area is best known for the Sears Tower, Navy Pier and Oprah, but the Traverse City North Stars hope they’ve landed a pair of the region’s top future attractions in Lake Forest Academy standouts Danny McAuliffe and Mike Schenfeld.

The prep school stars inked tenders with Traverse City last week, giving the North Stars the exclusive NAHL rights to the tandem.

“This was a huge coup to get these guys, no question,” said Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “Danny is a kid who can flat-out score goals, and Schenfeld is a big, strong kid with a heavy shot.”

McAuliffe, a forward, leads Lake Forest with 25 goals and 29 assists through the school’s first 35 games, while Schenfeld is second with 17 goals and assists on 25 others from his roost on the Caxys’ blue line. The pair have also combined for 120 penalty minutes thus far.

“Like most players my age, I’d like to work toward that college scholarship,” said McAuliffe, who hails from Phoenix. “But juniors is the first goal. Hopefully, I can just help the team, maybe pound in a few goals.”

Palumbo says the 5-foot-10, 170-pound sniper isn’t a one-dimensional player.

“Danny is a very skilled offensive player, but he’s not averse to playing a physical game, either. He plays with that ‘edge’ you look for.”

Schenfeld, a Littleton, Co. native, describes his approach to hockey as blue-collar.

“I try to be a pretty hard-working player,” said the 6-foot-2, 2000-pounder. “I guess I like to make offensive plays too, either with a shot from the blue line or jumping into the play.”

According to Palumbo, Schenfeld’s dual-threat game is what got his attention.

“This kid can let it go from back there, he can get in the rush, and it doesn’t necessarily come at the expense of his responsibility or his physicality.”

Both McAuliffe and Schenfeld, who played with current Stars goaltender Chris Paliafito at Lake Forest last year, said they’re looking forward to embarking on the next phase of their hockey careers together.

“It’s a pretty awesome opportunity,” McAuliffe added. “It’s not often you get the chance to go play juniors with your roommate and best friend. I think we’re both pretty excited about it.”

North Stars fans can get their first look at the tandem, along with tenders Bo Jacobs (Soo Indians AAA) and Ryan Amin (Compuware AAA), at the May 9-11 pre-draft tryout camp at Centre ICE arena.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Plymouth deals Valliquette to 67's for pick

The Plymouth Whalers announced the trade of 18-year-old left wing Brett Valliquette to the Ottawa 67’s today in exchange for a fifth-round draft choice in this May's Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

Valliquette was selected by Plymouth in the 13th round (249th overall) in 2005 and was playing in his first full season for the Whalers. After appearing in five games and recording an assist last season, Valliquette scored five goals with five assists for 10 points and 49 penalty minutes in 38 games this season.

“With the continued development of our rookie forwards – Tyler J. Brown (Westland), RJ Mahalak (Monroe), Taylor Carnevale and Tyler G. Brown – we feel comfortable with our depth up front,” Plymouth GM Mike Vellucci said. “The trade to Ottawa will give Brett a chance for regular ice time.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Spirit adds Junior B leading scorer Neily

The Saginaw Spirit acquired forward Zane Neily today from the Brantford Golden Eagles.

Neily is the leading scorer in the Mid-Western Junior B Hockey League and will join the Spirit later this season.

“Zane has great enthusiasm and is a diligent worker,” stated Spirit GM Don Edwards. “He is a gifted goal scorer and will certainly add to the offense of the Spirit.”

The 1989-born Neily was selected by the Guelph Storm in the fifth round of the 2005 OHL Priority Selection as the 87th overall pick. This season in 31 games played for the Golden Eagles, Neily has tallied 23 goals and 33 assists. His success made him the Mid-Western Junior Hockey League Player of the Month in October.

Neily has also spent time with the Hamilton Red Wings of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League and the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. In the 2006-2007 season with the Sea Dogs, he notched two goals and two assists in eight games played.

