Saturday, January 31, 2009

Gravel to play at Vlad Dzurilla tourney

Marquette Rangers defenseman Kevin Gravel has been added to the U.S. National Under-17 Team that will compete at the 2009 Vlad Dzurilla Under-18 Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia, next week.

Gravel, from Kingsford, has put up seven assists in 42 games in his first season of Junior A hockey and has also recorded a plus-2 rating.

The 6-foot-4, 175-pounder has played against the U.S. National Under-17 Team six times this season in NAHL competition.

“We’re very excited for Kevin and his family,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “For him to get a chance to join this team and showcase his talents at an international event is a great honor.”

Gravel also has his college plans in place, as he is committed to St. Cloud State University of the WCHA for 2010.

“Everyone within our organization wishes Kevin nothing but the best when he travels over to Slovakia next week,” Miller added.

The Vlad Dzurilla Tournament will take place Feb. 5-7. Along with the United States, the tournament includes under-18 squads from Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Metro's Elezaj and Schofield play it smart

Paul Elezaj and Tyler Schofield are two of the younger players on the Metro Jets this season, but both have shown to have an on-ice mentality of players two and three years older than them.

Elezaj (pictured above) is the second-youngest player in the Central States Hockey League this year as he just turned 16 on Jan. 9 (Chicago’s Craig Tomassi is younger by three days). The Jets picked him up early in the season after being let go by Flint.

Schofield, a 17-year-old from Clio (pictured right), came to Metro in the beginning of October and, according to Jets assistant coach Ryan Skop, plays a very smart brand of hockey.

“Ty’s going to be a good power play guy,” Skop said. “He’s starting to feel comfortable at this level and is showing some more skills with the puck that maybe he was a bit tentative to use at the beginning of the year. He’s a very hard worker, but he also knows he needs to hit the gym and add some muscle, much like Pauly. I expect Ty to play in our top four next year.”

Elezaj, a native of Leonard, who scored a nice goal in tight last Saturday night against Queen City showing some excellent puck handling, has seen the majority of his playing time on the fourth line, but his status should be elevated next season.

“’Pauly’s got great instincts and a great head for the game,” said Skop. “He’s scored a couple goals recently that the more talented guys on our team might not have, simply because he’s been in the right spot and shown some moxy with the puck.”

Skop said he looks forward to having both players back in the fold for 2009-2010.

“Ty and Pauly are both guys that have been really nice surprises,” Skop said. “They both have great hockey sense and that’s something you can’t teach. As soon as their talent catches up with their brains, they will be very effective players at this level.”


Metro played two games last weekend and was defeated by Motor City on the road Friday night, 7-4, and by Queen City, 8-3, the following night at home.

Friday night, Justin Vinson (Livonia) was a factor in all four goals as he scored a shorthanded goal (giving the Jets a CSHL-best 12) and added three assists. Captain Adam Novack (Rochester Hills) had a goal and an assist and David Williams (Bloomfield Hills) and Matt Noe tallied single goals. Colin Greeley (Howell) made 27 saves in goal.

Against Queen City, Steve Lockwood (Clarkston) and Will Saley (Milford) each recorded a goal and an assist along with Elezaj’s goal. Nickolas Ceccolini (Dexter) stopped 30 shots in the loss.

This weekend, the Jets (6-29-0-1) play just one game in hosting Flint tomorrow night in the second-to-last home game of the season. Last time these two teams played was Jan. 10 with the Jr. Generals skating away with an 8-2 win at Lakeland Arena.


Five transactions took place in the past week for the Jets with two players leaving town and three joining the team.

Defenseman Jake DeSano (Washington Township) was released and forward Jared Justice (Clarkston) was traded to the Michigan Mountain Cats of the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League. DeSano has since joined the Oakland University ACHA D-I team.

New players include forward Sean Carlock (Bloomfield Hills), defenseman Jake Williams (Grand Rapids) and goaltender Kevin Kinnie (Utica).

Carlock, a 17-year-old who played for Metro last season, had been with the Motor City Chiefs of the GLJHL this year and had six goals and nine assists with 59 penalty minutes in 19 games.

Williams, 18, was with the Elliot Lake Bobcats of the Greater Metro Junior Hockey League, had a goal and 11 assists in 25 games and was a teammate of current Metro forward Matt McCaig (Lincoln Park) the first half of the season.

The 20-year-old Kinnie played high school hockey for Utica High School, graduating in 2006.


Brad Charles, a forward for the Jets in the mid-1990s, is now a State Farm insurance agent based in Hartland. Charles saw action in three games as a senior for Michigan State in 1999-2000, including two at the 1999 Great Lakes Invitational.

Photos by Walt Dmoch

Stars host Motor City, then hit the road

Fans at Centre ICE arena should take a good, long look at the Traverse City North Stars this weekend, because the team will hit the road for the following three weekends and play 13 of the next 15 contests away from home.

The North Stars, still trailing first-place Mahoning Valley by a pair of points in the NAHL North Division, welcome Motor City to Centre ICE for a Friday-Saturday series and the Machine’s final visit of the season.

“We have to take care of home ice, no doubt about it,” TC head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo noted. “But no matter where we’re playing we still have to come out with the same level of effort, intensity and execution. Nothing about that changes this weekend at home or next weekend at Mahoning.”

It would be easy for the casual observer to look past sixth-place Motor City (6-29-1) and to the following three-game weekend at Mahoning Valley, but Palumbo isn’t among them.

“I know what their record is, but I also know who they have (on their roster) and they’re much better than their record shows,” assessed Palumbo. “You don’t have to look too far back to see when they stormed back and really took it to us down there (in Wyandotte).”

Palumbo refers to a 6-4 loss at Yack Arena on Dec. 21, when Traverse City raced to a 3-1 first period lead before the Machine took control of the scoreboard. In a subsequent meeting, the Stars exacted some degree of revenge with an 8-1 victory in the same building on Jan, 17, but with four points on the table this weekend, Palumbo & Co. can ill-afford a letdown.

Ryan Misiak leads Motor City with nine goals and 26 points, while Nick Taurence has dished a team-best 18 assists among his 24 points. Since joining the Machine, former North Star Adam Sponseller has a trio of goals with assists on seven others over 11 games. Six different goaltenders have seen action in Motown this season, with Matt Delaney and Joe Moore presently sharing duties.

The North Stars (22-9-5) are coming off a two-game sweep of rival Marquette and have won four straight. C.J. Motte is the reigning NAHL Goalie of the Week after allowing just one goal in six periods of work, while captain Kyle Bonis was named NAHL North Player of the Week with three goals – including two game-winner – against the Rangers. With its next victory, Traverse City will tie a team record for 23 wins in a season.

