Saturday, May 24, 2008

Fritsche tabbed new Alpena head coach

The Alpena IceDiggers have named Jack Fritsche as their new head coach.

He replaces Kenny Miller, who resigned last month to accept the head coaching position with the Marquette Rangers.

Fritsche, a native of Parma, Ohio, has coached hockey for the past six years after retiring as a professional player in 2002.

“It was a tough pick. There were a lot of good choices,” Theresa Hendry, the IceDiggers’ director of team operations, told The Alpena News. “What I liked is he does like living here in a small town. He seems interested in the community and wants to stay here.”

Fritsche most recently spent two years as coach of the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets of the USHL. He also guided the NAHL’s defunct Cleveland Barons to the North Division title and a trip to the Robertson Cup finals in 2005. Prior to that, Fritsche coached the Ambri Piotta in the LNA Swiss professional league.

Most of Fritsche’s playing career came in Switzerland, although he played with the USA National Team, leading it to the 1988 Spengler Cup title as its Most Valuable Player and participating in the 1990 World Championship.

Fritsche, 42, is married and has five children.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Taurence twins coming home to Machine

The Bismarck Bobcats have traded twins Nick Taurence and Nate Taurence to the Motor City Machine for Jordan Singer and Chris Slavik.

Last season, Nick Taurence, a forward, finished seventh in Bobcats scoring with seven goals and 19 points in 50 games. Nate Taurence was one of Bismarck’s top defensemen, netting 10 points in 55 games. The two are Trenton natives and turn 19 tomorrow.

Slavik, a 6-foot, 180-pounder who played in 38 games for the Southern Minnesota Express (now the Machine) last season, finished the 2007-08 campaign with six points and 63 minutes in penalties. Singer, a forward from Lino Lakes, Minn., finished his rookie NAHL season with 13 goals for 30 points in 57 games with the Express.

“Singer will be a good second-year player. He has good size and skill,” said Bobcats head coach Byron Pool. “Jordan is the kind of player who can make big improvements. On the other side, Slavik could be a good power-play guy, even though his numbers from last year might not show it.

“Both of these players could be real nice additions to our club. At the same time, we wish Nick and Nate the best of luck this season and in the future.”

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Portage native Hill commits to Ferris State

Topeka RoadRunners defenseman Tommy Hill has committed to Ferris State University for next season.

Hill, from Portage, totaled four goals and 11 points in 45 regular-season games in 2007-08 and was also a plus-10. The NAHL Top Prospects Tournament participant also recorded a goal and three assists in 12 postseason games.

“It’s been a pleasure to watch Tommy grow both as a player and as a young man,” said RoadRunners coach-GM Scott Langer. “He’s a classy individual from a great family and he’s a perfect example of what RoadRunner hockey is all about.

“We pride ourselves on being a family-type organization where a player’s character off the ice is as important as his ability on the ice. Tommy has been a great ambassador for our program in the community.”

Winning the league’s South Division and advancing to the Robertson Cup championship tournament capped a memorable junior career for Hill.

“Playing in Topeka has been incredible,” Hill said. “I feel fortunate to have been able to play for a great organization with a great staff, with teammates that are like brothers and in front of the best fans in the league.”

At Ferris State, Hill will join former teammate Nate Hennig (East Macomb), who played two seasons with Hill in Santa Fe prior to the franchise relocation.

North Stars get defensive in draft Wednesday

The Traverse City North Stars stockpiled defensemen during Wednesday’s North American Hockey League entry draft, tabbing five blueliners in an effort to re-tool a defensive unit that lost more than half its personnel to the NAHL’s age limit.

“Between the guys we have coming back, the tenders, the (draft) picks, and the guys we see at our camps, we’re going to have a pretty solid unit back there,” said Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “We looked at it as an area of need, given our returning numbers, and now we’ll have a lot of good players from which we can assemble our defense.”

Wednesday’s rearguard parade included a pair of Honeybaked midget major products in Mike Miller and Jared Beers, Cody Walsh – a teammate of current Stars tender Chris Salamone with the Chicago Young Americans midget program – as well as Madison (Wis.) Capitols d-man Tyler Krueger and Mitch Kriz, a Junior A-tested player from the Ontario-based Greater Metro Hockey League’s Elliot Lake Bobcats.

Kriz, the senior member of the draft class with one year of junior eligibility remaining, is coming off a productive campaign for Elliot Lake in which he registered 12 goals and 29 assists in the regular season, and three goals and 12 assists in 11 playoff games. He describes himself as an offensive defenseman with a defensive-minded orientation.

“I wasn’t sure I’d get drafted because of my age,” said Kriz, a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder from Berwyn, Ill. “Playing in the North American League is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid and found out about juniors. I’m extremely excited for the opportunity, and really want to make the most of it.”

Palumbo says the TC scouting staff has had Kriz on their radar for a while.

“We really like Tyler’s experience – he’s a very mature kid,” Palumbo explained. “He has the ability to control the play, to be a power play guy for us. The staff has known about him for a couple years now – since he was in midgets, anyway.”

Walsh and Salamone led the Young Americans to a 15-8-3 mark in the Midwest Elite league. The 6-foot, 185 -pound Walsh – a product of Rolling Meadows, Ill. - had a trio of goals to go with six assists in 22 league games.

“Cody is a property of the (USHL’s) Indiana Ice, so we’ll have to see how it plays out,” Palumbo said. “If he doesn’t end up with Indy, we’d hope he would consider coming to Traverse City.”

Miller, a Northville rearguard who was also drafted by the Ice, has already committed to play for Bowling Green State University in 2009. He tallied 21 points and 168 penalty minutes over the course of 75 career MWEHL contests.

