Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Wendecker comes back to North Stars

When the Traverse City North Stars officially kick off their 2009-10 home schedule with Thursday’s exhibition contest against Alpena at Centre ICE arena, fans will see yet another familiar face in a TC sweater.

Defenseman Phil Wendecker, who originally opted out of his final year of junior eligibility earlier this summer, has come out of his brief retirement and will lace ‘em up again this season for the North Stars.

“It’s huge for us,” said Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “Phil’s an all-star caliber defenseman and we’re thrilled to have him back. When we lost (David) Chaney to Western (Michigan University), we lost a lot of the things we got back by trading for Curtis (Heinz). Now with Phil back as well, we have a real position of strength on the blue line. We have a lot of experience, toughness and skill back there.”

Wendecker, who was tendered by the club back in 2007 as a prep star at Livonia Churchill, appeared in 35 games with a trio of goals and pair of assists in 2007-08. He jumped to five goals and 13 assists last year, and was tied for ninth among North American Hockey League defensemen with a +14 plus-minus rating.

“When it came right down to it, I couldn’t walk away,” said Wendecker, a Westland product. “I didn’t want to look back a few years from now and wonder what I might have done with another year, another opportunity. It was a bit of an extended vacation, but it’s great to be back with the guys, with my housing family.”

The North Stars, coming off a franchise-best 34-17-7 record a season ago, will begin their quest for an NAHL North Division title on Wednesday, playing their exhibition opener at Alpena before returning to Centre ICE arena on Thursday for the back end of the two-game preseason series.

“You work hard all summer, you have your camps, and you get a few weeks before the season starts to get things ready for the year,” Palumbo explained. “But it’s difficult to simulate an actual game setting, with all the competitive dynamics, until you line up against someone in a different colored jersey. It gives us a chance to see what we have against a live opponent, and we think we have something with a lot of potential here.”

The Stars will face a streamlined divisional field with the departures of Mahoning Valley and the U.S. National Team Development Program to the USHL. After finishing just four points out of the top spot in 2008-09, Wendecker & Co. have their eyes on a divisional crown this go-round.

“Of course, the ideal way to go out would be to win the division, go to the Robertson Cup finals in Wenatchee, and get to play college hockey,” he added. “That’s the goal of just about every player in the league this time of year. We’re going to be a little different from last season in terms of our style of play, but there’s definitely enough talent here to reach those goals.”

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