“Twenty-three is not the number we’re chasing, to be honest,” said Palumbo, whose club finished 23-23-12 last year. “That left us out of the playoffs last year. This year, there are six teams chasing four playoff spots, and the top five teams are separated by 10 points right now. It’s going to be up to us to focus on the here and now – the game we have before us – and if we play to our potential the standings will work itself out.”

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rangers host U.S. NTDP this weekend

When the U.S. National Team Development Program arrives in Marquette for their two-game set with the Marquette Rangers, it will be the beginning of a 16-game stretch for Marquette where 13 of those 16 will be played at Lakeview Arena.

That’s good news for Kenny Miller's club. So far this season, the Rangers have played 12 games on home ice, winning nine of them.

The games will also be important for Marquette as the Rangers now trail the NTDP by a single point for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division. Adding to the importance of the weekend series is the fact that the NTDP has played nine fewer games than Marquette, a potential 18-point swing in the standings.

Going into this weekend’s action, Alpena stands alone in third place with 45 points, while Mahoning Valley continues to top the North Division with 51 points - two points ahead of second-place Traverse City.

So far this season the Rangers and the NTDP have played six times and Team USA holds a 4-2 edge over Marquette.

Head coach John Hynes’s team has been led in scoring most of the season by his front line of Matt Nieto, Luke Moffatt and Emerson Etem. Moffatt has 12 goals in league play to pace the line in goal production, while Nieto is the overall leading scorer on the team with 20 points on seven goals and 13 assists.

Marquette is led in scoring by Chad Pietila’s 38 points (17g, 21a). James Gallagher and Aaron Pietila continue to keep pace in second and third place respectively.

Friday’s game will start approximately 25 minutes after the conclusion of the Marquette Senior High School game against Gaylord which is part of the two organizations’ “Hockey Night In Marquette” festivities. Saturday’s game will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Lakeview Arena.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Whalers, Spits team up for Special Olympics

On the ice, the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers and Windsor Spitfires have been competing against one another since 1990 to the count of 156 regular season games, plus several passionately played playoff series.

Ask fans on either side of the border and they will say that the Plymouth-Windsor rivalry is one they cherish.

Off the ice, the front offices of the Whalers and Spitfires occasionally put their differences aside and work in the spirit of cooperation. That’s the case this season when Plymouth and Windsor will team up to raise money for the Special Olympics. Proceeds of the Plymouth-Windsor games played at the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre on January 25 and at Compuware Arena on January 30 will go to Special Olympics.

As part of the OHL’s “Big Ticket Game” promotion, Plymouth is teaming up with the Fraternal Order of Police to support the Special Olympics Michigan. The volunteers will be passing around buckets at the game, looking for donations from fans to raise additional funds for the Special Olympics. Every person that makes a donation will receive a “big ticket” and will be entered into a raffle to win a number of prizes from the Whalers and local businesses.

The Whalers have also planned activities with Special Olympians who attend the game. There will have a pizza party before the game, which will include appearances from some of the Whalers players. Also, throughout the night, Special Olympians will experience different aspects of the game including watching warm-ups from the penalty boxes, singing the American National Anthem, dropping the ceremonial puck, and being honored during one of the intermissions.

The Spitfires recently moved to the brand-new Windsor Family Credit Union Centre, a state-of-the-art facility that needs to be seen to be enjoyed. Whalers fans were encouraged to check out the WFCU Centre on January 25, while Spitfire fans are encouraged to cross the border to show their support in Plymouth.

Back to the action on the ice, Windsor remains the top team in the OHL and the second-ranked team in the Canadian Hockey League with a record of 42-5-0-1. And although the Whalers stand at 22-21-5-0, they’ve played the Spitfires tough, which should make both games exciting and entertaining for the fans. Windsor has won two games by the score of 1-0 (October 25 at Compuware Arena and December 31 at Windsor Family Credit Union Centre) and the Whalers won, 2-1, on November 26 at Compuware Arena.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rangers part of 'Hockey Night In Marquette'

As with all great ideas, the thought of a Marquette Senior High School/Marquette Rangers hockey doubleheader was born from necessity.

Due to scheduling conflicts in which both teams needed a home game this Friday, the two organizations have come together to form “Hockey Night in Marquette” at Lakeview Arena, an effort that will give both teams their home game while giving fans a full night of their favorite sport.

The Marquette Redmen will face Gaylord High School at 6:00 this Friday evening, while the Rangers will entertain the U.S. National Team Development Program immediately after.

The evening will serve to benefit both organizations, according to Rangers spokesman Mark Evans.

“A portion of all the pre-game ticket sales will go directly to MSHS athletics and to the Redman hockey program,” Evans said. “Athletic director Mark Mattson and Redmen coach Joe Papin have been so great to work with – what with their willingness to move their game forward to accommodate our needs that we wanted to make it worth their while to do so.”

“The regular Rangers tickets and ticket prices will apply and will be used for the evening, but fans will get both games for the one price. The Rangers will also honor any MSHS season passes for the games in an effort to make this as easy for fans as possible. The bottom line for both teams is a great crowd that’s ready for a fun night making some noise for both teams.”

Monday, January 26, 2009

Wins keep coming for Traverse City

Courtesy NAHL

Amid the best season in the program’s four-year history, the Traverse City North Stars continue to pile up the wins, locking down two more last weekend over the Marquette Rangers to extend their winning streak to four games.

“Any time you can take two from an divisional opponent, I think it's big,” said North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo, whose team improved to 22-9-5 on the season. “Our division is so tight right now that any win at this time of the year is big.

“That and we have a long stretch of road games coming up, so it was important to take care of business at home last weekend.”

Traverse City opened with a 3-1 triumph on Friday.

Kyle Bonis connected for two goals, including the game-winner, with Sean Burke supplying the third North Stars marker. Between the pipes, C.J. Motte turned back 23 shots.

Motte made all 19 saves the next night as Traverse City blanked the Rangers, 2-0.

Bonis struck for the game-winning goal shorthanded and Josh Miller added the insurance marker.

“Our success lately has come as a result of improved team play,” said Palumbo. “We’re not trying to do too much individually, but trusting each other to do our jobs. Because of that, I think we’re getting contributions from everyone on the team which ultimately has led to success for us.”

Bonis continues to solidify himself as one of the league’s premier players. With his three goals against the Rangers, the Lindsay, Ont., native who turns 20 next month, now ranks tied for eighth in league scoring with 41 points.

“On top of being a natural goal-scorer, Kyle continues to work so hard and is being rewarded,” Palumbo said. “He’s scored some big goals for us this year and last weekend was no different.”

A Top Prospects Tournament participant, Bonis should be able to parlay this season’s success into a fruitful career at a top Division I college, according to Palumbo.