“What a strong and aggressive player,” Palumbo remarked on the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder from Mishawaka, Wisc. “He’s just the type of kid that (Stars associate head coach) Mike (Matteucci) would love to coach. He can dictate the flow of a game with his physical play.”

Beers played in 25 MWEHL contests last year, amassing a pair of goals, six helpers and 31 penalty minutes for Honeybaked, the same program that produced current TC defenseman Chris Heineman. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder hails from Mishawaka, Ind., but was born in California.

“Jared has good size, and is one of those steady players that is smart with the puck,” Palumbo said.

Krueger is a 6-foot, 175-pounder from Stevens Point, Wisc., who studied under longtime NHL standout Gary Suter.

“You know Tyler was exposed to some pretty good coaching and experience in Madison,” Palumbo said. “He’s a skilled player with a lot of offensive capabilities as well.”

The first chance for Palumbo, his staff, and Stars fans to see the five draftees will be at the North Stars’ final open tryout camp of the off-season, June 13-15 at Centre ICE arena. Palumbo, for one, can’t wait.

“The kids who can come back, the tenders, the picks, and the campers – that’s going to be great to get as many of them together as we can and really get to see what we’re all working with,” he said. “We’ve been pretty fortunate to get what we’ve gotten so far up front (at forward). Now we can kind of put it all together and find our team. It’s an exciting time.”

Marquette takes five during NAHL Draft

The offseason preparations continued Wednesday for the Marquette Rangers of the North American Hockey League with the taking of five players in the 2008 NAHL draft.

The club added a goaltender, three defensemen and a forward to their potential lineup for the upcoming season that begins in mid-September.

“Overall, we are happy with the draft and the players we selected,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “We feel we selected the right players for what we are trying to do here. Each player will have a chance to come in here and be a big asset to our team”

By drafting three defensemen, Miller said he hopes to bolster the blue line of his team and work out from there.

“As a staff we felt it was important to go after players to help build our blue line,” he said. “We lost some key guys who aged-out after last season, so bringing in players who can contribute to our defensive effort was a big part of our thinking.”

The draftees include:

Kevin Kissaw, a goaltender who played last season for Belle Tire (Midget AAA) in Detroit and teammate Kevin Albers, a defenseman, Kevin Gravel, a defenseman with the Marquette Electricians (Midget AAA), Austin Accettura, a defenseman who skated last year for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League and Rick Litchfield, a forward from Mankato (Minn.) West High School.

Since January, the Rangers have tendered 10 players in addition to the five drafted players giving the team a large pool to choose from at their final invitational camp at Northern Michigan University in July.

The Rangers will also host two more open camps in June searching for talent in both Stevens Point, Wisc., and suburban Detroit.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

NAHL Michigan teams announce draft picks

The four Michigan teams in the North American Hockey League participated in the NAHL Entry Draft today.

Their selections, in alphabetical order, are listed below.

Sam Cheraso, F, Cleveland Barons
Scott Everline, D, Toledo Cherokee
Tim Hohl, F, Northville High
Jake Kay, D, Belle Tire
Stephen Lalli, F, Vancouver Spirit
Nick Mellidan, F, Buffalo Regals
Jordan Miller, F, Belle Tire

Austin Accettura, D, Sioux Falls Stampede
Kevin Albers, D, Belle Tire
Kevin Gravel, D, Marquette Electricians
Kevin Kissaw, G, Belle Tire
Rick Litchfield, F, Mankato West (Minn.) High

Jeff Anonick, F, Lake Forest College
Kevin Bechard, F, Belle Tire
Dominick Chiappelli, F, Petrolia Jets
Mike Yonish, F, USA Eagles
Jared Williams, F, Syracuse Stars

Jared Beers, D, Honeybaked
Mitch Kriz, D, Elliot Lake Bobcats
Tyler Krueger, D, Madison Capitals
Mike Miller, D, Honeybaked
Cody Walsh, D, Chicago Young Americans

North Stars ready for today's NAHL draft

Junior coaches spend countless hours preparing for draft day – weekends lodged in various rinks around the state and beyond, and hundreds of plan-busting minutes spent on the phone with a network of scouts, coaches, acquaintances, and former teammates.

Traverse City North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo is no different, but don’t ask him to tip his hand on the eve of the 2008 North American Hockey League entry draft, set for Wednesday afternoon via teleconference.

“We’ve got a pretty good idea where we want to go with our picks,” a demure Palumbo stated. “Between seeing a lot of hockey, our scouting staff of Steve Witt, Bob Spence and Jim Capy, and the various contacts we all have in different parts of the country, we think we have a pretty solid group (of players) to choose from.”

The Stars pick eighth in Wednesday’s draft, in which the club has five selections. A trio of new NAHL franchises – Albert Lea (Minn.), Wenatchee (Wash.), and Owatonna (Minn.) – will kick off the draft in a randomly-assigned order. The NAHL will have 19 teams this year, as Fargo-Moorhead ceased operations, and Texas will take a one-year hiatus as their home rink in Frisco, Tex., undergoes renovation.

Each NAHL team is allotted eight tenders which secure players’ NAHL rights and renders them undraftable by other teams in the league. The Monday tender deadline set the protected lists, and now Palumbo & Co. can go to work.

“The draft is used to fill any holes you might have in your roster,” Palumbo explained. “You have the USHL draft this week and the Canadian major junior draft last week and now you get some idea of who is out there, who is the property of which teams, and where you need to beef up.”

None of the current Stars returnees or tenders were selected in the USHL draft, although goaltender Chris Paliafito did show up on the Indiana Ice protected list.

