Friday, February 27, 2009

McCaig hoping for college hockey chance

Matt McCaig has already played one year of college hockey and now just wants a shot at three more.

McCaig, a 20-year-old forward with the Metro Jets, played with the University of Michigan-Dearborn ACHA team back in the 2006-2007 season, but with the Jets’ season ending next weekend, along with his junior eligibility, McCaig knows he has a future on the ice.

Only problem now is to find a school that will suit his academic and hockey aspirations.

“I am hoping to have the opportunity to play Division III hockey,” said McCaig, a Lincoln Park, Mich., native. “I've been looking at DIII teams along the east coast, along with teams in Wisconsin, and hopefully one of them will be interested in me.

“As for my ability to play at the next level, I feel that I am completely capable of doing so. I feel that if my conditioning improved, there wouldn't be a problem at all.”

Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop is in full agreement.

“Although he's a first-line guy that we look to put up points here, he's absolutely capable of being a third-line checker at the next level,” said Skop. “He does all the little things, finishes checks, strong on the wall, block shots, you name it. He's such a mature kid that he shouldn't have a problem (jumping to a DIII school).”

When the 6-foot-1, 190-pound McCaig signed with the Jets over the holidays after leaving the Elliot Lake (Ont.) Bobcats of the Greater Metro Hockey League, he did so at the urging of fellow Lincoln Park native and current Jets defenseman Dustin Jones.

“During my time (in Elliot Lake), I enjoyed the hockey, but I didn't feel that the coaching was where it should be for a Junior A hockey team,” explained McCaig. “At the Christmas break, I decided to come back home and evaluate my options. Jones told me about the Jets and from the good things he said, I decided to come skate and try out. Thankfully, I was signed and am happy with my decision.”

With seven goals and 13 points in just 14 games, McCaig has recorded four multi-point games, including a two-goal, two-assist outing on Jan. 17 in an 11-5 win over Grand Rapids.

McCaig, who plans to major in sociology in college, said that even though he’s been in Waterford just a short time, he feels his overall game has taken a turn for the better.

“The most significant difference that I have noticed is my defensive zone coverage,” noted McCaig. “ Thanks to (head coach) Jamie (Hayden) and Ryan, I play with a lot more confidence without the puck and feel more comfortable protecting my own zone. The physical aspect of my game has improved as well, due to the many drills during practice to work on man-to-man coverage and taking the body.”

His overall attitude is also one that the Metro staff wishes it could have had all season.

“Just because the season isn't going the way that we would like it to, I can’t let that affect my play,” McCaig said. “I'm here to motivate myself and others to play at a competitive level.”


The Jets hit the road last weekend to suburban Cleveland and lost both ends of their weekend series to the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks.

Saturday night, Cleveland took a 7-3 decision and then beat the Jets by a 6-2 count Sunday afternoon.

Adam Novack (Rochester Hills) had two goals and an assist in the first game and McCaig, with a goal and an assist, were again the offensive spurts for the Jets, who got a 41-save outing from Kevin Kinnie (Shelby Township) in net.

In the series finale, David Williams (Bloomfield Hills) and Novack scored for the Jets, who also got two assists apiece from McCaig and Brett Grech (Hartland). Colin Greeley (Howell) turned aside 43 shots in the loss.

Up until Williams’ goal Sunday, Novack had figured in on 11 straight Jets’ goals.

Metro goaltender Nickolas Ceccolini (Dexter) also saw time at forward last weekend and played mostly on a line with Justin Vinson (Livonia) and Matt Noe.

This weekend, the Jets (6-35-1-1) play just a single game on the road in Grand Rapids Saturday night. Metro has won all three meetings this season versus the Jr. Owls, including a dramatic 8-7 come-from-behind shootout win on Dec. 13. The Jets trailed 7-3 in the third period of that contest.

The puck drops at 8:00 p.m. at the Southside Community Center.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Marquette tenders four forwards for '09-10

There may be 11 games remaining on the schedule for the Marquette Rangers and the Rangers are still be in the midst of a playoff run for this season.

Despite the focus on the present, the team has also begun preparations for next season by signing their first four tenders for the 2009-10 season.

The four players, all forwards, bring a variety of skill and experience to the club, according to Rangers head coach Kenny Miller.

“Each if these players brings something special to our team,” Miller said. “This has been a combined process with scouts within our organization and I can’t thank Tom Boileau, our director of player personnel, enough for all his hard work. I am very excited about this recruiting class we have put together so far.”

The tendered players include Andrew Kolb and Brent Bain of the Toledo Cherokee of the Central State Hockey League, Will Ford of Detroit Compuware of the Midwest Elite Hockey League and Bobby Bodette of the MWEHL’s Victory Honda.

According to Rangers personnel, the four will all be potential impact players for the club.

Kolb (pictured), a 19-year-old native of Toledo, Ohio, has 40 goals and 47 assists in 40 games so far this season for the Cherokee. According to Miller, he’s a player the fans will notice right away.

“Andrew is a true goal-scorer and every team needs a guy of his caliber to be successful," Miller said. "I expect him to come in and make a huge impact right away.”

Ford, a 17-year-old Ann Arbor native, is another player Miller feels will become a favorite at Lakeview Arena.

“Will is the type of player our fans will enjoy watching," said Miller. "He is a high-energy kid that comes to play every night.”

In 45 games this year Ford has three goals and three assists for six points.

Bain, 19, and another Toledo native, is another player Miller says the team will look to as adding to the scoring punch of the Rangers next season.

“Brent is a speedy forward that has an ability to find his teammates on the ice,” Miller said. “We expect Brent to step in and make an impact right away.”

In 39 games Bain has registered 27 goals and 45 assists for 72 points.

Bodette. 17, from downstate Flat Rock, is a guy Miller says the Rangers will be looking to for several possibilities in '09-10.

“Bobby has the ability to score goals as while adding a level of toughness to any lineup," added Miller. "He really comes in to our organization with a bright future in front of him.”