Alpena hosts Marquette this weekend

The Alpena IceDiggers play in the very competitive North Division of the North American Hockey League and find themselves in a battle for positioning within the standings.

The St. Louis Bandits hold a comfortable nine-point lead on the rest of the division, but after that things get tight as three teams, including Alpena, sit only one or two points apart in the standings.

Alpena will play host to the Marquette Rangers this Friday and Saturday night at Northern Lights Arena and begins the weekend only two points out of second place. Both games start at 7:00 p.m.

"We know that it is a very long year and one weekend does not make or break your season, but this could be our biggest weekend yet," said Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller. "With the showcase next week, it would be good to go into that on a high."

The IceDiggers travel to Mahoning Valley next weekend to play in the North Division Showcase, Alpena will play St. Louis and the USA Under-17 team twice each.

The IceDiggers are coming off a weekend sweep where they defeated Marquette on Friday, 7-3, and Traverse City on Sunday, 4-3 in a shootout.

"Friday might have been our best effort this year," added Miller. "We got down early and found a way to come back and get a win. We need to play for 60 minutes every night to win in this division."

Erik Peterson led the way with eight points in two games earning player of the week honors. Nick Graves picked up both wins in net, stopping a total of 61 shots for his fifth and sixth win since joining the IceDiggers.

Whalers sign 2005 pick Hayes from NCAA

The Plymouth Whalers announced the signing today of 18-year-old right wing Ryan Hayes, who was selected by the Whalers in the sixth round (109th overall) of the 2005 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

“I’ve been talking to Ryan for two years,” Plymouth GM Mike Vellucci said. “I believe that the OHL is a great place for him to show how talented he is as a goal scorer while continuing to get an education in Plymouth.”

Hayes – 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, from Syracuse, N.Y. – started this season with Boston College and scored two goals and an assist in six games as a freshman for the Eagles.

Before that, Hayes played two seasons for the United States National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor. In 2005-06, Hayes scored 31 goals and 19 assists for 50 points in 51 games for the NTDP Under-17 Team and last season scored 19 goals with 28 assists for 47 points in 48 games for the NTDP Under-18 Team.

Hayes played youth hockey with the Syracuse Stars junior program, the same program former Whalers Robert Esche, Dan Collins and Tim and Tom Sestito played for before coming to Plymouth.

“Ryan has a great knack for scoring goals,” said Syracuse Stars head coach Donn Kirnan in a 2006 interview. “From Bantam Majors on, I thought he improved immensely. He took his game to a totally new level. On and off the ice, Ryan is a competitor. He wants to win.”

Hayes is expected to make his Plymouth debut Friday night in Sarnia and his home debut on Saturday against Erie at Compuware Arena.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Alpena trades Nielsen for rookie Barbis

With the Feb. 6 trade deadline fast approaching, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms coaching staff put another piece of the puzzle together last week, trading rookie defenseman Zack Barbis to the Alpena IceDiggers for veteran defenseman Carl Nielsen.

“It was a tough trade for us and it was something we really had to take our time with,” said Phantoms assistant coach Curtis Carr. “We feel that Zack Barbis has a great future and when we sat down and thought about it, it was the best move for him to get put in a situation where he can get some more ice time this year. And Alpena is a program that is close to the school that is showing the most interest in him.”

Nielsen, 19, comes to the Phantoms with 49 games of experience at Alpena, spanning two seasons and a playoff series. Nielsen, a native of Lorain, Ohio, is excited to move closer to home and get an opportunity with the Phantoms.

“I think the Phantoms have a great team here,” Nielsen said. “We’re definitely in contention for a national championship. I hope to be a big, physical presence, put my body on guys and get the job done.”

At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, the Phantoms’ coaching staff is excited about the added size to their defensive unit and are impressed with Nielsen’s ability in leading the IceDiggers to the second-best power play in the NAHL.