“Kyle is a kid who’s getting interest and he can play at the next level,” the coach said of the second-year forward. “He’s scored at every level he’s played at and I think he’ll continue to score for whichever program gives him the opportunity.”

At the other end of the ice, Motte has been nothing short of superb. The 17-year-old from St. Clair has won his last four starts allowing only four goals against along the way.

“C.J. had a great weekend and he’s been good since he got back from Christmas break,” said Palumbo. “He’s very focused right now and playing with a lot of confidence.

“Our goaltending has been very good the last eight games, which includes good efforts from Brandon Stephenson. That always makes you a better hockey club.”

Defensively, Phil Wendecker continues to elevate his game. The second-year 20-year-old from Westland has taken charge of the North Stars’ blue line, much to the delight of Palumbo.

“He’s really stepped up for us the last month,” said the coach. “There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s become a leader for us on our defense corps. He’s playing all-star caliber hockey right now.”

The North Stars, who set an organizational record for wins last season with 23, are just one shy of matching that mark this year. Despite the success, the club won’t be satisfied until a postseason berth is solidified.

“We really aren’t concentrating on our win total as much as we’re trying to make the playoffs,” said Palumbo. “Even though we set a record (for wins) last season, that obviously wasn’t enough to make the playoffs.

“The goal is to finish strong and maintain our place in the postseason. The division is just too tight to concentrate on anything else, but I think when we play well, we can be a very tough team to beat.”

And that means showing up for a full 60 minutes, night in and night out.

“We take time off during games and it hurts us,” Palumbo admitted. “We need to find a way to come out a play hard for a complete game.”

The home stretch will be anything but a walk in the park for Palumbo and his charges. After hosting Motor City for a two-game set this weekend, the North Stars play 16 of their final 20 games away from TC’s Centre Ice Arena.

“We’re very much aware that we’ll be on the road a lot in February and March,” said Palumbo, whose team holds a 6-4-3 road mark to date. “The focus continues to be on playing a solid team game and understanding that when we face adversity, we must face it and overcome it together.”

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Machine's John commits to D-III Tufts

The Motor City Machine announced today that second-year defenseman Trevor John will be a member of the Tufts Jumbos hockey squad in the fall.

John made an official recruiting visit to Tufts this past week and was very excited about making a formal commitment on Thursday.

Tufts, a member of the NESCAC conference and located near Boston, is presently 7-7-1 on the season. Ranked 28th by US News and World Report (tied with Wake Forest) academically, Tufts is home to the oldest graduate school in international relations.

John, a 20-year-old Grosse Pointe native, is the second commitment from the Machine this year, joining goalie Joe Rogers (Marysville) who will be off to Notre Dame next season.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Metro's top line solidified by addition of McCaig

Matt McCaig has only been with the Metro Jets three weeks, but in that short span has impressed the team brass with his work ethic, on-ice performance and the potential to move on to college hockey.

In five games so far, the 20-year-old native of Lincoln Park has three goals and three assists and much of that has come since the Jets’ coaching staff put him on a line with veteran Steve Wiechec (Troy) and rookie Justin Vinson (Livonia).

“That’s been our best line lately,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “Collectively, they’ve put a lot of pucks in the net.”

Skop also said that when McCaig arrived in Waterford, he’s brought a renewed sense of showing that hard work hopefully pays off.

“’Keg’ is a guy who’s here for a purpose – to improve his game and to move on,” said Skop. “Even though the team isn’t doing very well, he’s punching the clock and going to work everyday. He’s a real good guy for the others to watch and I wish we would have picked him up sooner than we did. Matt’s a great player in every zone, can mix it up or play a finesse game. He can do everything.”

Being 20, McCaig’s junior eligibility expires at the end of the season. That said, it doesn’t mean his hockey career is.

“I’m really hoping to move Matt on to an NCAA Division III team,” boasted Skop. “He’s got the talent, he’s got the grades and most of all, he’s got a great attitude. Any college would be lucky to have him.”


Metro went .500 on their two-game homestand last weekend in beating Grand Rapids, 11-5, on Saturday night, but falling to Chicago Sunday afternoon, 10-4.

In topping Grand Rapids for the third time this year, Vinson had three goals and two assists, Brett Grech (Hartland) added a goal and four assists, McCaig chipped in two goals and two helpers and Metro captain Adam Novack (Rochester Hills) contributed two goals and an assist.

Brandon Nault (Madison Heights) scored twice for Metro, while Ryan Eby (Linden) potted the other.

In net, Andrew Corcoran earned his first win of the season with a 25-save performance.

Wiechec registered three assists and Matt Noe and David Williams (Bloomfield Hills) had two apiece. Chad Rutkowski (Harrison Township) tallied his first point with the Jets by drawing an assist on Novack's second goal.

Sunday, Chicago swept the season series from the Jets.

Corcoran stopped 48 shots in defeat and Vinson continued his torrid scoring pace with two more goals (power-play and shorthanded), giving him six in his last three games and nine on the season.

Williams also scored shorthanded and Paul Elezaj (Leonard), on the power play, added the Jets' other goals. Williams also had an assist on Elezaj's goal.

Metro (6-27-0-1) plays at Motor City tonight and hosts Queen City tomorrow night at 7:40 p.m. After the Queen City contest, just two more home games remain on the 2008-09 schedule.


The Jets lead the Central States Hockey League with 11 shorthanded goals.

Defenseman Steve Lockwood (Clarkston) continues to be atop the CSHL penalty minute leader board with 187 penalty minutes.


Adam Davis, the younger brother of ex-Jets forward Aaron Davis, is coaching a midget team in Texas and has begun referring players to Metro. Aaron Davis (Dearborn Heights) played for the Jets in 1996-97 and is currently with the Rocky Mountain Rage of the Central Hockey League.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Spirit and Whalers captains named All-Stars

The Ontario Hockey League and the host Windsor Spitfires announced the rosters for the 2009 Subway OHL All-Star Classic on Thursday.

Saginaw Spirit captain Chris Chappell and goalie Edward Pasquale were named to the Western Conference roster along with Plymouth Whalers captain Chris Terry.

The annual event pits some of the league’s best players in a two-day event with a skills competition on Feb. 3 and the game itself on Feb. 4.

Chappell (pictured) has spent four seasons with the Spirit and was named the team’s captain for the 2008-2009 season. The 1988-born Pickering, Ont., native is the team’s current scoring leader with 23 goals and 27 assists in 44 games.

Pasquale has anchored the net for Saginaw in 41 games this season, his third in the league and second with the Spirit. The 1990-born Toronto native has posted a 2.77 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage this season.