In 45 games this season, Bodette has 13 goals and 10 assists for 23 points.

Plymouth's Jenner developing into solid D-man

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

Different players progress at different rates in the Ontario Hockey League.

Tyler Seguin didn’t score his first goal until the 18th game of the season when he snapped a shot from the high slot past Thomas McCollum in a 4-2 loss in Guelph. Since that goal, Seguin has scored 15 more.

It’s obvious that Seguin – taken by Plymouth ninth overall in the OHL draft last spring – is on a fast track in the OHL.

It took Whalers defenseman Leo Jenner three-and-a-half years and over 150 games to score his first OHL goal. It came in Mississauga on December 19 in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Majors. Jenner wired a shot from the left point that seemed to pinball off a couple of players and into the net.

Since that time, Jenner has added a couple of more goals to go with 10 assists as one of the most improved players in the OHL over the past two seasons.

Originally selected by Plymouth in the fourth round (69th overall) of the 2005 draft, Jenner didn’t play much during his first two seasons. But he’s made up for lost time and has developed into a steady member of the Whalers defense.

“It feels great to get that (first) goal,” Jenner said. “My first couple of years, I played more of the tough role. Coming into my fourth year now, I want to help out a little more offensively and keep the younger guys going.”

We can all appreciate Jenner’s approach to his game.

“I think when I keep my game simple and play the way I need to play is when I’m at my best,” Jenner said.

After establishing himself as a willing fighter during his first two seasons with Plymouth, Jenner has developed into an excellent penalty killer and along with his size, he has a very active stick. He currently stays at home while defensive partner Beau Schmitz often joins the rush.

Whalers associate coach Joe Stefan appreciates Jenner’s contribution.

“Obviously, his size stands out among everyone else,” Stefan said. “Leo’s a big, strong body out there and he gets in the way a lot. He’s probably not the prettiest player in the league to watch, but he’s very effective. I know guys on the other team don’t like playing against him. When he’s got his confidence up and he’s handling the puck well, that means the rest of his game is going well.

"He’s doing a real good job for us this year.”

Stefan has a theory why it took a little longer for Jenner to develop.

“Leo didn’t play a lot his first two years,” Stefan said. “It probably took him a little longer to advance than some other people, but he has got the ice time over the last couple of years. We put a lot of responsibility on him, to be a leader off and on the ice. He’s done that real well. I think his game has been elevated to another level and I hope he continues to do that.”

In return, Jenner appreciates working with Stefan

“Joe’s been a good coach here for the last year-and-a-half,” he said. ”I enjoy working with him.”

Jenner was a reserve on the Whalers’ 2007 championship team. He uses his experience with that team to help explain the Whalers turnaround this year since November.

“I think it was a big attitude change in the locker room with all of our guys,” Jenner said. “We know we can win and we finally decided to.”

Leo Jenner is a big part of the Whalers current success.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Rochester native Shafer picks Canisius

The Topeka RoadRunners have announced that second-year forward Steve Shafer has committed to Canisius College for next season.

He is the sixth player who competed in last month's NAHL Top Prospects Tournament to commit to a school after the event.

Through 45 games this year, the Rochester native ranks second in team scoring with 15 goals and 49 points. He is also a plus-13.

“It's awesome knowing I'll be in a great place for the next four years,” the 19-year-old Shafer said of his decision to attend the Buffalo, N.Y., school. “The coaching staff and players at Canisius were unbelievable during my visit.”

The road to playing Division I hockey is a long one, and Shafer acknowledged those who helped him achieve his goals.

“I couldn't have done it without the support of my family,” he said. “They've all dedicated so much to me playing hockey and I'm glad I get the opportunity to get a top-notch education and I know they are, too.”

His head coach for the past two seasons in Topeka, Scott Langer, has left his mark on Shafer's career as well.

“Coach Langer has helped me in so many areas of my game,” he added. “He's hard on me, but it's so I never get complacent and keep striving to get better. He gave me the opportunity to get a scholarship and for that I'm grateful.”

Langer is pleased to see Shafer, the sixth player from this year's RoadRunners team to commit to a Division I program, rewarded for his hard work.

“Steve plays the game at a very good pace and has high-end vision,” said the coach. “He's the type of player that just seems to come up big when needed.

“(Canisius) Coach (Dave) Smith is not just getting a good hockey player, but he's also getting a great young man.”

Off the ice, Shafer is grateful for the support he's received from the team's owner, Mary Magdalene Lorang.

“I feel privileged to have both played for and lived with the best owner in the league,” said Shafer. “She's done so much for me personally as well as our team and the city of Topeka.”

While Shafer now has next four years all mapped out, he's still excited about what lies ahead for this year's RoadRunners team.

“Getting so far last season (to the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament) and not winning was very tough for me personally and it drove me to work hard all summer and really prepare myself so I could help my team raise the Cup this spring,” he said.

And he knows that he's had the good fortune of being on some good teams in his junior career as well.

“I'm lucky to have played with some great players and terrific teammates over the years,” Shafer acknowledged. “Them pushing me everyday in practice has really helped me develop into the player I am.”

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

No quit in Machine as season nears end

Courtesy NAHL

Despite having its playoff hopes already dashed, the Motor City Machine hasn’t turned off the engines, posting a 4-2 mark in its last six games, including two more victories last weekend.

“The difference lately is that we’ve found ways to win games,” said Machine head coach Sean Clark, whose team improved to 10-35-1 on the season. “When a team struggles so early like we did, you have to learn how to win games.”

After opening the week with a 3-1 loss to Mahoning Valley on Thursday, the Machine rebounded the next night with a 3-2 shootout victory over the Phantoms. Defenseman Alec Thieda recorded two assists in the win and goaltender Joe Moore turned aside 23 shots in regulation and overtime and three of four in the shootout.