The North Stars have taken defensemen in two of the three of the club’s previous drafts: Iowa prep star Lucas DuBay in 2005 and Blind River’s Tyler Stephens last May. Center Mike Dahlinger from Chatham (Ont.) was TC’s top pick in 2006.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Plymouth rookie orientation camp a success

Although Bruce Holtom looked a little tired, he smiled as he waited for an exit interview with his wife, Kim, and son, Ben, at the end of the Plymouth Whalers annual rookie orientation, held May 17-18 at Compuware Arena.

“Living in Barrie, you hear things about different teams around the Ontario Hockey League,” Holtom said. “Everything we heard about the Plymouth Whalers was that it is a first-class organization, run by good people.

“Now that we’ve seen it for ourselves, we’re impressed with the facility and the people.”

Whalers prospects participated in scrimmages and Plymouth’s first round selections over the last two seasons – defenseman Beau Schmitz and center Tyler Seguin – played as advertised.

Beau (Schmitz) knows skating and is an offensive-minded defenseman. Seguin – pronounced SAY-gann – scored a goal during the first scrimmage, but his four assists over the two days were just as impressive. Can you say offense?

The two-day orientation was far more than a couple of scrimmages for Holtom (a 2008 draft choice, also pictured) and the other Plymouth prospects. It was a chance for Whalers draft choices and their parents to meet the Plymouth staff, see the Compuware Arena first hand, explore the town of Plymouth and the surrounding community and become acquainted with the Plymouth-Canton school system.

The camp was also an opportunity for some parents to reflect on the fact that their sons were moving up the hockey ladder.

“It was surreal seeing my kid wearing an OHL jersey for the first time,” said Ron Levi, the father of Detroit Compuware midget Austin Levi, in his blog. “And it was fun seeing all the Whalers fans who turned out to watch the scrimmages.”

The end of the first day was spent in an education seminar, hosted by Plymouth president and general manager Mike Vellucci, but featuring Plymouth educational consultant John Siedelman.

“We’re trying to give you as much information as we can so that you can make an intelligent decision in terms of where your son will play,” Vellucci said in his opening remarks at the seminar. “We believe if you play in Plymouth, you’ll get the best of both worlds – a chance to get a quality education, while playing in the number one developmental league in the world.

“Something I believe in, and I know (Plymouth head coach) Greg Stefan feels the same way, is we’re here to teach life skills – how to become a better person. I get excited when I see one of our players in the National Hockey League, but my wife will tell you I get just as excited when a player calls me and tells me he just got accepted into medical school or is working towards becoming a lawyer.

“It’s great that whenever we go to Oshawa, we always see a couple of our ex-players (Randy Fitzgerald and Jamie Lalonde), who work in the area as policeman. We’re proud of the fact that we’ve been able to maintain relationships with some of our players after they are finished in hockey.”

Vellucci instituted a team rule when he became general manager that players who fail their classes sit out, no matter if it’s a top prospect headed to the National Hockey League or the last man on the roster. The rule is enforced.

Typically the Whalers’ high-school age students attend classes from 7:10am until 1:08pm, report to practice by 2pm and are usually headed home by 4:45pm.

The Whalers have a mandatory two-hour study hall every Tuesday night for high school age students at Compuware Arena. Siedelman – who spent 38 years in the Plymouth-Canton educational community and is now retired – oversees the study hall.

Siedelman is as passionate about his job as any coach or player. He keeps the Plymouth coaching staff, host families and parents up-to-speed about the players’ academic progress and works tirelessly as a liason among all parties involved.

The first hurdle for a lot of new Whalers players and their parents to overcome is the culture shock. The Plymouth-Canton campus is 5,700 students strong and is one of the biggest campuses in Michigan.

Even so, the Whalers have had a lot of success stories in the classroom. John Terry, the father of Whalers veteran Chris Terry, talked about Chris’s development as a student when moving from Brampton, Ontario to Plymouth.

“My son was drafted by Plymouth three years ago,” John Terry said. “At the time, we didn’t know a whole lot about Plymouth. But I have to say the Whalers have been a terrific organization for Chris, both from a hockey perspective and a school perspective. He’s made his life here."

Making the transition from Canadian school to school based in the United States can be a challenge, but Seidelman eased the transition.

“It was really challenging for my son to come from the Canadian educational system to the US system,” John Terry said. “I worked aggressively with John for my son, because when Chris got here, he had gone through Grade 10 in Canada. When Chris came to Plymouth, he was placed in Grade 11 and we were concerned, because you need certain prerequisites to graduate in the United States.

“But John Seidelman was terrific. I could call him anytime and talk about Chris’s grades and classes. John talked to Chris’s teachers on my behalf. As a parent, you care passionately about your son or daughter and their education. Now Chris is attending college classes and Adam Mattson (Plymouth director of hockey operations) has been terrific with getting Chris set up.”

“When Chris came to Plymouth, he was a 16-year-old boy. Overall, his mother (Dianne) and I are impressed with the progress Chris has made, both on the ice and as a person. The Ontario Hockey League has been a successful league for my son.”

Terry’s progress as a student and player is the Whalers – and Canadian Hockey League’s – template for success. Not every player will make it to the National Hockey League, but all players have an opportunity to succeed off the ice and in the classroom.

Spirit get radio deal on WTKQ-FM 100.5

The Saginaw Spirit and NextMedia Operating have announced the formation of a new partnership in the form of a three-year contract deal that will make WTKQ-FM 100.5 the new flagship home for all of the Spirit’s live play-by-play broadcasts.

The daily “Spirit Hockey Update” report as well as the Monday night “Spirit Hockey Show” will also be part of this package. For the next three seasons, all Spirit home and away games will be aired live.