Terry, a 19-year-old native of Brampton, Ont., was Plymouth's second-round pick in 2005 and led the team in scoring last year with 101 points. He currently sits second in Whalers' scoring this season with 22 goals and 43 points in 30 games. Terry, defenseman Wes Cunningham and goalie Jeremy Smith represented the Whalers at last year's game in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

The Spirit hosted the All-Star Classic in Saginaw in January 2007. Tom Pyatt, Patrick McNeill and Ryan O’Marra represented the Spirit in that event. Last season, Jack Combs attended the event on behalf of the Spirit.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hackett establishing identity in Plymouth

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

The Plymouth Whalers have a history of developing excellent goaltenders.

Robert Esche, Fred Brathwaite, Derek Wilkinson, Jason Bacashihua and Justin Peters have all seen time in the National Hockey League, some more time than others. Rob Zepp, Ryan Nie, Paul Drew and Jason Saal moved on to enjoy productive careers in minor professional.

Even Jeff Weber – acquired by Plymouth early in the 2002 season – played well enough for the Whalers to be selected by the Buffalo Sabres in the 8th round of the 2003 National Hockey League draft. Weber played for a while in minor pro and last we heard was playing for the University of British Columbia.

Two years ago, Plymouth won the Ontario Hockey League championship with Michal Neuvirth (a Washington Capitals draft choice) and Jeremy Smith (Nashville). Neuvirth and Smith won the OHL’s Dave Pinkney Award in 2007 for the fewest goals allowed. The Whalers appeared to be set for a couple of years down the road as well.

But a funny thing happened on the way to playing the best 1-2 goaltending combination in the OHL. Neuvirth was traded to Windsor in November of 2007 and Smith was given the lead goaltender’s position. Smith played well through the early part of 2008 in playing for the United States in the World Junior Championship and making the OHL All-Star Game, but struggled early this season.

With Smith struggling, former Whalers head coach Greg Stefan – and now Mike Vellucci – decided to give Matt Hackett a chance. Hackett – considered by some a thrown-in the Windsor trade for Neuvirth – played so well in extended minutes that Vellucci dealt Smith to Niagara at the OHL’s trade deadline.

Meanwhile, Hackett has risen to eighth among North American goaltenders rated by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau in their mid-term rankings. Hackett was selected a star in four straight games – a second star on January 11 in a 7-3 victory in Ottawa, a second star on January 16 in a 5-3 win over Barrie, a first star the next night in a 5-0 win over Owen Sound and another second star performance in a 4-2 loss to London on January 19.

Based on his recent performance, Hackett was named the ADT CHL Goaltender of the Week for the week ending January 18 and was the runner-up to OHL Player of the Week.

Through 32 games, Hackett has compiled a 2.89 goals-against average, .915 save percentage, two shutouts and an 18-11-2-0 won-lost record.

In a league that celebrates top-end talent like John Tavares and Cody Hodgson, Hackett stands out as a player who worked hard, waited for his chance and is taking full advantage of an opportunity.

“Matt came back this year 11 pounds heavier, put on a lot of muscle and worked very hard over the summer,” said Vellucci. “I think at one point he started 13 games in a row before we traded 'Smitty.' He’s played very well as the number one and deserves to be there. He has a chance to be a very good NHL goaltender some day.

“He’s taken the ball and run it with. He’s improved his reflexes and his rebound control is very good. One of the things I like about Matt is the fact that the players play really well for him. He’s a likeable guy, and our guys play great and want to play in front of him. They help him, they block shots and they clear the pucks away from in front of the net.

“It’s a great story and he deserves to be number one.”

“The boys are keeping shots to the outside,” Hackett said. “They're playing great defense and I am seeing most of the shots. In practice, we have 'battle-drills' (for the puck) and the boys in front of me block shots and battle hard. Our defense is unbelievable right now. They keep shots to the outside. I can’t thank them enough”

Hackett was asked if there are technical aspects he works on to try to improve.

“I’m trying to be more square to the shooter and keep the rebounds in front of me,” Hackett said.

Goaltending runs in Hackett’s family. Matt’s uncle, Jeff Hackett, played in the NHL from 1988-2004 for six different teams and before that was a member of the Oshawa Generals from 1986-88.

Hackett now works for the Colorado Avalanche, but still works with Matt in the summer.

“In the summer we work out on the ice together,” Matt Hackett explained. “He tries to get me to get bigger in the net and try to stay square to the puck. He works with me to control rebounds better.”

Hackett once waited for weeks to get into a game. Now, he plays nearly every game and will give way once in awhile to Plymouth backup Scott Wedgewood.

“I love it,” Hackett said about his workload. “I always wanted to play as the starting goaltender and I love it right now.”

Hackett’s family resides in London, Ont. According to several family members, they are all musically inclined.

Right now, Matt Hackett is playing a sweet tune in goal for the Whalers.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Three Michigan natives added to NAHL showcase

The North American Hockey League announced this week that Wichita Falls Wildcats forward Sean McKenzie will replace Kyle Delaurell on the South Division Top Prospects Tournament roster, Wentachee Wild forward Michael Voran will replace Nic Dowd on the West Division roster and Mahoning Valley Phantoms forward Nick Shkreli will replace Brandon Saad on the North Division Top Prospects Tournament roster.

Both Delaurell, a forward for the Wildcats, and Dowd, a forward with the Wild, are unable to compete at the tournament due to injuries.

The 19-year-old McKenzie, a second-year forward from Howell, has four goals and five assists after 21 games this season. Voran, an 18-year-old from Livonia, leads the Wild in scoring with eight goals and 23 points in 24 games. Shkreli, a 19-year-old from Romeo, has eight goals and 17 assists after 30 games this season. Last year, he played in 31 games with Wichita Falls, scoring six goals and 21 points in 31 regular-season games.

The second annual Top Prospects Tournament will be held January 18-20 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor. For more information on the event, visit

Friday, January 16, 2009

Jets' Williams working hard, getting rewarded

David Williams is one of those players that always seem to have a smile on his face and always seems to be enjoying his time at the rink.

And the fact he’s brought some offense with him to the Metro Jets since signing last month is another positive influence the 19-year-old from Bloomfield Hills brings to the Jets.

“’Willy’ is a good locker room guy and is another guy who can put the puck in the net,” Jets’ assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “He’s not very vocal, but since the day he’s come in, he’s been one of our hardest workers and has shown he’s a good guy for some of the younger guys to look up to.”

In just seven games since signing with Metro on Dec. 11, Williams has potted three goals (one shorthanded) and added an assist. Last season, he played midget hockey at Lakeland Arena and the Jets’ coaching staff quickly took notice.

“Williams is another guy who we were recruiting since the beginning of the year,” explained Skop. “We saw him a lot last year and were pretty high on him. In the fall, he decided to go to Western Michigan University, but when he decided to take a semester off, that’s when we picked him up.