On Sunday, Army recruit Jon Bobb connected for the game-winning goal and an assist as Motor City downed the Alpena IceDiggers, 5-4. Jared Williams (goal, assist) and Nate Taurence (two assists) also fashioned two-point nights and Moore made 47 saves.

“Our guys talk about finding a way (to win) every night and recently we’ve found a way,” said Clark. “Our goal over the last 12 games doesn't change. We want to get better everyday we come to the rink.”

Leadership from the team’s veterans, among them Nick Taurence, Trevor John and Bennett Schneider (pictured), has helped keep the Machine on track.

“They haven't let our focus slip,” said Clark. “They've kept our younger players honest during practice and are leading by example on the ice with strong, hard play and discipline.”

And Moore has been a savior between the pipes.

The 20-year-old from Canton, who began the season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, has now won his last four starts, helping jumpstart the struggling Machine.

“I'm just happy to see him rewarded for his hard work,” Clark said. “Joe's success can be directly linked to his ability to compete on every shot, every rebound and every scoring chance.”

Ryan Misiak, from Shelby Township, has been dubbed one of the team’s top young players on the offensive end. The 17-year-old NAHL Top Prospects Tournament participant is the team’s leading scorer with 11 goals and 29 points after 45 games.

“He has a ton of potential to play at the next level,” said Clark. “He’s very dynamic with the puck and is an offensive threat every time he touches it.

“The key is keeping Ryan directed; he’s a better player when he’s involved physically and willing to play tough in tough areas. When he does that, he’s one of the top prospects in our league.”

Record-wise not the kind of season the Machine anticipated since relocating from Southern Minnesota a year ago, the program is continuing to stress the positives as it heads into the home stretch.

“Our morale has been great,” said Clark. “We may have the closest group of young men in the league. Obviously, like everyone else, we want to win, but more importantly we want to be successful, and that’s achieved only by giving our best effort everyday. We're happy with what we've done over the past six games, but we're not satisfied.”

Off the ice, the Machine has been well received around town. And with its inaugural season winding down, the team is looking forward to growing its existing relationships while developing new ones.

“It’s been great. The people have been very supportive,” said Clark. “We have a great facility (Yack Arena in Wyandotte) located in a very tightly-knit community.”

Looking ahead, Clark and his staff are focused on getting the team’s prospective players signed to tenders, as well as preparing for May’s NAHL Entry Draft. Above all, though, a formidable close to the season might make all the difference.

“A strong finish should promote our older players and prepare our younger players for next season,” said Clark. “We want to build winning habits to build upon for next season. We have a strong nucleus of players returning and feel that we can compete for the division championship next season.”

Which has created an appealing environment for prospective players to consider as they map out their futures this spring.

“Our first goal as a staff is to develop hockey players,” said Clark. “We demand a lot and it starts with effort and intelligence. We want our players to build the proper habits to be successful at the next level.”

Speaking of which, the Machine has two players already committed to NCAA programs for next season, with Bobb off to West Point and John headed to Tufts University. With continued success through the final five weeks of the season, Clark believes that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“We have a handful of players that have drawn interest from schools,” he said. “Hopefully, by winning some games, we can turn some heads and draw more interest. We have some very good hockey players who are outstanding young men and who can play and be effective at the college level.”

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jets staying upbeat despite losing season

Coming to the rink everyday and continuing to work hard is not an easy thing when your team has just six wins on the season.

Still, many of the Metro Jets players make it look easy by consistently lacing up their skates and going the full 60 minutes, win or lose.

“I think all of the guys who are here show good character,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “As a coach, I don’t really have any other option than to stay focused. Although this has been the most frustrating year of hockey I’ve ever been involved with, we’ve got guys here who continue to grind it out for us and we’ll continue to grind it out for them.”

With four games left in the regular season, the end can’t come soon enough. Skop said he’d be watching some of the younger players intently with the notion he’d like to see them back in Waterford next year.

“I’d like to see (the younger players) step up and start pushing themselves harder and making an impact on game day,” said Skop. “They’re getting plenty of opportunity right now and they need to make the most of it.”

Veteran-wise, team captain Adam Novack and defenseman Brett Grech have stood out as players Skop said continue to “work hard and punch the clock.”

“When you look at the 40-plus guys who have come through our doors this year, guys that have been here for the duration have shown to be leaders and Novy and Grech are the leaders of that pack,” Skop said. “Our goaltenders, mainly (Colin) Greeley and Dexter (Nickolas Ceccolini), have shown good character for continuing to come back for the abuse they get. Guys like Vinny (Justin Vinson), Sal (Will Saley) and Woody (Steve Lockwood) are sticking it out and (Tyler) Schofield, Pauly (Paul Elezaj) and (Dustin) Jones have been here all year, haven’t gotten much ice time, yet continue to come in and work hard everyday.

“Even guys who came on board recently, like (Matt) McCaig, Jake Williams, (Sean) Carlock (who played with the Jets last season) and David Williams, knew they were coming to a losing team, but came here to work hard and have shown they want to move on to a higher level.”

That said, the Jets must win their remaining four games to eclipse last season’s win total, but it’s not necessarily the top priority at this time.

“I expect us to play hard regardless of the score,” added Skop. “If we’re 40-5 or 5-40, we still need to keep learning and keep showing our character.”


Last weekend was one the Jets would like to forget as they dropped two straight in Queen City by scores of 14-5 and 12-3.

Novack had eight points (five goals, three assists) on the weekend and needs just one more for 50 on the season. He’s also suddenly in the top 15 CSHL scoring leaders after an 11-point outburst over his last three games. Grech added a five-point weekend, McCaig scored three goals and David Williams rang up three assists.

All four goalies – Greeley, Ceccolini, Andrew Corcoran and Kevin Kinnie – saw time for the Jets as well.

This weekend, Metro (6-33-1-1) heads to Cleveland for a two-game set with the Jr. Lumberjacks. Cleveland has taken both previous games this season from the Jets, outscoring Metro by an 18-4 margin.