All Spirit game broadcasts will consist of a one-half hour pre-game show as well as the “Spirit Star of the Game Show,” which will follow all home game broadcasts, and the Spirit post-game show, the latter program for all Spirit games.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bobcats tender Compuware defenseman

The Bismarck Bobcats have signed Detroit Compuware defenseman Daniel DeKeyser to a tender for the upcoming 2008-09 season.

DeKeyser, a big, lanky defender that plays every game with an edge, was a training camp invitee last fall with the Plymouth Whalers (pictured).

“DeKeyser has a tremendous upside and a real bright future in the North American Hockey League,” Bobcats head coach Byron Pool said.

A 6-foot-3, 170-pounder, DeKeyser had a goal and 13 assists in 25 games last year.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Whalers finish up rookie camp Sunday morning

The Plymouth Whalers completed their rookie camp Sunday as the White Team won a close contest, 7-6, over the Blue Team.

Tyler J. Brown switched teams at half.

The scoring:

FIRST HALF (35 minutes)
White - Jamie Devane (RJ Mahalak) 4:53
Blue - Dan Bacon (Kevin Gravel) 10:07
Blue - Christian Steingraber (Tyler Seguin) 11:24
White - Peter Neal (Torey Krug) 12:36
White - Anthony Hayes (Tyler J. Brown, Ryan Jablonski) 20:03
White - Jamie Devane (Beau Schmitz) 27:42
Blue - Brendan McLeskey (Tyler Seguin) 28:53
White - Christian Finch (Tyler J. Brown) 29:45

SECOND HALF (35 minutes)
Blue - Tyler J. Brown (Tyler Seguin) 5:23
Blue - Chad Rutkowski (Mike Yovanic, Kevin Gravel) 7:44
Blue - Sean Myers (Dan Bacon) 31:24
White - RJ Mahalak (Anthony Hayes, Torey Krug) 11:14
White - Anthony Hayes (Beau Schmitz) 24:20

Jablonski and Krug scored in a shootout as the White defeated the Blue in Saturday's scrimmage.

FIRST HALF (40 minutes)
Blue - Tyler Seguin (Colin MacDonald, Kevin Gravel) 2:45
White - Myles McCauley (Anthony Hayes, Ben Holtom) 4:20
White - David Morden (Jamie Devane) 10:54
White - Jamie Devane (Cory McDonnell) 25:00

SECOND HALF (35 minutes)
Blue - Ali Dakroub (Christian Steingraber, Austin Levi) 6:20
Blue - Tyler J. Brown (Christian Steingraber, Tyler Seguin) 11:20

Goaltenders were Scott Wedgewood (White) and Karsten Pankhurst (Blue).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Plymouth's Bellemore signs with Carolina

The Carolina Hurricanes today announced that the team has agreed to terms with defenseman Brett Bellemore on a three-year, entry-level contract.

The deal will pay Bellemore an average of $500,000 per season in the NHL and an average of $55,000 per season in the minor leagues. Bellemore also receives a $100,000 signing bonus as a part of the contract.

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

Bellemore, 19, completed his third season with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League in 2007-08, scoring six goals, earning 18 assists (24 points) and accumulating 70 penalty minutes in 56 regular-season games. Following Plymouth’s exit from the OHL playoffs, Bellemore (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) finished the season with Carolina’s top minor-league affiliate, the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League, playing in four of Albany’s last six regular-season games, and five of the team’s seven postseason games.

In 2006-07, the Windsor, Ont., native was named Plymouth’s Most Improved Player when he led all Canadian Hockey League defensemen with a plus-48 plus-minus rating, and helped the Whalers to the OHL championship. In three seasons of major junior hockey, Bellemore played in 152 regular-season games, scoring six goals and earning 30 assists (36 points) and helping Plymouth make the playoffs in each of his three seasons.

Carolina drafted Bellemore in the sixth round, 162nd overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. He was originally selected by the Whalers in the 12th round (233rd overall) in the 2004 OHL Priority Selection.

“We saw a lot of potential in Brett when we drafted him,” said Plymouth head coach Greg Stefan. “We saw with his size and his instincts, that there was something there. Fortunately for us, he came into his own during our Memorial Cup run (2007) and was one of the better defensive defensemen in junior hockey. He was a stalwart defenseman for us last season, playing close to 30 minutes per game.

“By losing him, it’s going to hurt us, but on the other hand, it’s great to see our players reach their goals and sign NHL contracts. We wish him the best.”

“One of our goals, as an organization, is to help players move up to professional hockey,” said Plymouth general manager Mike Vellucci. “Brett has worked very hard for the Whalers and has earned this opportunity. We’re very happy for him.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Marquette seeking new blood for '08-09

The Marquette Rangers will be moving one block west down Fair Avenue to the Berry Events Center this weekend for their annual pre-draft camp Friday through Sunday. The camp is one of four to be conducted by the North American Hockey League team as they search for talent for the upcoming 2008-09 season.

“This is a really unique opportunity for us and for our incoming prospects,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “A pre-draft camp gives us the chance to find those players no one knows about for one reason or another. These guys now have the chance now to show us what they can do, get noticed and hopefully wind-up on our draft board next week.”

The NAHL draft is next Wednesday.

“This camp is also a great chance for local kids who want to give junior hockey a shot,” Miller added. "Since we’re the only junior team in the U.P., it’s only right that we offer the U.P. kids a chance to tryout for the Rangers and play close to home.”

The Marquette camp will feature close to 80 skaters, most of them newcomers, but several current Rangers will also be there fighting for their spot back on this year's team.

“Obviously the returning guys will have an advantage,” Miller said. “But there are no guarantees for anyone. We want the best guys who will make the best team on the ice when September comes.”