“For a big strong kid, he is very skilled. He ran Alpena’s power play and has a great shot from up top,” said Carr. “I just think Carl gives us an added dimension because of his size and his overall natural ability as well.”

Jarram the latest to land in Saginaw

The Saginaw Spirit have made a trade with the Oshawa Generals today, bringing overager David Jarram to Saginaw in return for an eighth-round pick in the 2009 OHL Priority Selection.

Jarram, a 6-foot-3, 216-pound forward from Kitchener, Ontario, is expected to be with the Spirit for Friday's contest against the Erie Otters.

“We are excited to add Dave to our roster,” stated Spirit GM Don Edwards. “He brings valuable experience, depth, size and grit to our lineup.”

Jarram came into the league via the 2003 OHL Priority Selection, being selected by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the second round. He accumulated three assists with the Hounds in a season-and-a-half before being traded to the Ottawa 67's. He notched two assists in the 2004-05 season and a goal and an assist in the 2005-06 season. He finished out the 2005-06 season with the London Knights and played 41 games the next season with the Knights, accumulating two goals and two assists. He started the 2007-08 season with the Oshawa Generals, notching six goals and five assists in 34 games.

Saginaw adds Tront for depth up front

The Saginaw Spirit have added depth to their offense picking up winger Kyle Tront from the Belleville Bulls today for a sixth-round pick in the 2008 OHL Priority Selection.

The 1989-born forward will join former Belleville teammates Brendan Taylor and Edward Pasquale in Saginaw.

“Kyle has NHL speed and terrific hands,” stated Spirit GM Don Edwards. “We have high expectations for Kyle as he continues to develop his skills.”

Tront was selected by the Sarnia Sting in the second round of the 2005 OHL Priority Selection, notching two goals and seven assists in 46 games during his rookie campaign. He scored four goals and three assists in 33 games for the Sting in the 2006-07 season, including a two-goal game against the Windsor Spitfires on March 4.

Tront was traded to Belleville at the start of the 2007-08 season, where in 26 games he has tallied three goals and four assists.

TC's Bourbonais to fly with Falcons

The sky's the limit for Traverse City North Stars forward Clinton Bourbonais, and even that's not necessarily an impenetrable boundary.

The Orchard Lake St. Mary's Prep product announced his commitment to the Air Force Academy on Tuesday, where he'll play for the Falcons on a full scholarship, starting in the fall of 2009.

"It's a pretty awesome feeling," admitted Bourbonais. "There's the relief factor - you have that off your shoulders and can focus even more on refining your game. It's a tremendous opportunity and I'll work hard to make sure I'm ready."

Bourbonais (pronounced, 'burb-un-NAY'), who is fifth among North Stars in scoring with five goals and 12 assists through 32 games, is also on the National Hockey League's radar, having been listed among those who have the potential to be drafted in the third-fifth rounds of the NHL Draft this June by the NHL Central Scouting service.

"I'm not sure that (the NHL) is a realistic goal," said Bourbonais, who sports a 4.4 grade-point average and scored a 29 on the ACT. "I'll cross that bridge if it presents itself. I have to prepare myself for life after hockey as well."

North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo says that Air Force is going to get a high-flying forward ready to help the Falcons compete for an Atlantic Hockey title.

"They got themselves a great hockey player," he explained. "I think Clinton will come in and make an impact from day one. He's a very skilled player who competes hard every night. That's a pretty good combination of attributes and I think that's what they saw in him, too."

Bourbonais says he'll play another season with the North Stars before heading west to the Colorado Springs campus to begin his six-week basic training in the summer of 2009. Air Force recruits serve a minimum of five years following the completion of their education - 10 years for those who train to become pilots.

"It's something I've been thinking long and hard about," said Bourbonais. "I guess I still have some time to sort that out. I'm just very happy to be headed there. I was very impressed with the campus when I went on my visit in December, and am excited to play for coach (Frank) Serratore."