Game time Saturday night is 9:00 p.m. at Ice Land USA and 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

The Jets then play single games next Saturday night in Grand Rapids and the following Friday in Toledo to close out the season.


Greeley was the lone CSHL player listed on the United States Hockey League’s Central Scouting list released last week of 1992-born players eligible for May’s USHL draft.


Tough guy Chris Junis, who played both forward and defense for the Jets from 1998-2001, is now a USA Hockey referee at every level and has a full-time job with Powers Packaging.

Junis is a West Bloomfield native.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Plymouth getting team-wide contributions

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

The Plymouth Whalers move into this weekend with a five-game winning streak and a record of 29-22-5-0, just one point away from the fourth place and home ice in the first round of the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference playoff race.

There are plenty of reasons for Plymouth’s resurgence out of their early season doldrums, but one of the first reasons is a revitalized Mike Vellucci behind the Whalers bench.

Plymouth is 23-11-3-0 since Vellucci went back behind the bench November 11. At the time he took over the coaching duties, Plymouth was struggling and dead last in the Western Conference race at 6-11-2-0.

Little by little, Plymouth has climbed back into contention and is currently playing its best hockey of the season.

Vellucci, along with associate coach Joe Stefan and assistant coach Brian Sommariva, credit the players and there’s no doubt that they’ve communicated well with the Whalers and the players are buying into what they are teaching.

Veteran center Joe Gaynor feels there’s a certain amount of sweat-equity to the Whalers’ success.

“Everybody’s working hard,” Gaynor said. “We’re playing everyone and trying to string together a few wins coming into the end of the season. We’d really like home ice in (the first round of) the playoffs.”

Vellucci wanted to improve the special teams under his watch and slowly the Whalers have improved. Plymouth is clicking at 17.5 percent on the power play since Vellucci went behind the bench (31-for-177) and has improved their penalty killing, allowing 40 power play goals in 213 penalty kills for an 81.2 percent ratio.

“The coaching helps,” Gaynor admitted. “But we’re at our best on the ‘PK’ (penalty killing) when we outwork the other team.”

In goal, Matt Hackett has been steady most of time, spectacular at other times and probably the all-around MVP of the team so far this season. He’s been known to give up rebounds, but the Whalers battle hard in front of him to clear the loose pucks from harm’s way.

The Whalers blue line has been solidified with the acquisition of Scott Fletcher from Niagara and the return of Brett Bellemore from Albany of the American Hockey League.

Like forward combinations, defensive pairings are usually in flux. But Plymouth’s current six-man rotation of Michal Jordan with Bellemore, Beau Schmitz with Leo Jenner and Josh Bemis with Fletcher is as steady as any blue line group in the OHL.

Jenner is one of the most improved players in the OHL over the last two years. He’s developed into an excellent penalty killer and is starting to add some offense to his game.

Up front, the Whalers are getting contributions from veterans and pups alike. Captain Chris Terry continues to roll along as the team-leader in scoring (31-36-67) and put up four goals and three assists last week on the road. He was Plymouth’s nomination for Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week last week.

Terry scores goals in a number of ways and they aren’t always spectacular, end-to-end rushes. He scored twice in the Saginaw win. Terry's first goal came at 6:16 of the first period on a shot from the penalty box area in neutral ice that caught Saginaw goaltender Edward Pasquale looking for a rim-around.

"Most goalies in our league tend to cheat a little bit on the rims," Terry said. "So I looked like I was going to rim it and then threw the puck on net. The worse-comes-to-worst (result) is, we get a rebound. I got lucky and I'll take them any way I can get them."

Terry's second goal tied the game at 12:16 of the third period and started with a hard shot by Jenner from the left point that pinballed around in the Saginaw crease area.

"Jenner took a slap shot that hit off a Saginaw player's skate and then mine," Terry said. "I saw it (the puck) go in and I froze and stared at the referee just to make sure he was going to call it a goal. Yes, the puck hit a couple of different things. But you've got to take them anyway you can."

Terry is sixth on the Whalers all-time career scoring list with 106 goals and 156 assists for 262 points in 241 regular season games.

Terry and the rest of the Whalers vets aren’t the only players contributing. Whaler pup Tyler Seguin is on fire through February, earning the OHL Boston Player of the Week Award for the week ending February 8. He scored three goals and three assists for six points in two games during that week and has continued through the month. Seguin is on an OHL current-best nine-game point scoring streak (eight goals and nine assists) from January 25-February15.

Like Terry, Seguin scores in a number of ways. He potted the game-winner in overtime in Saginaw when he deflected the puck over the Spirit goal, but followed up a split-second later when it pinballed to him off the glass to the left goal line, where he banked the puck off Pasquale.

“I was just in front of the net," Seguin said about the game-winner. "I tipped it (the puck) and it went over the net and I just whacked it back and it went off the back of the leg of the goalie and went in. I was looking for a lucky bounce and it went in."

Typical of the recent Whalers success came Sunday in the Soo when pup Jamie Devane and second-year player RJ Mahalak scored early in the first period to give the Whalers a 2-0 lead.

Then Seguin (pictured) scored a beauty of a goal in the second period as the eventual game-winner. Working on a Plymouth power play, Seguin picked up the puck at the top of the left circle and with Soo goaltender Bryce O'Hagan screened on the play, Seguin didn't blast the shot from the left hashmark, instead just threw the puck quickly at the net and it beat O'Hagan at the left post.

The vets got into the act when Terry completed Plymouth's scoring in the third period with goals at 8:46 and 12:56 respectively.

The Whalers’ resurgence has caught the attention of the OHL. Sun Media reporter Ryan Pyette (based out of London) wrote Wednesday in his weekly OHL Notes column:

“Teams nobody wants to draw in the first round of the playoffs right now -- Plymouth, Erie and Barrie.”