The camp begins Friday with registration at 11:00 a.m. followed by two practice sessions that afternoon. The first games will be Friday evening at 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday’s session will include games at 10:00 and 11:30 a.m. followed by a goalie session at 3:00 p.m. The day concludes with two more games at 6:00 and 7:30 that evening. Sunday will feature an all-star game at 9:00 a.m.

The camp is free and open to anyone interested in watching the process of putting together a junior team. The Rangers Booster Club will be hosting a concessions stand and team items will also be available for fans.

The Rangers will also host camps in Detroit June 12-14 and in Stevens Point, Wisconsin from June 20-22 before holding their final invite-only camp in Marquette July 17-20 at the Berry Events Center.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Spirit staff member off to Motown

Saginaw Spirit director of game day operations Jim Biewer has accepted a full-time marketing position with the NHL's Detroit Red Wings.

Biewer has been a part of the Saginaw Spirit family for the past six seasons - four seasons as an intern and two in his current position.

“Here today, NHL tomorrow! Our 2008-2009 slogan not only refers to the talented young hockey players that make up the roster of the Saginaw Spirit and other OHL member teams, but it also includes the talented people that make up the Spirit front office staff," Saginaw president amd managing partner Craig Goslin said. "Jim Biewer has been with the Saginaw Spirit since our inception over six years ago. We are proud that Jim’s professionalism, can-do attitude and prolific attention to detail will make the Detroit Red Wings game day operations and marketing outreach move to the next level. The Spirit’s business success has been due in large part to the high quality of the people that make up our staff. Jim Biewer has been one of those high quality individuals.”

A native of Marine City, Biewer graduated from Northwood University in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in Entertainment, Sports, and Promotions Management. In addition to the six years he has dedicated to the Spirit, Biewer has also been involved in many other organizations and events. His resume includes working with the Dow Corning Tennis Classic, Fast Ice Inc., the Detroit Pistons, the Detroit Lions and Super Bowl XL.

In the summer of 2006, Biewer took on the responsibilities of director of game day operations. After two successful seasons as a full-time staff member with the Spirit, he will now be joining the Red Wings as a new marketing coordinator.

“I am thrilled to accept this position with the Detroit Red Wings as their new marketing coordinator," Biewer said. "I am also excited to learn from and work alongside of one of the most successful and world-renowned business teams in professional sports. However, I am leaving an equally as talented group of individuals with the Saginaw Spirit. The past six years of my life with the Spirit have helped mold my career in this industry.

"I want to personally thank Dick Garber, Craig Goslin and the entire full-time staff for all of their support and guidance over the years, as I have grown in both my personal and professional life. I look forward to my future with the Red Wings and returning to the Tri-Cities to watch my favorite OHL team compete.”

“Here’s to wishing Jim great success in his new career as an ingredient of the Detroit Red Wings business team," added Goslin. "Don’t be surprised when you go to a Red Wings game and see some of the great game day entertainment you have witnessed here in Saginaw. I guarantee you that Jim Biewer will add to the already exciting atmosphere of a Red Wings game."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Whalers host rookie prospects this weekend

The Plymouth Whalers will host their annual Rookie Orientation Camp on Saturday and Sunday at Compuware Arena. The two-day camp is a chance for prospective Whaler players and their parents to see Plymouth and the surrounding area and become acquainted with the Plymouth-Canton school system.

Plymouth draft choices from 2006, 2007 and 2008, along with a handful of free agents, will attend the camp.

The Whalers will be holding scrimmages from 4:40-6:30 pm on Saturday and from 9-10:30 am on Sunday. Fans are encouraged to come out and see the future Whalers. Rosters will be provided on Saturday and Sunday.

Media interested in attending the Rookie Orientation can email Whalers director of communications Pete Krupsky or call (734) 453-8400.

In addition to the Rookie Orientation, the Whalers will also be holding their annual Used Equipment Sale on Saturday from 10 am-4 pm at Compuware Arena. If there are questions regarding specific equipment, email Plymouth equipment manager Marc Baron or call (734) 453-8400.

MEDIA ALERT – Plymouth left wing RJ Mahalak (Monroe) will be speaking on Thursday at the Monroe County Salvation Army Celebration of Service, being held from 6-8 p.m. The Event will be held at Ambassador Hall, located at 15241 South Monroe Street. For more information, contact the Salvation Army at (734) 241-0440.

Monday, May 12, 2008

North Stars wrap-up pre-draft camp Sunday

Open camps can be a time of great excitement and gut-wrenching decisions for hockey coaches and Traverse City North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo is no different.

Following a weekend of crisp, spirited competition at the North Stars’ Pre-Draft Tryout Camp at Centre ICE arena, Palumbo alternately beamed about the play of the campers and lamented having to release some of them.

“Overall, I was very, very happy with the camp,” said Palumbo, who met with each player following Sunday’s all-star finale. “It was a competitive environment from the first face-off. I give the kids who came in here all the credit in the world.

“On the other hand, it was very hard to let some of these guys go. You get to meet some great, very talented kids with bright futures and you have to tell them that they’re not in your immediate plans. It’s hard to do.”

Palumbo praised his returning players for setting a brisk tempo throughout the weekend.

“The vets did a great job – a great job – of setting the pace. It’s important because the new guys sense it and play to that (level). I came away very impressed with the guys trying to make our team.”

Palumbo also got his first up-close look at Stars tenders Chris Salomone (Chicago Young Americans AAA), Ryan Amin (Compuware AAA) and Danny McAuliffe (Lake Forest Academy).

“I knew there was a reason we signed those guys,” Palumbo quipped. “I think we’re gonna be pretty good.”

