Tuesday, August 25, 2009

North Stars pair off to D-III Eau Claire

A Traverse City North Stars tandem will become a trio this fall at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

North Stars center Eric O’Hearn and defenseman Tyler Stephens will play their college hockey for the Blugolds in 2009-10, joining goalie Brandon Stephenson on the other side of Lake Michigan.

“They’re part of the league (Northern Collegiate Hockey Association) that I wanted to play in – arguably the premiere Division III conference in the U.S.,” said O’Hearn, a Traverse City native who collected 13 goals and 18 assists over 105 career games with the Stars. “The other attraction is the academic reputation of the school. It’s definitely exciting and being reunited with a couple of former teammates is just the icing on the cake.”

Stephens, the North Stars’ first-round pick in the 2007 NAHL Draft, committed to Eau Claire earlier in the summer. The Rockford product finished his junior career with eight markers and 33 assists in 113 outings.

“Tyler was a very steady influence on and off the ice from the moment he got here,” said Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “His work ethic, his character, and the every-day consistency – he was a reliable teammate and a good teammate.”

Palumbo, who used O’Hearn in a variety of capacities in his two seasons with the club, expects both players to make an impact sooner rather than later at the collegiate level.

“Eric’s a complete player. He’ll win the important face-offs, he’s one of the top penalty-killers, and he has the offensive flair as well,” Palumbo offered. “Eric decided a little later in the summer to play college hockey, and had a few schools interested. I think (Eau Claire) got a great addition with Eric, as well as Tyler and Brandon.”

With O’Hearn, Stephens and Stephenson off to the NCAA ranks, that bring the total to eight North Stars players from last year’s club that have signed with college programs: Dan Radke, Kyle Jean and Tyler Marble with Lake Superior State, David Johnstone with Michigan State and captain Kyle Bonis at Ferris State. David Chaney, who opened this season on the TC roster, is headed off to Western Michigan University as well.

“You develop as a player, and as a person in juniors,” O’Hearn explained. “We’ve gotten good coaching – Anthony definitely knows the game, and I think it really helps prepare you for college – both on the ice and in the classroom.

“It’s been a good couple of years, with my family being able to see me play in my hometown rink. It was a great experience, and I’m looking forward to new ones as well.”

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