“His greatest asset is his speed, which makes him good for us on the penalty kill. He’s also seeing some power-play time and getting some good minutes there. He can just do so many things and do them all well.”


Metro (5-26-0-1) played just a single game last weekend in suffering an 8-2 defeat to Flint last Saturday night.

Justin Vinson (Livonia) and newcomer Matt McCaig (Lincoln Park), with his first goal of the season, scored the Jets’ goals and Nickolas Ceccolini (Dexter) made 40 saves in net.

Even though it was another loss, one player continues to stand out on a daily basis for Metro in third-year defenseman Brett Grech (Hartland).

“’Grechy’ has been one of our most consistent players all season long,” Metro general manager Butch Wolfe said. “I have no doubts he’ll make a North American League team next season. He’s definitely ready for the next level of his hockey career and has the maturity to do just that.”

This weekend, the Jets host Grand Rapids on Saturday night and Chicago for a Sunday matinee. Metro has won both meetings with Grand Rapids this season, including a dramatic come-from-behind 8-7 shootout win Dec. 13. Patrick Gallagher (Plymouth) scored four goals in that game, including two in the final 90 seconds, and the since-traded Mike Garvie notched the game-winner in the shootout.

The Jets also topped Grand Rapids at home, 9-6, back on Oct. 18 behind a Brandon Nault (Madison Heights) first-period hat trick on goals scored at even strength, on the power play and shorthanded.

Chicago is 3-0 against the Jets this year, outscoring Metro 24-8 in the process.

Game time Saturday night is 7:40 p.m. and 1:20 p.m. Sunday.


Former Jets forward James Kakos (West Bloomfield), who played eight games with two assists earlier this season, was signed by Motor City on Tuesday.

Another Metro alum, defenseman Jarret Samp, was officially added to the United States roster for the World University Games to be held next month in China. Samp, a native of Troy, is a senior captain at Oakland University and played for the Jets during the 2004-2005 season. He was originally named an alternate for the team last August.


Jason Price, a forward on the Jets’ 2001 CSHL championship team and the 2002 Junior B national championship team, is currently in his second season with the Richmond (Va.) Renegades of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Price, a 23-year-old from Farmington Hills, played three years with the NAHL’s Texarkana Bandits from 2003-2006 and has spent the past three years in the SPHL with Richmond and the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths after a six-game stint in 2006 with the now-defunct Port Huron Flags of the United Hockey League (now the renamed International Hockey League).

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Rangers and IceDiggers home-and-home set

Most coaches talk about taking advantage of opportunity.

Marquette Rangers head coach Kenny Miller is no different, especially when it comes to his team playing the Alpena IceDiggers.

“We’re neck-and-neck with them for the final playoff spot in our division,” Miller said. “We get them at home Friday and then have to go to their place Saturday and Sunday, so obviously these are six very important points for our club this weekend.

“Our schedule is heavily loaded with home games the second half of the season, so we need to make sure we start playing to our capabilities and use that to our advantage. Our guys know what’s at stake and I’m confident we’ll be OK if we can put together a solid effort every night.”

Marquette trails Alpena by a single point in the race for third place in the North American Hockey League North Division, while the Rangers are six points ahead of the U.S. National Team Development Program. The NTDP has played 10 fewer games than Marquette, a potential 20-point swing by the end of the season.

“We need to take care of our business,” Miller added. “If we can do that, good things will happen for us as we hit the home stretch of the season.”

Marquette continues to be led in scoring by Chad Pietila (16g 21a, 37 pts.) with James Gallagher (32 points on 14 goals and 18 assists) and Aaron Pietila (30 points on 12 goals and 18 assists) close behind.

Alpena’s Erik Peterson continues to lead the offensive attack for the IceDiggers with 33 points on 13 goals and 20 assists on the season. Ryan Timar is a distant second in scoring with 21 points (7g 14a.)

The Rangers and the IceDiggers have played nine games already this season with the IceDiggers holding a 6-3 advantage heading into this weekend’s three-game series.

The pock drops at Lakeview Arena Friday night at 7:30.

Promotions Planned for Friday

Several unique promotions are planned for the game Friday evening at Lakeview Arena.

First, the team has designated the game as NMU Student Night. Any NMU student, with valid student ID, who attends Friday’s game is invited to bring a classmate to the game for free. Both must have a valid NMU ID to take advantage of the price reduction.

“It’s basically a two-for-one deal,” said Rangers spokesman Mark Evans. “We get a good group every night from Northern, so we thought it would be a good gesture to give them a reduced rate for this game.”

Friday’s game has also been designated as U.S. Army Night. Army representatives will be on hand with an electronic shooting game and a chance for one lucky fan to win an iPod during the game, along with other prizes.

The Army will also be swearing-in over 50 new recruits during the first intermission on the ice.

“We did this last year and the response was tremendous,” Evans added. “It's a chance for folks at the game to recognize these young people and their commitment to our country. It was a very moving ceremony last year and we’re excited that the Army wanted to come back and do it again this year.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

North Stars acquire Opie from Wichita Falls

The Traverse City North Stars gave up forward Ryan Amin – along with their designation as the only team in the North American Hockey League to have the same 25-man roster as they did at the start of the season – in acquiring winger Tim Opie from Wichita Falls on Tuesday.

Opie (pictured), a 5-foot-9, 160-pound winger from Troy, saw action in 24 games this season for Wichita Falls, scoring four goals and assisting on a fifth. He had 26 minutes in penalty time and an even plus-minus rating. Opie played with the Little Caesars midget major program in 2007-08, finishing fourth in the Midwest Elite Hockey League with 32 points in 25 games. In three seasons in the Little Caesars program, Opie had 16 goals and 31 assists in 79 regular season MWEHL contests.

His father – Tim Opie, Sr. – also coached current North Stars assistant coach Chad Fournier when he played for the NAHL’s Lakeland Jets in the 1990s.

“Tim’s got tremendous offensive potential,” TC head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo said. “He’ll have to fight for ice time along with everyone else, but we’re excited to get him in here.”

Amin, who longed for more ice time and an increased role, is likely to get both with the Wildcats.

“Ryan’s such an awesome kid,” Palumbo added. “When I talked about it with him, he really embraced the idea. I know he wanted more ice here, but this couldn’t have been a more amicable process.”

Amin played in 13 games, delivering a trio of assists and 15 minutes of box time.

“We wish Ryan nothing but success,” Palumbo said. “We think he’s going to see a lot more game action down there and really further his career. Now, Tim gets to be a lot closer to home, and we think he has every bit as bright a future.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Gallagher a much-needed spark plug for Metro

Imagine if Patrick Gallagher had been with the Metro Jets all season long.