Bourbonais is the 11th current or former North Stars player to commit to or play for an NCAA Division I program in the club's two-plus years of existence. The others include Danny Dries (New Hampshire), Eric Elmblad (Michigan), Travis Hamway and Phil Partyka (Wayne State), Kory Kaunisto (Northern Michigan), Patrick Nagorsen and Travis Paeth (Western Michigan), Steven Oleksy (Lake Superior State), Nick Von Bokern (Nebraska-Omaha) and Anthony Schooley (Michigan Tech).

Rangers play in Alpena this weekend

Alone in second place, the Marquette Rangers head to Alpena this weekend hoping to distance themselves from the four teams beneath them in the North Division standings.

The Rangers and IceDiggers meet Friday and Saturday night at Northern Lights Arena - faceoff both evenings is 7:05 p.m.

St. Louis continues to lead the division at 26-6-1 with the Rangers, by virtue of their 5-4 shootout win at Traverse City this past Saturday, now in second place just one point ahead of Mahoning Valley.

“I think more than anything it shows how good our division is,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “We know that no matter who’s on the schedule it’s going to be a tough night and that every point we can get out of the weekend is going to be crucial to where we wind up at the end of the year.

“As a coach, it’s a great situation to be in because our guys are forced to be focused every day on doing the things necessary to be successful hockey players.”

Marquette, at 20-11-2 on the season, is just shy of two months ahead of their inaugural win-loss pace of a year ago.

The Rangers didn’t win their 20th game in 2006-2007 until March 2, a 5-4 win at Mahoning Valley.

Enders added that this weekend with Alpena may be a bit more important for Marquette than usual, as the Rangers are currently just 3-5 on the year against the North’s fourth-place team.

“It’s a chance to get a fresh start” Enders said. “We’ve not had the success we’d like against those guys, but we’re gaining more confidence as a team and we approach each game and each weekend as a new opportunity. They play us tough, I expect them to, but if we respond and execute the way we’re capable of, I’m confident we can have a good weekend.”

Friday, January 04, 2008

Rangers start long stretch on the road

The Marquette Rangers begin a stretch of eight consecutive road games over the next 20 days in North American Hockey League action.

The team will travel to both Alpena and Traverse City for games this Friday and Saturday night with a chance to take over sole possession of second place in the North Division.

Currently, the Rangers (19-10-2) are in third place in the North with 40 points, one point behind Mahoning Valley and 11 points behind first-place St. Louis.

Mahoning Valley is off this weekend, while St. Louis plays Springfield of the Central Division.

“This is going to be another tough weekend,” said Marquette head coach Randy Enders. “Our division is going to be a battle all the way to the end, so we need to continue to improve and play well.

“I like the fact that we came back strong from the holiday break, but we need to build on that now and take advantage of these games this weekend.”

The coach was also quick to point out that the standings don’t mean that much at the mid-point of the season.

“It’s great to be a point out of second place, but if we don’t take care of business we won’t be in this position for long," added Enders. "I think the guys realize that we need to be focused on these two games and not where we appear in the standings. Even though Alpena and Traverse are both behind us in points, we can’t take anything for granted. We need to come out ready to go, work hard, and do the little things necessary to win. If we can do that, we’ll be successful.”

The importance of the weekend hasn’t been lost on the Rangers players either.

“We need to keep this momentum going,” said goaltender Matt Brooker. “We’re playing with a lot of confidence right now, but we really need to focus on Alpena and Traverse City and not so much the standings. It’s nice to be this close to second place, especially knowing where we were in the standings last year around now, but it’s only early January (and) we’ve got three months until the end of the season and a lot will happen between now and then. We’re playing well right now, and as long as we keep it simple and go game-by-game, I think we’ll be alright."

Aaron Pietila continues to lead the team offensively with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) with Josh Bussell, who’s coming off a five-point weekend against Traverse City in second with 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists.)

A dozen Rangers’ players are in double-digits in scoring so far this season.

