Monday, April 28, 2008

Whalers sign 2007 first-rounder Schmitz

The Plymouth Whalers today announced the signing of 17-year-old defenseman Beau Schmitz, who was selected by the Whalers in the first round (19th overall) of the 2007 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

Schmitz, from Howell, played last season for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, scoring six goals with nine assists for 15 points in 59 games for the NTDP’s Under-17 Team. Schmitz led both the Under-17 and Under-18 Teams with 108 penalty minutes.

“Beau’s an exceptional offensive talent,” Plymouth general manager Mike Vellucci said. “He will be one of the best skaters in our league. He’s a very tough defenseman and can play any aspect of the game that we ask. I compare him to (former Whalers captain and current Chicago Blackhawk) James Wisniewski, but a better skater.

“He was the best defenseman in his age group and definitely the best American defenseman of his age group. He’s tough, hates to lose and is the complete package. He plays a very in-your-face style of hockey, what I call Whaler hockey. I couldn’t be happier in signing Beau today. What’s best about this for Beau is that he will get the best of both worlds – a great education, while developing for the National Hockey League.”

“Coming to Plymouth is a great opportunity,” said Schmitz, pictured above with Whalers head coach Greg Stefan. “It will help me out with the schooling they offer and the NHL Draft. I like to get up into the play offensively, but play a good defensive game, too.”

In 2006-07, Schmitz played with current Whalers RJ Mahalak (Monroe) and Tyler J. Brown (Westland) on the Belle Tire Under-16 team that won state and national championships.

“They both have been talking to me,” Schmitz said. “They encouraged me, told me how much fun it was and what a nice place Plymouth is.”

Photo courtesy Natalie Shaver/Plymouth Whalers

Saginaw ready for OHL draft this Saturday

The Saginaw Spirit is participating in the 2008 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection this Saturday starting at 9:00 a.m. The draft will be conducted via both telephone and Internet. Fans can follow along live at

The Spirit select 10th overall in the first round. The team selected forward Daniel Pachis (16th overall) in the first round of the 2007 OHL Priority Selection. Other players selected last season include forward Jordan Szwarz (24th overall), defenseman Cody Sol (116th overall) and goalie Joseph Lepera (276th overall).

Saginaw boasts eight picks in the first five rounds of the draft and 16 picks overall.

‘We are excited to have eight picks in the first five rounds,” stated Spirit general manager Don Edwards. “The Spirit scouting staff has worked all season long to pinpoint the top players that best fit our organization’s vision of a championship caliber team.”

First Round: 10th (10th overall)
Second Round: 17th (37th overall)
Third Round: 17th and 19th (57th and 59th overall)
Fourth Round: 10th and 14th (70th and 74th overall)
Fifth Round: 4th and 10th (84th and 90th overall)
Sixth Round: No Selection
Seventh Round: No Selection
Eighth Round: 10th (150th overall)
Ninth Round: 10th (170th overall)
Tenth Round: 10th (190th overall)
Eleventh Round: 10th (210th overall)
Twelfth Round: 10th (230th overall)
Thirteenth Round: 10th (250th overall)
Fourteenth Round: 10th (270th overall)
Fifteenth Round: 5th (285th overall)

The OHL Priority Selection is the primary method for building a successful OHL franchise. Last season’s Spirit roster featured several players selected by Saginaw in the draft, including forward Kain Allicock (127th overall, 2006), defenseman Chris Breen (125th overall, 2005), defenseman T.J. Brodie (47th overall, 2006), forward Chris Chappell (202nd overall, 2004), defenseman Adam Comrie (172nd overall, 2006), defenseman Nick Crawford (12th overall, 2006) and goalie Ryan Daniels (48th overall, 2004).

Previous Spirit first round selections include Pachis (2007), Crawford (2006), forward Zack Torquato (2005), defenseman Matt Corrente (2004), defenseman Patrick McNeill (2003) and forward Jean-Michel Rizk (2002).

Monday, April 21, 2008

Merrifield named NAHL's top rookie

The North American Hockey League announced today that St. Louis Bandits forward Mike Merrifield has been named Rookie of the Year.