The past can’t be changed, but Gallagher, a 20-year-old native of Plymouth, has stepped in and made a huge impact on the Jets with his goal-per-game scoring clip.

“Gallagher is here to put the puck in the net,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “He’s not a great defensive forward and not a tough guy. Gallagher’s a guy who has a nose for the net and has a real heavy shot.”

Since his arrival on Dec. 4, Gallagher has 10 goals (four on the power play) and 16 points in just 10 games wearing a Jets’ uniform. He scored four in Metro’s 8-7 shootout win over Grand Rapids on Dec. 13, with two of them coming in the dying seconds of the third period to force overtime and ultimately, the shootout.

Gallagher (pictured) made his debut in Chicago on Dec. 5 and contributed a goal and an assist. He’s gone pointless in just two games this season – both games against Quad City at the CSHL Showcase last month.

According to Skop, the Jets had been after Gallagher since his brief stint in the North American Hockey League with the Wichita Falls Wildcats at the start of last season.

“We had been recruiting him since last spring,” Skop said. “Eventually, things worked out and he became a Jet and so far, it’s been a good marriage. He’s putting up better than a point per game, is working on our first line and our first power-play group. He’s just as natural a goal scorer as you’ll ever find.”


Metro (5-25-0-1) returned from the holiday break last weekend to host the top two teams in the CSHL and came away with two losses to St. Louis and Toledo.

St. Louis beat the Jets, 13-2, while Toledo took a 9-1 decision.

Gallagher and David Williams (Bloomfield Hills) scored in the St. Louis game, while Colin Greeley (Howell) and Andrew Corcoran combined to make 27 saves.

Against Toledo, Ryan Eby (Linden) tallied the lone goal and Nickolas Ceccolini (Dexter) finished with 32 saves.

The Jets went a combined 0-for-17 on the power play over the weekend.

Just one game is on the Jets’ schedule this week as the Flint Jr. Generals invade Lakeland Arena tonight for a 7:40 p.m. faceoff. The game will also be broadcast live online by the Michigan Regional Sports Network – The next game MRSN will broadcast is on Jan. 31, also against Flint.

Metro is 1-1 this season against Flint with one of their five wins coming in a 6-3 win back on Oct. 4 in Flint.


Forward Kevin Wittenberg was released Thursday. Wittenberg, 20, had a goal and an assist in 16 games this season for the Jets since being added to the roster Nov. 7 from the since-folded Wisconsin Junior Hockey League’s Pleasant Prairie Ice Devils.

Forward Mike Garvie was traded today to the Minnesota Flying Aces of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League. His lone goal was the shootout winner against Grand Rapids.

Former Metro forward Nick Kenney (Wixom), who played for the Jets two seasons ago, was named the NAHL North Division Player of the Week this past week after putting up three goals and three assists for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms in the Phantoms’ three games against the Traverse City North Stars last weekend.

Defenseman Steve Lockwood (Clarkston) leads the CSHL in penalty minutes with 170 and the Jets have begun receiving calls of interest from NAHL teams inquiring as to his availability come next year.


Ryan Compeau, a forward who had 11 points in 10 games with the Jets back in 2006-2007, is currently a freshman on the Marian University Division III team in Fond du Lac, Wis.

Compeau, a 20-year-old Romeo native, has a goal in three games this season with the Sabres, members of the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association, a league that also has Michigan schools Adrian College and Finlandia University.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Spirit signs Schnell, deals Allicock to Wolves

The Saginaw Spirit has completed multiple transactions with the approaching Ontario Hockey League trade deadline.

The Spirit signed free agent power forward Ryan Schnell and traded winger Kain Allicock to Sudbury for a fourth-round pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection.

Schnell (pictured) is a 1989-born native of Cary, Ill., that spent two seasons with the USHL's Chicago Steel. He posted 20 points on seven goals and 13 assists and 244 penalty minutes during his time with the Steel. Schnell was selected by the Barrie Colts in the 2005 OHL Priority Selection, but chose to play with the US National Team Development Program during the 2005-2006 season prior to joining the USHL.

“We added toughness and grit to our roster by signing this player,” stated Spirit head coach Todd Watson. “Our No. 1 priority this season has been finding someone that was both tough and skilled and we feel we’ve found him in Ryan Schnell."

“I am excited to be joining the Ontario Hockey League and the Saginaw Spirit with its great hockey history and the caliber of its players,” said Schnell. “I feel that this move will be beneficial to my career and will provide a lot of professional exposure as I work towards my goals.”

Schnell is slated to join the Spirit immediately.

“I feel that I bring a lot of hockey experience, leadership, hard work, skill and toughness to the team and that both the myself and the Spirit compliment each other nicely," Schnell added. "I’m thankful for the opportunity to play for Saginaw and I’m anxious to jump in and contribute.”

Allicock was traded to Sudbury in return for a fourth-round pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection. Allicock joined the Spirit last season after being drafted by Saginaw in 2006. The 1990-born Toronto native posted eight points on four goals and four assists and 99 PIM in 33 games this season.

“Sudbury has been seeking him for some time and they have become much more competitive with the addition of Kain and the other players they’ve picked up with the approaching deadline,” stated Watson. “We appreciate Kain’s contributions to the team and wish him the best of luck with Sudbury.”

Watson said the team is still considering its options with the approaching trade deadline, taking place tomorrow at noon.

“We are still exploring all options throughout the day and are excited about the many great possibilities," noted Watson.

Marquette off to Traverse City this weekend

Following an emotional split with Alpena last weekend, the Marquette Rangers travel to Traverse City this Friday and Saturday to battle the North Stars in North American Hockey League action.

Traverse City currently sits in second place in the NAHL North Division with a record of 17-7-5 (39 points), while the Rangers go into the weekend in fourth place with 36 points and a record of 16-15-4.

Marquette is 3-1 against the North Stars so far this season and leads in the two teams’ Smith Barney Challenge Cup series six points to four. The Challenge Cup standings are based on the same point system the NAHL is based on: Two points for a win, one point for an overtime loss and no wins for a loss in regulation. Two of Marquette’s wins this year were in overtime.

“Obviously we want to take some of the momentum from Saturday’s overtime win,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “Somehow, we need to find a way to be more consistent for a full 60 minutes. We’ve been hit-and-miss lately, which is a concern for us going into their place this weekend.

“Traverse City is a very good team, so we need to be ready to go from the opening face-off this entire weekend. If we can do that and play the way we’re capable this weekend, I think good things can happen for our club.”

The record against the North Stars this season wasn’t lost on the head coach either.

“We’ve proven we can play well against them in our four games so far this season," added Miller. "I think that can transfer into some confidence for our players going into this weekend as well.”