Defensemen Nick Condon (25 points) and Derek Grogan (21 points) continue to be in the top ten for scoring among blueliners in the NAHL and newcomer Tyler Matthews has also been a consistent contributor from the defense with 13 points (two goals, 13 assists).

Thursday, January 03, 2008

North Stars get Jean from Marquette

The Traverse City North Stars haven’t lit the lamp as often as they’d like so far this season, and hope they’ve secured at least one more piece of the offensive puzzle after dealing for forward Kyle Jean on Wednesday.

The Stars sent a pair of tenders to Marquette – one of which was a tender originally obtained from the Rangers in a September deal that sent Aaron Pietila north – to land the services of the rangy winger.

Jean, a 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, was among those tagged by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Service as a B-rated player back on Oct. 24 in assessing the 2008 NHL Draft-eligible players. That designation indicates a player who is a potential third-fifth round pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, set for June 21-22 in Ottawa.

“Kyle’s a very highly-regarded player,” said North Stars coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “We are in need of some offensive punch, no question. We think he has the ability and potential to help our scoring woes. He’s also a 1990 (birth year), so it’s not like we mortgaged the future in giving up two tenders.”

Jean – a Sault Ste. Marie product – played 15 games with Marquette this season, netting a pair of goals and assisting on three others, with a +1 plus-minus rating and six penalty minutes. He spent last season with the midget-AAA Soo Indians – as a teammate of current North Stars Marc Thompson, Garrett Thompson, Eric O’Hearn and Eric McLintock – leading the club with seven goals and 15 assists in 24 MWEHL contests.

“He’s a big kid, but he’s skilled and talented too,” Palumbo said. “He will skate on one of our top three lines, we’re not sure where just yet.”

The North Stars play host to Jean’s former team – Marquette – on Saturday night at Centre ICE arena before heading off to a Sunday evening affair in Alpena.

Rangers make pair of trades

The Marquette Rangers have acquired defenseman J.C. Richardson from the Alaska Avalanche and forward Jake Watchorn from the Wichita Falls Wildcats.

“A lot of teams make moves in the second half of year to bolster their lineups,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “We wanted to finalize these moves early instead of waiting for the trade deadline so we could get these guys in our system as early as possible so that they can have a maximum effect for our club.

“We’ve been following these two guys closely over the past several weeks and feel they both have the ability to jump in and make an immediate impact.”

The North American Hockey League trade deadline is February 6.

According to Enders, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound Richardson, of Fort Collins, Colo., is a big, solid, stay-at-home defenseman who brings experience to the Rangers’ blue line.

“Here’s a guy with 92 games in our league, so he’s used to how things are done and knows what we expect of him,” said Enders. “He’s a former team captain, too, so we have a lot of confidence in him both as a player and as a guy who will represent our organization in all the right ways.”

Enders says the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Watchorn, from Sault Ste. Marie, is another player who fits the mold of the Rangers very well.

“He’s a well-rounded forward will add depth to our offense,” said the coach. “Jake will add size to our lineup upfront and be able to chip in offensively. He’s a solid forward that can also play with a bit of an edge.”

IceDiggers home Friday and Sunday

The Alpena IceDiggers return to Northern Lights Arena on Friday versus the Marquette Rangers and again on Sunday to take on the Traverse City North Stars.

Friday faceoff is set for 7:00 p.m. On Sunday, the puck will drop at 5:00 p.m.

"These are two real big games for us," Alpena coach-GM Kenny Miller said. "We need to make sure we put a full sixty minutes together both nights."

Marquette makes their fourth appearance at NLA, while Traverse City comes to town for the fourth time as well. The Rangers (19-10-2) lead the IceDiggers by four points in the North Division standings. Traverse City (11-14-6) comes into the contest trailing Alpena by eight points.

Alpena (17-12-2) is riding a six-game unbeaten streak in regulation play.