Merrifield, from Beverly Hills, totaled 18 goals among 57 points in 57 regular-season games for the Bandits. He was also a plus-33, which ranked tied for third in the NAHL.

“As a coach, you beg to have players like Mike on your team,” said Bandits coach-GM Jon Cooper. “He can skate, has skill, always competes and is a team-first type of guy.”

The 18-year-old Merrifield, who has committed to Michigan State University for the 2009-10 season, also has five goals and five assists for 10 points in five Robertson Cup playoff games.

Merrifield was also named to the NAHL All-Rookie Team.

“I guarantee he has a few more Rookie of the Year awards in his future as he moves up the hockey ladder,” said Cooper.

Photo by RJ Meyer/

Friday, April 18, 2008

New NAHL Michigan team gets affiliate

The Frederick (Md.) Freeze of the Continental Hockey Association Junior B loop have become an affiliate of the Southern Minnesota Express of the NAHL.

The Express will be moving to Detroit after this season and will be named the Motor City Machine. The ownership group of the Machine are part of the same ownership group that have just purchased the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL.

"This is going to give our players a great advantage in progressing their hockey and educational futures," Freeze coach-GM Derek Comeau said. "Machine coach and GM Matt Romaniski is one of the most respected coaches in junior hockey and has placed numerous players in NCAA programs. The Machine ownership runs a first-class operation. This is a great avenue for East Coast players looking to further their careers."

The Freeze will be hosting an East Coast tryout for the Machine from May 30-June 1. The staff of the Machine will be looking for players who can step in and make an impact in the 2008-09 season as well as identifying future prospects.


Marquette signs tenth tender for this fall

The Marquette Rangers have signed their tenth and final tender for the upcoming 2008-09 North American Hockey League season.

Ryan Johnson, a 5-foot-9 forward from Blaine (Minn.) High School, signed his tender late last week.

According to Rangers scouting personnel, Johnson, who scored 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points in 31 games as a senior, was added to bolster the team's offense for next season. In three years at BHS, Johnson scored 128 points and as a senior was named Minnesota All-State Honorable Mention, All-Conference, Blaine’s Most Inspirational Player and his team's offensive MVP.

Andy Cousin, Marquette’s Minnesota scout, says Johnson can make an immediate impact in the NAHL.

“Ryan’s coming out of one of the toughest sections in Minnesota hockey,” Cousin said. “He’s a dynamic forward with top-end skating ability and great hockey sense. I expect big things from him at tryouts and beyond.”

Johnson is the only the second player from Minnesota to be tendered by the Rangers in their three-year history.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Soo Eagles set to become reality

By Randy Russon

There are signs of progress concerning the return of a Michigan Soo franchise to the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League after a one-year hiatus.

Should the Michigan Soo be re-admitted to the NOJHL at the league's annual general meeting in June, it has a coach in place in former OHL bench boss Paul Theriault, who has already gone ahead and booked open tryouts for May 17-18 and June 13-14-15. Theriault and his group have until May 1 to pay a $300 deposit to the Northern Ontario Hockey Association and unveil a business plan to the NOJHL.

Meantime, Theriault confirmed that the new team's would-be owner is Greg Eagle, a Michigan Soo native who now lives in Florida.

Formerly known as the Soo Indians, the proposed new team would be called the Soo Eagles.

(On a side note, I guess there's nothing wrong with Eagle wanting to call his team the Eagles. But let's hope that Charles Wang, who owns the NHL's New York Islanders, doesn't decide to re-name his team after himself.)

Miller takes new job in Marquette

The Marquette Rangers will have several new faces both on and off the ice when the 2008-09 North American Hockey League season opens in September.

In addition to signing 10 tenders, Kenny Miller has been named head coach of the Rangers after guiding the Alpena IceDiggers for the past three seasons. Miller will assume his position with the Rangers immediately.

Miller said he’s excited about the opportunity in Marquette.

“When you coach against a team as many times as I faced Marquette over the past two years, you learn quite a bit about them,” said Miller. “Knowing the talent that’s coming back, the tenders that have been signed, and the dedication of the staff, I’m confident we can come in and be successful for the fans. We’ll be busy early with three tryout camps, so I’m anxious to contact the players and get going on this season.”