After playing in Sarnia on Friday, the Whalers are home Saturday against Erie at 7:05 p.m. and then Sunday at 2:00 p.m. against Saginaw.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rangers host Traverse City this weekend

The Marquette Rangers concludes their seven-game homestand this weekend by battling arch-rival Traverse City Friday and Saturday night at Lakeview Arena.

The Rangers (20-21-6, 46 pts.) are coming off a three-game set with the North American Hockey League North Division leaders Mahoning Valley, going 1-2 against the Phantoms last Thursday-Saturday.

The North Stars were shocked by cellar-dwelling Motor City last weekend in downstate Wyandotte in being swept by the Machine by scores of 3-2 and 2-1. With the two losses, Traverse City (25-12-6, 56 pts.) lost valuable ground in the race for first place in the division with Mahoning Valley and now trails the Phantoms by eight points with six weeks remaining in the regular season.

The two games this weekend will also go towards settling the race for the Smith Barney Challenge Cup series played annually by the two organizations.

Traverse City leads the series 10 points to eight on the season with five games remaining between the two teams this season. Four of those five remaining games will be played at Lakeview. Points in the series are determined the same way points are determined in standard NAHL play: two points for a win, a single point for an overtime loss and no points for a loss.

Chad Pietila and James Gallagher continue to lead the Rangers in goal production this season with 18 goals apiece, with Peitila leading all scorers with 43 points. Four Rangers, Pietila, Gallagher, Aaron Pietila and Garrett Ladd, are now over the 35-point level on the season following last weekend.

The North Stars are led in scoring by Kyle Bonis’ 46 points on the season (22g, 24a) with Nathan Urbaniak and Kyle Jean in second and third place, respectively.

Faceoff both nights is at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Novack exemplifies role as Jets captain

Adam Novack came into this season with the Metro Jets as one of just a handful of players back from last year’s team.

The Jets coaching staff named him captain prior to the season opener and Novack has displayed leadership qualities above and beyond what was expected of him.

“At the beginning of the year, maybe three or four weeks in, ‘Novy’ broke his foot in practice, but didn’t miss a single game or practice,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “He’d walk into the rink with his walking cast on, take it off, jam his skate on and go out and score a couple goals. I think he answered any and all questions right there and has just continued to lead by example.”

Last Saturday night yielded a 10-0 loss to Dubuque, but as the Jets players walked off the ice and to the locker room, a young fan approached Novack with a puck and a pen asking for an autograph. Novack didn’t flinch in stopping to make the boy’s night.

On the ice, Novack, a 19-year-old Rochester Hills native, broke the 40-point mark in Sunday’s overtime loss in Flint and is shooting for the 50-point barrier with six games left on the schedule. He recorded just 19 points last year.

“Adam’s probably our most gifted offensive player,” said Skop. “He’s got great hands, good vision and skates really well. He spends so much time on the penalty kill and in defensive situations and if he didn’t have to do that, he’d definitely put up some gaudy numbers. He plays every situation for us and does a bang-up job. As captain, he reminds me of Brett Fox, who captained our national championship team in 2002. Brett wasn’t a ‘rah-rah’ guy. He just shut up, worked his butt off and expects you to follow. He’d do anything to win – just like Novy.”

Next season, Novack is looking to play college hockey and while that will be a major move, Skop concluded, “you just can’t replace an Adam Novack.”


The Jets finished out their home schedule last Saturday night with the 10-0 loss to Dubuque and then dropped a 5-4 overtime heartbreaker in Flint Sunday afternoon.

Colin Greeley (Howell) and Andrew Corcoran combined for 42 saves in the Dubuque game.

Sunday, the Jets scored two shorthanded goals in the third period to tie the game, but Flint won it 12 seconds into overtime.

Novack, who also had two assists, and Justin Vinson (Livonia) scored the third-period shorties, but Rick Turner's third goal of the game (and fourth point) won it for Flint, who also wins the season series with the Jets, 4-1-0.

The Jets lead the CSHL in shorthanded goals with 14.

Ryan Eby (Linden) added a power-play goal and an assist for Metro (6-31-1-1) and David Williams (Bloomfield Hills) also tallied with the man-advantage.

Kevin Kinnie (Shelby Township) made 42 saves in a losing effort and Brett Grech (Hartland) registered a pair of assists.

Metro plays two at Queen City this weekend, starting Saturday night and finishing up Sunday afternoon. Queen City is 2-0 against the Jets this season, outscoring Metro, 12-4, in the pair at Lakeland Arena.


Metro will have an added road trip next year as the CSHL announced Monday the addition of the Pittsburgh Jr. Penguins for the 2009-2010 season. The 13-team league will also expand to a 48-game schedule.

Former Jets forward Nick Kenney (2006-2007) was named the NAHL’s North Division Player of the Week for the second time this season after he posted four goals in division-leading Mahoning Valley’s two wins and a tie against Traverse City.

Forward Patrick Gallagher (Plymouth) was released Tuesday.


Scott Hughes, a Lathrup Village native, tended goal for the Jets during their first season of 1989-1990 and is now a goalie equipment representative for Vaughn.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Whalers rookies starting to make an impression

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

It’s taken awhile this season, but it’s fair to say that the Plymouth Whalers are growing as a team.

Although the near future is bright, the team’s future next season may be even brighter.

Plymouth exploded for five unanswered goals in the third period last Saturday in a 6-2 victory over Belleville. Tyler Seguin – the Whalers first-round pick (ninth overall) last spring – led the Whalers attack with two goals and two assists as the game’s first star. Seguin added a goal and an assist the evening before in a come-from-behind 5-3 victory over Owen Sound.

The first star in the Owen Sound victory was defenseman Beau Schmitz – the Whalers first-round pick (19th overall) in 2007.

If you’ve watched the Ontario Hockey League for any amount of time, you know that rookies take a certain amount of time to get comfortable and start to play as well as advertised. That’s the case of Schmitz and Seguin, who was named Boston Pizza OHL Player of the Week Monday.