WHITE PREVAILS: Brad Scurfield scored twice to lead the White to a 6-5 victory over the Blue in the camp-culminating Blue & White All-Star Game on Sunday morning. Scurfield, one of five players from the Junior B Flint Generals who were selected for Sunday’s affair from the weekend camp, also assisted on a John Aho (Marquette HS) marker. Stars tender Salomone and TC holdover Clinton Bourbonais also scored for the White Team, while Robert Scott (Flint Generals Jr B) potted the game-winner. Nate Urbaniak led the Blue squad with a pair of goals and an assist, while fellow returnees Jarrod LaBelle and Eric O’Hearn also tallied. Defenseman Clayton Allen (Ohio Jackets U-18) chipped in with a goal and a helper for the Blue.

FRONT MEN: On the same day that a North Stars website story extolled the defensive abilities of returning rearguards Chris Heineman and Phil Wendecker, the tandem played forward for the round-robin scrimmages on Saturday.

CAMP FIXTURE: Goalie Tyler Stricker is as much a part of North Stars lore as Wild Cherry or the 'bender bucket.' The former Traverse City Central H.S. star has participated in every Stars camp since the team first opened its doors in 2005. Stricker, who was selected for Sunday’s All-Star contest, played Midget AAA for the Midwest Elite League’s Marquette Electricians last season.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Urbaniak ready for '08-09 in Traverse City

Here’s a scary thought for opponents of the Traverse City North Stars: Nate Urbaniak could be even better in 2008-09.

After racking up team records for goals (25), assists (37) points (62), shorthanded goals (2), and power play assists (19) in a season – plus a berth in the 2008 NAHL All-Star game – Urbaniak is eager to take his game to that proverbial ‘next level.’ To wit, the Perrysburg, Ohio product has started working with a skating coach and nutritionist, and turning up the heat in his off-season weight-training regimen.

The erudite Urbaniak – who compiled an eye-popping 4.3 GPA as a member of the National Honor Society and graduated summa cum laude from Toledo’s St. Francis de Sales – made quite a statistical leap from his first season in a North Stars sweater. In 2006-07, he saw action in 52 games and registered five goals and assisted on six others. Last year, Urbaniak saw a near six-fold increase in scoresheet production.

“Going into the off-season, we had a new coach and a new system, and it was just kind of a good place to make a fresh start,” Urbaniak explained. “I knew if I worked hard, I would get my chances. I was also lucky to be with some pretty good linemates.”

Among those linemates was Kyle Bonis, who also logged 25 goals in TC last year, and multifaceted forward Kory Kaunisto. If the trio were re-united in 2008-09, it would almost certainly form one of the most prolific scoring lines in the NAHL.

“Nate’s a smart kid, number one, and that means he knows how to get himself to the right place at the right time,” assessed North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “When he and Kyle got together, it was instant chemistry. Kory joined later in the season and when they got it going, they were dominant.”

Armed with his bloated GPA and innumerable academic accolades, Urbaniak is a prime candidate for just about any institution of higher learning that offers hockey. With another season of uberproduction, he may have his choice of suitors – hence, the intense off-season routine.

“I’ve been going up to Ann Arbor, working with the same skating coach that the U.S. team does,” Urbaniak said. “The goal is to become quicker, but also a more efficient skater. And I’m going to get with a personal trainer this summer, doing the weight training and pliometrics – not necessarily to cut weight, just trying to get my body fat percentage down.”

Urbaniak, who skated with the Black Team during the North Stars pre-draft tryout camp this weekend at Centre ICE arena, is among those slated to compete for the Blue Team in Sunday morning’s Blue & White All-Star Game, which features the top performers from the round-robin portion of the camp. He’ll also line up opposite Kaunisto.

“Nate is a strong guy who just gets the job done,” Palumbo surmised. “He’s a player who leads by example, and has a very bright future in the game and in life.”

While he’s currently third all-time among all-time North Stars skaters with 73 career points, a reasonably productive start to the season would push Urbaniak past Harrison Niemann (79 pts.) and all-time scoring leader Patrick Nagorsen (88). For his part, however, stats aren’t necessarily among his goals for next season.

“I’d just like to be one of the team leaders, helping the new guys acclimate as quickly as possible to this level,” Urbaniak said. “That’s something that can help the team be successful.”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Traverse City looks to bolster blue line

The Traverse City North Stars defensive corps was a quite a bit more stingy in 2007-08 than in previous seasons, riding an experienced unit and improved backstopping to a near-full goal per game’s worth of improvement as compared to 2006-07 (4.45 to 3.5 last year).

Now heading toward the 2008-09 campaign, the Stars will look to re-stock the blue-line cupboard, replacing a quartet of defenders who aged out of the North American Hockey League in Alex Breeden, Ben Plocar, Jonathan Sheridan and NAHL All-Star Jameson Raymond.

“We lose a lot back there numbers-wise, no question about it – four out of the seven,” said TC head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo, whose team is in the midst of its first open tryout camp of the summer this weekend at Centre ICE arena. “Those were some steady guys – guys with experience. Luckily, we have some guys coming back with the same qualities. Now we’ve got to find a few more. We may even carry eight (defensemen) this year.

“Even 3.5 (goals against) is still not good enough. The three we got back – we’ll be looking for big things from them – and the guys we bring in will need to catch on pretty quick.”

Leading the returning blueliners is Chris Heineman, who will likely become the club’s all-time leader in games played by a defenseman this season – his third in TC. Phil Wendecker, who was a Stars tender last summer before a lower body injury cut his rookie season short, and Tyler Stephens – who enjoyed a brilliant initial NAHL campaign after being selected by the Stars with the third overall pick in last spring’s entry draft – are also eligible to return in 2008-09.