Miller added that he’s happy to no longer be an enemy for Rangers fans.

“Lakeview is such a great building and the fans do a terrific job at getting on the opposing team from up behind the visitors bench," he said. "It’s a great atmosphere, the Rangers put on a terrific show every night and I’m happy to be on the right side of it now. My family and I are excited to join the organization and we’re looking forward to calling Marquette our home.”

Miller and his wife, Stephanie, have a five-year-old daughter, Kadyn.

Rangers president and general manager David Saint-Onge said Miller was the obvious choice to lead the team as the organization continues to grow.

“Kenny has proven he can win in this league, he understands our division and knows what we need to do as an organization to take the next step in our development," Saint-Onge said. "He has plenty of connections in the hockey business and will be a tremendous asset for us in building a competitive team for next season and moving our players on to the next level, which is our ultimate goal.”

Miller guided Alpena to a third place finish this past season with a 30-23-5 record, and led the club to 37 wins in 2006-07 when the IceDiggers finished second in the NAHL North Division and placed 12 players into NCAA Division I and III programs. Miller was also named North American Hockey League GM of the year after the 2006-07 season.

The Rangers opted not to renew the contract of head coach Randy Enders after the conclusion of this past season, while assistant coach Dieter Kochan won’t be returning because he is entering the law enforcement field.

“We understood when we hired Dieter that it would be a one-year relationship as he was already on the academy’s waiting list,” said Saint-Onge. “He was a great help to us last season especially with our goaltenders and we hope to maintain a relationship with him as a goaltending consultant during this next season.”

Saint-Onge said the decision regarding Enders was a difficult one.

“Not having Randy return wasn’t a decision we entered into lightly,” he added. “It should be noted that Randy took over as head coach during a difficult time in our organization’s infancy in 2007 and helped get our young team back on track after a tough start. Randy is truly a quality guy and this move is not a reflection on him or his character. We just felt our team needed a few more intangibles as we head into our third season. We’re grateful to Randy and his efforts with the Rangers.”

Marquette is currently in preparations for their pre-draft tryout camp May 15-18 at the Berry Events Center.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Plymouth rookie Jordan wins gold in Poland

Plymouth Whalers rookie defenseman Michal Jordan won the gold medal with the Czech Republic at the 2008 World Under-18 IIHF Championships - Division 1, Group A in Poland last week.

Jordan finished the tournament with five assists in five games with a plus-5 rating and was also named the tournament's top defenseman.

The Czech Republic was relegated to the Division 1A tournament from the top division after losing to Germany last year, but will now return to the top division in 2009 by winning this year's tournament. This year's Division 1A featured the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Ukraine.

The Top Division, which will feature 10 teams including Canada and the U.S.A., takes place April 13-23 in Russia.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Soo Junior A team to be named Eagles

Soo Evening News

SAULT STE. MARIE - Plans continue to progress for Junior A hockey to return to Sault Ste. Marie and Pullar Stadium.

The new franchise has selected a nickname and will be called the Soo Eagles. Tryout schedules have been set up in the Sault and in Brighton.

The Eagles will be comprised of student-athletes who have already completed high school, coach Paul Theriault said Wednesday during a team meeting at the Pullar. Team practices will be run in the mornings, allowing the players to attend college classes in the afternoons. Players could potentially take up to 11 college credits and still maintain full future college athletic status.

“We are looking for student-athletes who want to advance to the college hockey level, in Division I, II or III,” Theriault said. “I want to help young players improve their games and mature as young men. We can provide a great opportunity here. We will build our team with as much talent from our local district as we can, but they will all have to earn their spurs.”

Pullar Stadium will be home ice for the Eagles. A veteran of 14 Ontario Hockey League coaching seasons, Theriault said he is looking forward to return to the bench at the Junior A level, where he had his first head coaching job with the former Soo Indians in 1975.

“You could look around the world and not find a better facility than the Pullar,” Theriault said. “It's the perfect place to watch a hockey game.”