It’s fair to say that Schmitz (pictured) and Seguin are making a positive impact for the Whalers – sooner than later.

With Plymouth trailing 2-1 early in the second period against Owen Sound after Paul Bezzo scored at the 32-second mark of the second period, Schmitz came back 18 seconds later to re-tie the game with a shot from the right circle that beat Owen Sound goaltender Tyler Beskorowany at the far post.

“I’m not going to lie to you – I was shooting (for the) five-hole,” Schmitz said with a smile after the game. “Luck was on my side when I got that one. Every game I feel like I’m getting better. There’s always something I can improve on. I never want to be satisfied with my play. Every game, I’m feeling more comfortable.”

After Schmitz’s equalizer, the Whalers pulled away for a 5-3 victory.

Schmitz wasn’t a star in the Belleville game, but he made an impact right off the bat in the first period when he leveled Bulls left wing Matt Tipoff with a clean check. Tipoff hobbled to the Belleville dressing room and didn’t return.

Meanwhile, the Whalers had their hands full with Belleville goaltender Mike Murphy, who had stopped 49-of-50 Plymouth shots in a 3-1 victory in Belleville on January 10. Murphy – who came into the game with a 2.01 goals against average and .944 save percentage – was well on his way to a similar kind of performance on Saturday through forty minutes, having stopped 37-of-38 Plymouth shots. The only Plymouth goal over the first two periods came from Seguin, as he deflected Chris Terry’s pass at the side of the Bulls net at 16:53 of the first period.

But Seguin led the Whalers charge in the third period. Plymouth tied the game on Joe Gaynor’s goal at 3:21 of the third period, set up by Seguin, who blew by a Belleville defender on the right wing of the Bulls zone and got the shot on Murphy. Gaynor followed up and banged home the rebound. AJ Jenks gave Plymouth its first lead at 4:00 when he rifled the puck from the right circle past Murphy. Fifteen seconds later, Seguin extended the Plymouth lead to 4-2 after Josh Bemis’ shot from the left point was stopped by Murphy. Terry picked up the puck at the left circle and found Seguin at the right hashmark. Matt Caria scored to give Plymouth at 5-2 lead at 6:06 after accepting Seguin’s pass from the right ring in tight on the left doorstep and beating Murphy.

At that point, Belleville head coach George Burnett pulled Murphy in favor of Phillipp Grubauer. Ryan Hayes closed out the scoring with a power-play goal at 12:28 of the period with a hard shot from the high slot.

“Before the third period, in the dressing room we talked about how we need these two points for the standings and the Western Conference race,” Seguin said. “We went out there and played our game, won the period and won the game. We’re really gelling as a team. Everyone’s playing their own style of game. We’re all coming together and playing a hard sixty-minutes and getting some victories.”

Plymouth assistant coach Brian Sommariva pointed out that the Whalers made some adjustments before the start of the third period.

Mike (Vellucci), Joe (Stefan) and I talked about how we thought Belleville’s forwards weren’t back checking as well, so we wanted to activate our defensemen in the rush,” Sommariva explained. “We wanted to create some scoring chances with our fourth or fifth guy, so we told the players that and we said that this was a game we feel we should win. We out-chanced them the last time we played them (on January 10) and we out-chanced them tonight. We wanted to capitalize on that in the third period.”

The Whalers hit the road for 10 of their last 15 games, starting this week with a game in Saginaw on Wednesday, in Sudbury on Friday, in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday and in Sarnia on Friday, February 20 before returning home on Saturday, February 21 against Erie and Sunday, February 22 against Saginaw.

“We have to come out against average, or not top teams and we have to play hard every game and win every point,” Seguin said. “With this long stretch coming up until playoffs, we have to play our game and win as much as we can.”

DEVANE STARTING TO MAKE AN IMPACT: Add Whaler pup Jamie Devane to the mix of young players who are starting to make an impact. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds – and still growing – Devane has started to see some time on the Whalers power play. If he doesn’t get a scoring chance, Devane clogs up the area around the opposition’s net effectively. He drew several penalties during the third period against Belleville and did not retaliate.

Devane’s lanky frame and style of play – with four goals, 71 penalty minutes and 11 fighting majors – might remind some Whaler fans of Tom Sestito, who literally grew up before our eyes and led Plymouth’s championship team two years ago with 42 goals.

“The season is going well,” Devane said Saturday. “You try to get your team going with a fight sometimes when you’re down. The skill part is coming – it takes a bit of time to get used to the speed and the skill. I’m getting used to it now and I like it. I came back after Christmas and felt a lot more comfortable. I started to get more ice (time). It’s been good.”

Devane turns 18 on February 20 and is eligible for this summer’s National Hockey League Entry Draft, held June 26-27 in Montreal.

“I try not to think about it too much," Devane admitted. “I try to go hard every night, because if they’re up there (NHL scouts) watching, they’ll be able to see me.”

Another Whaler pup – defenseman Austin Levi – got a chance to play against Owen Sound and Belleville and did not look out of place. He recorded his first OHL point on Saturday when he assisted on Seguin’s first goal of the night in the first period.

“We’ve got some great young players in the system,” said Sommariva. “As they develop, time is going to show that this will be a good team for awhile.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alpena gets back on track with sweep

Courtesy NAHL

Losers of four straight games, the Alpena IceDiggers came back to life last weekend with a morale-inspiring two-game sweep over the Motor City Machine.

“Obviously, it was big for us to break out of that slump. That and the fact that every aspect of our game was struggling,” said IceDiggers assistant coach Josh Harrold, whose team improved to 22-15-5 on the season. “It was nice to get back on track.”

Erik Peterson’s third-period goal lifted the IceDiggers to a 5-4 victory on Friday. Peterson also chipped in two assists and Ryan Timar (goal, assist), Sam Cheraso (goal, assist) and Jay Camper (two assists) each recorded two-point nights. Nick Graves turned aside 20 shots to pick up the win in goal.