Chad Pietilla continues to lead the Rangers in scoring this season, with his cousin, Aaron Pietilla, and James Gallagher (pictured) a close second. Chad Pietilla’s two goals against Alpena last Saturday night gives him 16 on the season to go along with 19 assists for 35 points on the year. Gallagher, who scored the game winner in overtime Saturday, now has 30 points on 12 goals and 18 assists - numbers matched by Aaron Pietilla.

The North Stars are led by Kyle Bonis’ 32 points on 14 goals and 18 assists. Kyle Jean is second in T.C. scoring with 23 points (12g 11a).

Photo courtesy NAHL

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Plymouth trades Smith, Lee to Niagara

The Plymouth Whalers traded 19-year-old goaltender Jeremy Smith and 20-year-old right wing Patrick Lee to the Niagara IceDogs in exchange for second-round and eighth-round picks in the 2010 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection and a fourth-round pick in the 2011 Priority Selection.

With Smith (top) moving to Niagara, 18-year-old Matt Hackett and 16-year-old rookie Scott Wedgewood will share duties in goal for the Whalers.

“Matt Hackett has clearly stepped up and has taken over the job as the number one goaltender,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “I feel it’s time to move Smith so he can be a number one goaltender again. Patrick Lee is a victim of numbers. I never expected to get Brett Bellemore back (from Albany of the AHL on Monday) and Scott Fletcher has been very good for us.”

Smith (Brownstown) was originally selected by Plymouth in the fourth round (64th overall) in the 2005 OHL draft and is playing in his third full season in the OHL. In 96 career games with the Whalers, Smith compiled a 3.15 goals-against average, a .911 save percentage, seven shutouts and a 49-30-3-4 won-loss record. Smith was part of the Whalers' OHL championship team in 2006-07 and won the Dave Pinkney Trophy with Michal Neuvirth for the best team goals-against average in the OHL. Smith won USA Hockey’s Dave Peterson in 2007 as the best junior goaltender in the United States.

Smith, selected in the second round (54th overall) by the Nashville Predators in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, played for Team USA in the 2008 World Junior Championship and has been signed by Nashville.

The trade of Lee reduces the Whalers to the OHL’s three-overage (1988 birthday) limit. Plymouth’s other overage players include Fletcher (Haslett) and Bellemore – both defensemen – and center Matt Caria.

Lee was acquired from Erie in October of 2007 and scored 10 goals with 13 assists for 23 points in 37 games this season. Overall, Lee scored 25 goals with 26 assists for 51 points in 98 career games with the Whalers. Lee was originally selected by Erie in the sixth round (109th overall) of the 2004 OHL draft and played two seasons with the Otters, scoring 10 goals with 20 assists for 30 points in 119 games.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Davis promoted, players leave Machine

Jesse Davis has been named associate general manager of the Motor City Machine and two players have left the North American Hockey League team.

A scout and assistant general manager for the organization this year, Davis has been asked to assume a more prominent role in the organization since the resignation of head coach Matt Romaniski.

Davis is well-known throughout the hockey establishment having coached at the youth and junior levels. His private company, Hockey Smart, puts on several youth tournaments each year and Davis travels throughout the Midwest during the season scouting the top hockey talent.

He has also been instrumental in identifying and coordinating the acquisition of several Machine players including Adam Sponseller, Cody Holzworth, Gage Emerson, David Formanek and Matt Delaney.

Three-year NAHL veteran forward and team captain Marco Ruggeri has decided to move on to college after the holiday break and rookie Phil Webb has re-joined the Little Caesars midgets.

Ruggeri became captain after the trade of Andy Inderieden and came to the Machine from the Southern Minnesota Express when the team relocated.

Prior to playing for the Machine, Ruggeri played for Sarnia in the WOHL and Alpena in the NAHL. He has significant interests and talents in the performing arts and looks to puruse that in school.

Webb played in 22 games for the Machine and had a goal and three assists. Going back to Caesars will give him an opportunity to use his NAHL experience and possibly vie for a national championship.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Whalers get OA Bellemore back from AHL

The Plymouth Whalers announced today that the team will be receiving veteran defenseman Brett Bellemore from the Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League.

Injuries limited Bellemore, 20, to just six games with Albany this season.

“We are very excited to get Brett back,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He was a big part of our championship season and he will help our special teams a lot. When you don’t have to give up anything to add a player like Brett, it’s a bonus.”

Bellemore, from Windsor, Ont., native, was originally selected by the Whalers in the 12th round (233rd overall) of the 2004 OHL Priority Selection. After playing with Plymouth as a rookie in 2005-06, Bellemore emerged as one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the OHL during the Whalers championship season in 2006-07 when he led the Canadian Hockey League with a plus-48 rating.

Bellemore was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the sixth round (162nd overall) of the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft and played last season in Plymouth, where he scored six goals with 18 assists for 24 points in 56 games. After the Whalers were eliminated in last year’s OHL playoffs, Bellemore went to Albany, where he appeared in four regular season games and five playoff games for the River Rats.

Bellemore becomes the fourth overage player on the Whalers roster. Ontario Hockey League teams have until noon Friday to cut down to three overage players (1988 birthdays). The other Whalers overagers include defenseman Scott Fletcher, right wing Patrick Lee and center Matt Caria.

The OHL trading deadline is Friday at noon.

Bellemore is expected to be in the lineup this weekend when the Whalers play in Kingston on Friday, in Belleville on Saturday and in Ottawa on Sunday.

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Friday, January 02, 2009

Jets need more wins in second half

The Metro Jets salvaged their last game at last month’s CSHL Showcase in Burton with a 6-2 win over the Peoria Mustangs on Dec. 22 and hope that win can get the wheels in motion for several more notches in the win column.

“Beating Peoria on the Showcase stage I think opened some people’s eyes, even our own players’, that not only can we compete with the top teams in the league, but we can beat those teams,” Metro general manager Butch Wolfe said. “This weekend will be two more huge tests for us (see “Looking Back, Looking Ahead” below), but winning that Peoria game gave us some much-needed confidence and confidence goes a long way.”

Metro veteran defenseman Brett Grech (Hartland), the senior member of the Jets now in his third season on the club, said it’s time to forget the first half of the season and look forward.

“There is nothing we can do to change the past,” said Grech. “We just need to stop worrying about everything and have fun. That’s when we play our best hockey – when we are having fun.”

Grech also said making the playoffs is not out of the question and is a regular topic of chatter in the Jets’ dressing room.

“We have to get a stretch of victories going so we can make a run here in the second half,” Grech noted. “We have to come to play each and every night like it’s a must-win game for us because from here on out, almost every game is.

“There are no exceptions if we want to make the playoffs.”