Open camp tryouts for the Eagles will be held at Kensington Arena in Brighton on May 17-18, and at Big Bear Arena in Sault Ste. Marie on June 13-14-15. Both camps are priority to high school graduates.

The local Junior A franchise was formerly the Soo Indians before folding operations in 2007 after winning the NOJHL title. The new team owner is Greg Eagle. He is a Sault native who now lives in Florida and is in the real estate business.

The Eagles are still ironing out a number of business matters, and will seek approval to re-enter the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League next month. The NOJHL season begins the first week of September and could potentially extend as late as early May.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rangers tender two Michigan high schoolers

The Marquette Rangers continue their preparations for the upcoming 2008-2009 NAHL season with the signing of two more tenders, bringing the total to nine players tendered by the Rangers.

Nathan Milam, a forward from Livonia Churchill High School and a member of Team Michigan, and Kevin Gibson, a forward from Grosse Pointe North High School, signed their tenders late last week.

According to Rangers scouting personnel, Milam (who is not related to former Northern Michigan and Soo Indians defenseman Jamie Milam) is a highly-skilled offensive player who has the ability to be among one of the teams’ leading scorers. In 25 games this past season, Milam scored 45 goals and added 19 assists for 64 points on the year - an average of 2.56 points per game.

“Nathan has the ability to put on a show every time he touches the puck,” said Tom Boileau, Rangers director of player personnel. “He’s a fast skater, has great hands and a natural ability to score goals. This kid is fun to watch and he’s the kind of player every coach dreams of having on his bench.”

Gibson, according to Boileau, is a fearless, tough-nosed player who’s willing to go into the corners and win battles for the puck.

“Kevin will do whatever he’s asked to do and will do it well,” Boileau said. “He’s gritty, physical, he blocks shots, he does all the things a NAHL forward must to do to be successful. Add the fact that he can score, too, (46 points in 28 games) and he could be a great addition to the Rangers this next year.”

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Ex-North Star commits to Colorado College

The Fairbanks Ice Dogs have announced that defenseman Arthur Bidwill has committed to Colorado College for next season.

Now in his third NAHL season, Bidwill, a 20-year-old from Fontana, Wis., finished this year with 10 goals among 29 points in 39 games. He was also plus-27.

"I’ve always dreamed of playing in the WCHA and I couldn’t be happier to be going to CC,” said Bidwill, a NAHL Top Prospects Tournament participant. “I can’t thank my family, teammates and coaches enough for the opportunity.”

Bidwill began his NAHL career with the Southern Minnesota Express before hooking on with the Traverse City North Stars. He joined the Ice Dogs in a mid-season trade last season.

“We’re very proud of Arthur,” said Ice Dogs assistant coach Josh Hauge. “Colorado College is not just getting a great hockey player, but also a great young man.”

Bidwill is the 11th player for this year’s Ice Dogs team to commit to a Division I program.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Spirit names '07-08 award winners at banquet

The Saginaw Spirit hosted their sixth annual Meijer Award Ceremony Tuesday night at TheDow Event Center.

The ceremony is a chance for players and fans to celebrate the previous season and to look forward to the next. Players, staff and fans voted on several awards, which were given out during the ceremony.

Spirit captain Ryan McDonough was awarded the team's ‘Most Valuable Player Award' and the prestigious ‘Wren Blair Leadership Award.'

Rookie Jordan Szwarz was honored with the ‘Most Valuable Rookie Award' and defenseman T.J. Brodie was given the ‘Most Valuable Defenseman Award.'

Defenseman Jordan Ogilvie was recognized with the ‘Most Improved Player Award.'

Spirit assistant captain Jack Combs and rookie Tyler Murovich shared honors on two occasions – both were chosen for the ‘Fan Favorite Award' and the ‘Top Scholar Award.' Combs attended Davenport University during the season while Murovich attended Nouvel Catholic Central High School. The two also received awards in separate categories.

Combs, who was the first Spirit player in team history to secure 100 points during a single season, brought in the team's ‘Top Scorer Award.'

Murovich was honored with the teams ‘Heart and Soul Award.'