“Chris gives us a lot of toughness, and he’s a shut-down defender that can mark the opposing team’s top forward,” Palumbo said of Heineman, who had a career-best three goals to go with five assists in 56 outings last season. “He has some offensive skills, but that’s not what we ask of him.”

Heinemann says he’s not looking to join the rush or to go end-to-end with the puck.

“That’s not my role,” he said. “Everybody has to play their role and that’s not mine. It’s a big year for us as a team, and a big year for me, because this is a critical time for me to try to make an impression on colleges.”

While Heineman – third on the team with 102 penalty minutes – is content to be the stay-at-home defender, both Stephens and Wendecker are more apt to seek their fortunes in the offensive zone more frequently. Stephens led all TC blueliners with five goals and assisted on 19 others, while Wendecker registered five points in just 35 outings before a broken kneecap usurped the final month of the season.

“We were very lucky to get Tyler in the draft,” Palumbo said. “And he improved dramatically under the tutelage of (associate head coach) Mike (Mattuecci). He’s a great team player and a great kid.”

Stephens underscored his team-first mentality when recalling his favorite moments from his first NAHL go-round. Instead of citing his game-winning overtime goal on March 4 against the U.S. National Team Development Program – a goal that secured the first Stars home shutout in club history – the Rockford native says the season’s final weekend at Marquette was what sticks in his mind.

“Beating the Rangers, getting the SmithBarney Challenge Cup from them, and not finishing in last place,” Stephens said. “That meant a lot to us as a team and sort of validated the incredible stretch run we had at the end of last season.”

Palumbo says Wendecker is among the NAHL’s swiftest bipeds and that his off-season regimen is as important as anyone’s on the club.

“Phil’s upside is off the charts,” he surmised. “He could really be an offensive force back there – heck, he’s already one of the better skaters in our league. Coming off the broken knee, this weekend (camp) will be the first real heavy-duty action for him in quite a while.”

The Livonia Churchill product says he’s just eager to help the team, and can’t wait for 2008-09.

“Right now, the big thing is just building strength (in the knee) to get it where it was before,” he said. “I just want to get back to trying to make an impact – I just want to be a regular contributor to the team.”

Palumbo, Matteucci, and assistants Chad Fournier and Bob Fernandez – and the rest of the Stars scouting staff – will be keeping a keen eye out for potential defensive standouts this weekend. Palumbo says that a pair of tenders will get a good, long look, including Mike Schenfeld, who is competing for the Gold Team this weekend.

“I’m looking for guys that can compete at this level as well as the next level (college),” Palumbo said. “Mike and Bo (Jacobs) – those are guys we think fit that description or we wouldn’t have tendered them.”

Palumbo also says that having a year of Junior A hockey under his own belt will aid in the selection process.

“Until you stand behind that bench and see, you won’t have as good a feel for the pace and the strength of the North American League game,” he added. “Now, it feels like we’re even more well-equipped to gauge the talent.”

The North Stars camp continues through the weekend, culminating with Sunday morning’s All-Star Game, in which the top players from this camp will be selected to compete. The top performers from this camp and the June 13-15 camp will be invited back to the July 25-27 camp, at which the 2008-09 roster will be selected.

Friday, May 09, 2008

North Stars open camping season

The off-season officially gets underway this weekend at Centre ICE arena as almost 70 players are set to take part in the Traverse City North Stars’ pre-draft open tryout camp.

The Stars have as many as 18 players eligible to come back from last year’s team, but head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo says that there are never any guarantees.

“Like any other camp, this is wide open,” he said. “We do have some real needs. We lost four of seven defensemen and we’re always looking for goal scoring and those who can stop goals. We’re excited to get back to work. We’re going to get to see some good hockey this weekend.”

Several North Stars from last season will be taking part in the camp, including leading scorer Nate Urbaniak, who set team records for goals and points last year. A slew of local skaters have also signed up for the event. The club will also get its first look at four of its tenders, and eyeball available talent ahead of the North American Hockey League entry draft later this month.

The players are divided into four teams that will play a round-robin of contests through Saturday night. After camp cuts are made on Saturday, the top players will take part in the camp-culminating All-Star Game on Sunday at 10 a.m.


Friday, May 9
10-11 am: Goalie check-in
12-1:20 pm: Goalies on ice
4-5 pm: Player check-in
5-5:15 pm: Player/Parent orientation
6:30-7:50 pm: Teal vs. Black
8-9:20 pm: White vs. Gold

Saturday, May 10
9-10:20 am: Green vs. White
10:30-11:50 am: Black vs. Gold
12-1:20 pm: Goalies on ice
7-8:20 pm: Black vs. White
8:30-9:50 pm: Green vs. Gold

Sunday, May 11
10 am-Noon: All-Star Game

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Plymouth and Saginaw stock for future

The Plymouth Whalers and Saginaw Spirit took part in the OHL Priority Selection today.

Here are the players each team took in the 15-round draft process conducted online, as well as a list of Michigan players drafted by teams other than the Whalers or Spirit.