The next night, four different players lit the lamp for Alpena as it doubled up the Machine, 4-2. Adam Bristol connected for the game-winning marker and Graves made 18 saves.

“We played better defensively and, because of that, we created more opportunities offensively,” said Harrold.

And Peterson took advantage.

The 20-year-old from Alpena (pictured) put home a goal and three assists last weekend to lead the team’s offensive charge.

“It was nice to get Erik back on track,” said Harrold of his team’s leading scorer, now in his fourth season with the IceDiggers. “He’s struggled to find his scoring touch recently. Hopefully, it stays around.”

A mainstay between the IceDiggers’ pipes, Graves also rebounded last weekend, picking up his 17th and 18th wins of the season to go along with a 2.59 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage.

“Nick has been good all season, but like everyone else around here, he’s been struggling lately,” said Harrold of the 20-year-old keeper from Hewitt, Wis. “It was good to see him bounce back, too.”

Veteran defensemen Ryan Sell, Jerrod Hartman and JC Gulch also put forth better efforts last weekend, as did first-year blueliners Jason Souva, Bristol and Scott Eberline. Offensively, Tyler Pilmore, John Fritsche, Andy Yarber and Jim McCusker have delivered with consistency all season, with Camper and Timar and Cheraso and Jordan Miller working well together on their respective lines. Mike DeGrazia has also proved his worth, connecting for some big goals lately.

The IceDiggers also got a big boost upfront with the recent additions Jon Puskar and Richard Manley, both of whom were acquired from the USHL’s Lincoln Stars. Puskar, who played for Alpena last season, tallied a goal and an assist in his first two games last weekend, while Manley picked up an assist.

“These two guys will bring some much-needed leadership and offense to our team, which we’ve struggled with in recent weeks,” said Harrold. “Their arrival should help spark some of our other players, which it seemed to do last weekend.”

Given the strength of the NAHL’s North Division, the IceDiggers knew they’d have a fight on their hands in their quest for a playoff berth. Sitting in third place behind the division-leading Mahoning Valley Phantoms and the second-place Traverse City North Stars, Alpena is taking nothing for granted with 16 games left in its regular season.

“We’re right where we thought we’d be, chasing Mahoning Valley and Traverse City,” said Harrold. “Every game, with the exception of a few, have been decided by one goal, and we don't see that changing down the stretch. There are no easy games in our division.”

And Harrold likes the character of his team, especially when times get tough. That trait could pay dividends as the postseason nears.

“We have a great dressing room,” he said. “These guys stick together through adversity and we believe that unity we help them achieve their goal of making the playoffs. If we play like a team and are willing to pay the ultimate price shift by shift, game by game, we have a chance to win, just like everybody else.”

The IceDiggers don’t have any players committed to Division I schools just yet, but, with a strong finish and a meaningful playoff run, Harrold is confident that will change.

“We have players who’ve made great improvements this season and we’ve had conversations with a lot of (college) coaches,” said the coach. “A lot of our guys know they’re being watched and some don't know they’re being watched.

“Regardless, we anticipate many of our players to make commitments soon.”

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Monday, February 09, 2009

Busy weekend with the Rangers ahead

Fans will see a few unique items this weekend when the Marquette Rangers face North Division-leading Mahoning Valley Thursday through Saturday at Lakeview Arena.

For starters, this will be the Phantoms' only appearance in Marquette this season, barring playoffs.

Secondly, the team has joined with Hoover’s Auto Body of Marquette for a NASCAR themed weekend for fans to enjoy. The team will don special “racing style” jerseys (pictured) for their three-game tilt, with fans having the opportunity to bid on their favorite player's jersey in a silent auction to be held during Saturday’s game.

“We wanted to do something truly unique,” said Rangers spokesman Mark Evans. “Knowing how big racing has become around the area, this just seemed like a real winner to our organization. Hoover’s has been one of our top sponsors this season and they jumped at the chance to be a part of the weekend by sponsoring the jerseys. We’re looking forward to three very exciting games weekend with both the jerseys and the prizes and specials we’re offering our fans.”

In addition to the jerseys, the Rangers will also be offering a racing prize package at Friday’s game. Included in the package are two tickets to the upcoming Sprint Cup Race at Michigan International Speedway on June 14. In addition, the winner will also receive racing apparel from Ford, plus a garage tour of the MIS prior to the start of the race. The only requirement is that the winner must be 18 years of age or older.

Adding to the three-game tilt is the teams’ participation in "Hockey Day In Michigan" on Saturday. To celebrate the sport, the team will offer a discount to all Marquette Junior Hockey Corporation players who wear their game jerseys to Lakeview Saturday night. Those players will get in to Lakeview Saturday for $3 instead of the usual student price of $7 as long as they’re in their jersey.

Not lost on the weekend is the importance of the three games and the importance of the weekend.

With 43 points, the Rangers trail the U.S. National Team Development Program by two points for fourth place and Alpena by six points for third place in the North Division standings. Only the top four teams in the division will advance the NAHL playoffs.

So far, the Rangers have played the Phantoms three times in Boardman, Ohio, and sport a 2-1 record against the North Division's top team.

All three games this weekend start at 7:30 p.m.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Veteran Grech steps to forefront for Jets

If the Metro Jets have their way, Brett Grech won’t be back next season.

And that’s how it should be.

Grech, a third-year defenseman from Hartland, has been one of several Jets players that have been inquired about by North American Hockey League teams over the course of this season.

He played the last two years as a forward, but was moved back to defense this season and has not missed a beat, even leading the Central States Hockey League in defenseman scoring for a stretch earlier this season (still fourth going into this weekend) after leading the Jets in scoring in 2007-2008 with 16 goals and 33 points. He currently has a 6-22—28 line, but more than points, he’s been a leader for the struggling Jets.