Goalie Ryan Daniels capped off this season's accolades with the ‘Community Service Award,' given to him for his efforts promoting the Spirit product in the greater mid-Michigan community.

Traverse City tenders three more skaters

The Traverse City North Stars enjoyed the best season in its three-year history, setting team marks wins, points, and goals per game while finishing third in the NAHL in power play efficiency.

With as many as 19 eligible returnees, the club will look to build on the momentum of a 12-5-4 stretch run heading into the 2008-09 campaign, starting with a May 9-11 tryout camp at Centre ICE arena.

The North Stars capped a stellar class of tenders last month, inking a trio of front-liners who have shown an innate ‘twine-clination.’ Two came from the ranks of the Midwest Elite Hockey League ranks – Soo forward Daniel Radke and Chicago Young Americans centerman Chris Salomone – and the state’s top prep player, Trenton’s Josh Miller.

“All three are offensive players, and all have many other facets to their respective skill sets,” said Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “They wouldn’t be coveted at this level if they lacked the ability to play in their own zone as well. Given the guys we have coming back, and this entire group of tenders, we have a lot to look forward to. It’s exciting to think about.”

Radke, an Orinda, Calif., product, led the Soo in scoring last season, racking up 26 points over 26 MWEHL contests, including six multi-point outings for the Indians. The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder appeared in 24 games in 2006-07 for the Soo – a club for which seven current or former North Stars have played. Radke billeted with the family of current Stars winger Kyle Jean.

“Knowing so many of the guys, TC was definitely my number one choice,” said Radke, who will turn 17 on Apr. 5. “The jump to juniors means bigger, stronger guys, and the speed of the game increases. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Palumbo kept a close eye on Radke during the MWEHL season, and liked what he saw.

“Dan is a young recruit at ’91 (birth year), but the kid just seemed to get better and better throughout the year,” said Palumbo, who also tendered Radke’s Soo teammate, Bo Jacobs, earlier in the season. “He has that mind and feel for the game that you look for. Some (NCAA) D-1 schools have already recognized his puck skills.”

Salomone was the second-leading goal-scorer for Chicago on a team Palumbo called “loaded with talent.” Despite his 14-goal outburst in MWEHL play (40 goals overall), the Homer Glen, Ill. native says he’d rather give than receive.

“I try to be more of an assist guy, a set-up man,” said the 6-foot, 180-pound center, who combusted for 21 points over one nine-game stretch last season. “I try to look for guys and would just as soon rack up assists as goals.”

Salomone, who will turn 19 in October, led the Young Americans to a runner-up finish in the Illinois state tourney, and finished with 80 points overall.

“He has tremendous offensive talent, but he’s also one of the best penalty killers we saw,” Palumbo added. “He has the size up the middle and the consistency to make an impact.”

Miller is the second Mr. Hockey winner (state’s top high school player) to sign with Traverse City (Zach Hitch played parts of two seasons with the Stars after winning the 2006 award at Brighton). He led all Michigan high schoolers with 86 points for state champions Trenton, which included a symmetrical 43 goals and 43 assists.

“He had an unbelievable year statistically,” Palumbo remarked. “Josh is a player that can play both ways, he’s physical and can check, and he’s obviously a real offensive threat.”

Miller told Michigan Hockey that his team’s run to the state title began the previous season.

“Just starting my senior year was a motivator knowing that we got knocked out of the playoffs early last year,” he said in the March 24 issue. “I didn’t want my last year to be like that so it pushed me to get everyone else motivated and energetic and make a run at a state title and that’s what we did.”

The Stars have closed out their allotment of tenders – which secure players’ NAHL rights ahead of the May 20 draft. TC’s tenders class also includes Jacobs (Soo Indians), Lake Forest Academy teammates Danny McAuliffe and Mike Schenfeld and Compuware forward Ryan Amin. The club dealt its eighth tender to Marquette in a deal that brought Jean to TC.

“You stars to think about all the talent that could be back here, and all the talent that is coming in as tenders, those we’ll pick up in the draft, and those at our summer camps – it’s easy to get pumped up about where we’re headed,” Palumbo beamed. “We really got going in the right direction this year, and the future is very bright.”