Tyler Seguin, F, Toronto Young Nationals (1st round, 9th overall)
Zac Dalpe, F, Penticton Jr. A (2nd round, 26th overall)
Jonathon Merrill, D, Little Caesars (3rd round, 50th overall)
Brendan McLeskey, F, Motor City Chiefs Jr. A (5th round, 88th overall)
Austin Levi, D, Compuware (6th round, 110th overall)
Scott Wedgewood, G, Mississauga Senators (7th round, 130th overall)
Kevin Gravel, D, Marquette Electricians (8th round, 150th overall)
Daniel Bernardi, D, Whitby Wildcats (9th round, 170th overall)
DJ Hastings, F, Belle Tire (10th round, 190th overall)
Sean Myers, F, Chatham-Kent Cyclones (11th round, 210th overall)
Ben Holtom, F, Barrie Colts (12th round, 230th overall)
Karsten Pankhurst, G, Central Ontario Wolves (13th round, 250th overall)
Colin MacDonald, D, London Knights (14th round, 270th overall)
Frankie Simonelli, D, Team Illinois (15th round, 290th overall)

Brandon Saad, F, Pittsburgh Hornets (1st round, 10th overall)
John Parker, F, New Jersey Rockets (2nd round, 27th overall)
Dylan Impens, F, Sun County Panthers (3rd round, 58th overall)
Dylan Fitze, F, Peterborough Petes (3rd round, 60th overall)
Matt Braun, D, Mississauga Senators (4th round, 71st overall)
Colin Greeley, G, Victory Honda (4th round, 74th overall)
Kyle Flemington, D, Elgin-Middlesex Chiefs (5th round, 85th overall)
Jamie Oleksiak, D, Toronto Young Nationals (7th round, 138th overall)
Daniel Clairmont, F, North Central Predators (8th round, 158th overall)
Gabe Antoni, G, Team Comcast - National (9th round, 171st overall)
Matthew Foubert, D, Ottawa Senators (10th round, 191st overall)
David Lazarus, F, North Central Predators (11th round, 211th overall)
Ian Lavigne, D, Eastern Ontario Wild (12th round, 231st overall)
Jordan Bailey, F, Barrie Colts (13th round, 251st overall)
Jay Llewellyn, F, Victory Honda (14th round, 271st overall)
Matt Gellatly, F, Carolina Hurricanes U-16 (15th round, 286th overall)

MICHIGAN PLAYERS DRAFTED (non-Plymouth/Saginaw picks)
Cam Fowler, D, U.S. Under-17 Team (Windsor, 1st round, 17th overall)
Austin Watson, F, Compuware (Windsor, 2nd round, 36th overall)
Alex Aleardi, F, Compuware (Kitchener, 3rd round, 43rd overall)
Jared Knight, F, Compuware (London, 3rd round, 53rd overall)
Dean Pawlaczyk, F, Belle Tire (Barrie, 4th round, 67th overall)
Brandon Archibald, D, Honeybaked (Sault Ste. Marie, 4th round, 69th overall)
Jack Campbell, G, Honeybaked (Windsor, 6th round, 108th overall)
Kyle Palmieri, F, U.S. Under-17 Team (Guelph, 6th round, 114th overall)
Evan Accettura, D, Victory Honda (Brampton, 7th round, 136th overall)
Carter Foguth, D, Compuware (Barrie, 8th round, 148th overall)
Cody Donnay, D, Belle Tire (Peterborough, 9th round, 166th overall)
Willie Yanakeff, G, Honeybaked (Barrie, 9th round, 167th overall)
Michael Gunn, D, Compuware (London, 10th round, 194th overall)
Rodney Lalonde, D, Belle Tire (Windsor, 10th round, 198th overall)
Stuart Higgins, F, Compuware (Oshawa, 12th round, 237th overall)
Jim McNulty, D, Victory Honda (Sault Ste. Marie, 13th round, 259th overall)
Joel Benson, D, Marquette Electricians (Erie, 14th round, 263rd overall)
Bryan Rust, F, Honeybaked (Mississauga, 15th round, 282nd overall)
Saverio Posa, D, Little Caesars (Windsor, 15th round, 298th overall)

Machine motors into Brownstown's Ice Box

BAM, LLC has announced that the name of its team that has relocated from Southern Minnesota to the Detroit area will be called the Motor City Machine.

The team will play its home games out of the Ice Box Sports Center in Brownstown, located in the heart of the Downriver area of the Detroit Metropolitan area.

“The name is representative of the history and economy of the Southeast Michigan region where the team is relocating,” said Machine president Marc Schneider. “We met and spoke with people throughout the area and considered a variety of names and logos, and the community wanted something that represented Detroit, but something distinctive that represented the speed and power of hockey.”

Residents and businesses in the Downriver area have played an important role in transforming Detroit into "Hockeytown,” according to Schneider.

“They are hardworking people who love and support the sport,” he said.

BAM owned and operated the Express for the 2007-08 season.

Matt Romaniski will remain the team’s head coach and general manager. Mark Weiby, who worked this season for the Fargo-Moorhead Jets, has accepted a sales-marketing-radio broadcasting position with the Machine.

The team’s official website,, will be functional in the coming weeks.

Friday, May 02, 2008

OHL draft goes down tomorrow

The 2008 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection will be conducted tomorrow beginning at 9:00 a.m. via the Internet.

The Plymouth Whalers pick ninth in the first round and the Saginaw Spirit pick one spot later.

Both teams' selections will be posted here as they happen.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Rangers prep for pre-draft camp

It’s been quite a two-week period for new Marquette Rangers head coach Kenny Miller.

What with accepting a new job, packing up and moving his family to a new town, all while at the same time trying to accumulate as much talent as possible for Marquette’s pre-draft camp May 16-18 at Northern Michigan’s Berry Events Center.

Miller, however, knows that this early camp has unique significance and it’s something he’s excited about.

“This is the type of situation where we might find that guy that no one else in our league is looking at,” Miller said. “This camp gives each player a chance to show the coaching staff their talents prior to the NAHL draft. We expect the talent level to be very good and have the ability to draft players out of this camp."

Rangers coaches, staff and scouts along with select personnel will evaluate the players through the three day camp. Six games with highlight the event, two on Friday evening and four on Saturday with an all-star game set for Sunday morning. Players who move on to the final camp in July will be notified after the all-star game on Sunday.