It doesn’t get any easier for the Jets, who host the second-place St. Louis Jr. Blues tomorrow night and then the league-leading Toledo Cherokee Sunday afternoon.

St. Louis (24-5-1-1) has defeated the Jets three times this year by a combined score of 25-4.

The Cherokee (25-3-1-1) has scored the most goals (179) in the CSHL this season, while only allowing 70. Only Dubuque (52) and St. Louis (62) have given up fewer.

Toledo has won both games with Metro this year, outscoring the Jets by an 18-4 margin.

Toledo boasts the top two scorers in the league in Andrew Kolb (33 goals, 65 points) and Brent Bain (36 assists, 58 points).

Jake Menzel of the Jr. Blues is the CSHL’s top goaltender with a 12-3-0 record and a league-best five shutouts, 1.43 goals-against average and .955 save percentage.


The holidays saw a handful of transactions go through for Metro as forward Mark Malcolm (Casco Township) was released on Dec. 22, defenseman Ryan Phillips (Lincoln Park) signed on New Year’s Day and forwards Chad Rutkowski (Harrison Township) and Matt McCaig (Lincoln Park) were added Jan. 2.

“Phillips is a big body (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) that will help solidify our back end and give us more size back there,” Wolfe said. “I’m anxious to see him play this weekend, along with Rutkowski, who had a very successful minor hockey career. McCaig will add depth to our group of forwards.”

Phillips played for Lincoln Park High School and graduated in 2007. He hadn’t played this season.

Malcolm, signed Oct. 22 from the defunct Motor City Machine midget major team, scored two goals (one on a penalty shot Dec. 14 at home against Motor City) in 15 games with the Jets.

Rutkowski played AAA hockey for Honeybaked and Belle Tire and was a fifth-round pick of the Ontario Hockey League’s Plymouth Whalers in 2006. During his midget minor year with Honeybaked in 2005-2006, he played on a line with current University of Michigan freshmen David Wohlberg and Robbie Czarnik.

McCaig played with the Elliot Lake Bobcats of the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League in Ontario this season and recorded eight points in five games.


Forward Mike Mistretta played for the Jets during the 2004-2005 season and is currently a senior with the Michigan State ACHA team.

Mistretta, from Warren, has tallied 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points in 18 games for MSU this year.

Spirit host Whalers tonight

The Saginaw Spirit start off the new year with a 7:11 p.m. contest against the Plymouth Whalers tonight.

DJ Ryan Rousseau will also be in the house for a dance-off.

The Spirit enter the contest with 44 points and a record of 21-13-0-2. The Guelph Storm (20-13-2-3) edged past Saginaw in the rankings with a win before the holiday, but only with a one-point lead. The Storm are in third place with 45 points and the Spirit are in fourth place with 44 points. Both teams play Friday night.

As of Tuesday, the Whalers are in fourth place in the OHL West Division with 36 points and a record of 16-17-4-0. Plymouth lost to the Windsor Spitfires on the road Wednesday night, 1-0.

The Whalers picked up some additional offense with the acquisition of overage center Matt Caria (13G 30A). The former Soo Greyhounds forward is averaging over a point a game, having notched three goals and five assists in seven games with the Whalers.

Other contributors up front include center Chris Terry (19G 18A), center Tyler Seguin (5G 19A) and winger AJ Jenks (10G 11A). Seguin is with Team Ontario at the World Hockey Challenge and will not dress in Saginaw tonight.

Their defense boasts two Czech imports in Michal Jordan (3G 15A) and Jan Latal (1G 1A). Latal leads the d-men in plus/minus with a plus-5. Jordan will not be in the lineup as he is in Ottawa with the Czech World Junior Team.

The Whalers also added overage defenseman Scott Fletcher to the line-up (1G 4A). The former Spirit blueliner has posted a goal and an assist since arriving in Plymouth from the Niagara IceDogs.

Matt Hackett has assumed the starting goaltending duties for Whalers, posting a 3.11 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in 25 games this season.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Rangers open second half at home

When the Marquette Rangers announced their North American Hockey League schedule this past July, team president and general manager David Saint-Onge called it the best schedule in team history.

With 16 of their last 25 games at home, the North Division team is hoping that those words were more prophesy than opinion.

The Rangers (15-14-4) have been off since December 20 due to the holidays and will begin the calendar year by entertaining the Alpena IceDiggers this Friday and Saturday at Lakeview Arena. Marquette and Alpena have been separated by three or fewer points in the North Division standings since early November.

“We’re ready to get back into it,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “It’s a long season, and we were ready for some time off after the first half of the year, but now it’s time to take advantage of the long rest and the fact that we have a ton of home games over the next three months.”

After a slow start, the Rangers ended 2008 by winning four out of their last five, including a three-game road sweep of Alpena and Motor City and a split at first-place Mahoning Valley.

“I like where we are as a team,” added Miller. “We’re getting scoring from a nice combination of veterans and newcomers and both our goaltenders are giving us the chance to win whenever we hit the ice, which is the key to any team's success. If we continue to play the way we’ve been playing, I’m confident our fans will see good things happen the second half of the year.”

Marquette continues to be led in scoring by cousins Chad and Aaron Pietilla, with Marquette native Jimmy Gallagher a close third. Chad Pietilla leads the way with 33 points (14g, 19a), while Aaron Pietilla has notched 30 points on 12 goals and 18 assists. Gallagher is a close third with 28 points on 11 goals and 17 helpers.

Kevin Kissaw (pictured) has seen the bulk of the workload for Miller's team in net over the past month, posting a record of 4-1 in the month of December. Overall, Kissaw is 10-6-2 on the season with a goals-against average of 2.70 and a save percentage of .916.

So far this season, the Rangers and the IceDiggers have played eight times with Alpena holding a 5-3 record over Marquette on the season.

The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night.


Rangers planning unique Fan Appreciation Night Friday

Fans attending Friday’s Rangers game will be given additional incentive to support the team as they battle Alpena at Lakeview Arena.

If the team wins against the IceDiggers on Friday, the team will offer every fan in attendance a free ticket to Saturday’s game against Alpena.

“It’s a unique spin on an old idea,” said Rangers spokesman Mark Evans. “We want to show our fans that we appreciate them being at our games, but we want them also to help us win on Friday against a very tough Alpena team. When Lakeview Arena is loud and the fans are having fun, our players have all said that they thrive on that energy. We want fans to have a good time, get into the game, help us win and then come back for free on Saturday when we hope to complete the sweep.”

If Marquette wins, fans will be given a free ticket on their way out of the rink at the main box office entrance on Fair Avenue. Fans will receive a comparable ticket to the one they purchased for Friday’s game and will only be able to receive a ticket for themselves.