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Whalers hand out awards at banquet

The Plymouth Whalers concluded the 2007-08 season with a banquet Monday evening at Ginopolis on the Ice Restaurant in Plymouth.

The following players received awards:

REGULAR SEASON MOST VALUABLE PLAYER and LEADING SCORERChris Terry – A draft choice of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, Terry led the Whalers with 44 goals and 57 assists for 101 points and was +12 in 68 games. Terry is currently playing with Albany of the American Hockey League.

DEFENSEMAN of the YEARBrett Bellemore – A veteran defenseman and Carolina Hurricanes draft who was often paired against the top lines in the OHL, Bellemore scored six goals with 18 assists for 24 points this season. Bellemore is currently playing with Albany of the American Hockey League.

HUMANITARIAN of the YEARWes Cunningham – Veteran defenseman who has been active in the Whalers’ community relations efforts for the last three seasons. Cunningham scored six goals with 43 assists for 49 points in 55 games this year.

ROOKIE of the YEARMichal Jordan – Acquired from Windsor in November, Jordan became an integral part of the Whalers blue line group. Jordan scored six goals with 22 assists for 28 points and was +2 on the season. Jordan is expected to be selected in the National Hockey League Entry Draft this summer in Ottawa.

LABATT BLUE COLLAR PLAYER of the YEARKaine Geldart – Plymouth fans loved Geldart’s grit, work ethic and never-say-die attitude on the ice. Geldart’s play reminded many of former Whaler Jared Boll, now with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Geldart scored a career-high 13 goals with 25 assists for 38 points and 99 PIM’s in 68 games this season.

UNSUNG PLAYER of the YEARAndrew Fournier – Plymouth captain enjoyed his best offensive season with 35 goals and 40 assists for 75 points. Fournier is now playing with Norfolk of the American Hockey League.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER of the YEARJoe Gaynor – A solid defensive forward who received extended ice time for the first time in his career. Gaynor scored a career-high nine goals with 10 assists for 19 points in 66 games this season.

ACADEMIC PLAYER of the YEARAJ Jenks – Jenks’ intelligent play on the ice carried over into the classroom for the second straight season. Jenks – ranked 20th by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau – scored 26 goals with 29 assists for 55 points in 68 games this season.

ALICE IAFRATE AWARD as OVERAGE PLAYER of the YEARAndrew Fournier - Voted by the Whalers’ Off-Ice Officials.

PLAYOFF MOST VALUABLE PLAYER and LEADING SCORERChris Terry – Terry led the Whalers in the playoffs tallying a point in each of the four playoff games with four goals and three assists for seven points.


PLAYER of the YEARChris Terry
PLAYER of the MONTH for MarchPatrick Lee – Lee scored eight goals with four assists for 12 points in 12 games in March
FAN FAVORITEWes Cunningham
GRINDER of the YEARKaine Geldart
SCHOLASTIC PLAYER of the YEARJosh Bemis – Bemis kept up with school while playing hockey and missing time due to surgeries

Photo: Plymouth right wing Kaine Geldart (left) meets with Whalers head coach Greg Stefan (right) during the Whalers' season-ending banquet Monday night at Ginopolis on the Ice. Photo by Walt Dmoch

Zaborsky gets AHL deal in Hartford

Saginaw Spirit forward Tomas Zaborsky has signed with the American Hockey League's Hartford Wolf Pack, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.

Details of the signing were not disclosed.

Zaborsky left Saginaw to play with the Wolf Pack at the conclusion of the 2008 OHL playoffs.

Zaborsky, who was selected by the Rangers in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, came to the Spirit via the 2006 CHL Import Draft. The 1987-born Trencin, Slovakia native wrapped up his second OHL season, compiling a career record of 50 goals and 63 assists, including 31 goals and 39 assists during the 2007-2008 regular season. Zaborsky tallied three goals and three assists in 10 post-season games, including two goals and an assist in four games during the 2008 post-season.

“Tomas had an outstanding year and was third in team scoring,” stated Spirit general manager Don Edwards. “He was also one of our best forwards in the post-season. The Spirit family wish this talented young man the best of luck in his pro career.”