“’Grechy’ is a model citizen on our team with his attitude and work ethic,” Jets assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “If everyone on our team had his outlook, work ethic and drive, we’d be a lot better off than we are. There’s a reason he’s logging 40 minutes a night. No question he’s our No. 1 back there, but he’s got nobody to thank for that other than himself. When we broke camp, we were very uneasy about our group on the back end, so we stuck him back there and he’s done great ever since.”

An alternate captain, Skop said it’s hard to believe Grech just turned 18 in October.

“It seems like he should be a 20-year-old because he’s been here so long,” Skop added. “He’s only a ’90, so schools haven’t really started looking at him, but he’s definitely a North American League player and some school somewhere will find him.

“He’s our best player and it’s going to be hard to replace him next year when he moves on, but there isn’t anyone more deserving of advancement than ‘Grechy.’”


Metro played just a single game last weekend, losing 5-1 to Flint on Saturday night at home.

David Williams (Bloomfield Hills) scored his sixth goal of the season, on the power play redirecting a Ryan Eby (Linden) point shot, and goaltender Kevin Kinnie (Shelby Township) made his season debut with a 31-save outing.

The Jets (6-30-0-1) host Dubuque Saturday night in their home finale at 7:40 p.m. and then travel to Flint for a Sunday afternoon matinee scheduled for 2:20 p.m.

Dubuque has beaten the Jets in all three of their meetings this season, while Metro is 1-3-0 against Flint.

After this weekend, the Jets play two in Queen City (Feb. 14-15), two in Cleveland (Feb. 21-22), one in Grand Rapids (Feb. 28) and finish the season in Toledo (March 6).


The CSHL trade deadline is Sunday. As of Friday afternoon, the Jets had not made any moves. Last year at the deadline, Metro stood pat.

The Jets have five players with 10 or more goals – captain Adam Novack (Rochester Hills) has a team-best 18), Will Saley (Milford) has scored 12 and Justin Vinson (Livonia), Patrick Gallagher (Plymouth) and Brandon Nault (Madison Heights) all have 10.

Defenseman Steve Lockwood (Clarkston) continues to lead the league with 195 penalty minutes.

Lockwood and Williams have also been rotating as alternate captains with forward Steve Wiechec (Troy) injured.

Metro and Grand Rapids are the only two teams mathematically eliminated from participating in the CSHL playoffs.


Jack McCoy played with the Jets during the team’s early years and has worked his way up to be a linesman at the American Hockey League level.

McCoy, a Livonia native who played college hockey at Oswego State in the SUNYAC, has also worked as an on-ice official in the Ontario Hockey League, ECHL, International Hockey League and United Hockey League.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

North Stars travel to Mahoning Valley for three

If home is truly where the heart is, then the Traverse City North Stars extended road trip should put their cardiac cohesiveness to the test.

The North Stars will spend the next seven games away from Centre ICE arena, starting with this weekend’s all-important three-game set at first-place Mahoning Valley.

“I think we’re taking it as a big challenge,” said Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo, whose team has been a scant two points behind the Phantoms for nearly a month now. “It’s the division leader – the best team in our division right now, maybe in the entire league – for three games in their building. It’s a big test to see how we stack up. And if we needed anything to get in the road-trip frame of mind, this is the series.”

The Stars took two of three from Mahoning Valley in the teams’ last series – Jan. 2-4 at Centre ICE – but the Phantoms have been rolling ever since, winning six of eight including a two-game sweep of Alpena last weekend by a combined 15-3 margin.

“They’re strength is in their depth, players one through 20,” Palumbo added. “And they use them all. They have some high-end individuals as well, like (Brandon) Saad and (Nick) Shkreli – guys that are special, game-changing players. You can’t take a single shift off against these guys.”

Jordy Trottier leads Mahoning with 33 points, while Saad (team-high 19 goals) and Shkreli have amassed 30 points this season. Recently-acquired Josh Bussell, who has spent time with Marquette and Motor City this season, has 29 points over 33 games with three clubs. The Phantoms boast a potent 1-2 tandem in net, led by all-star Jordan Tibbett (17-5-1, 2.59 GAA, .907 SV%). Garrett Bartus is 9-5-2 in his 17 starts.

“A three-game weekend like this means your depth is going to be tested more,” said Palumbo. “The nice thing is that we have confidence in all 25 of our guys. We feel like we can compete no matter which combination we put on the ice.”

Kyle Bonis leads Traverse City (24-9-5) with 44 points in 37 contests, and is closing in on his own team record for goals with 25. Bonis and Nate Urbaniak scored 25 each to set the mark last season. Urbaniak (27 pts.) had a pair of goals and an assist in the Stars’ sweep of Motor City last weekend, and has seven points in the last six games. Kyle Jean (26 pts.) and Marc Thompson (24, pictured) round out the North Stars 20-point club.

Traverse City owns a pair of pipe aces of its own, with C.J. Motte (13-4-2, 2.30 GAA, .913 SV%) allowing a mere five goals over his current five-game win streak and Brandon Stephenson (11-5-3, 2.72, .893) coming off a near-perfect Saturday outing in a 2-1 win over the Machine.

After a 6-3 win at Alpena on New Year’s Eve, TC is 9-3, including the team’s current six-game win streak. Mahoning (26-10-3) leads the hotly-contested NAHL North Division with 55 points, followed closely by TC (53), Team USA (45), Alpena (45) and Marquette (43). Motor City (13 pts.) seems unlikely to challenge for one of the four playoff spots up for grabs, but one of the top five clubs will finish the 58-game slate without a postseason dance partner.

“It’s the time when teams are up against it, and with all the bus time we’ll have together, we need to be a close-knit group,” Palumbo opined. “You almost have to take an ‘us-against-the-world’ approach.”

The Stars and Phantoms will face off at 7:15 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, followed by a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Machine deals Bussell to Mahoning Valley

The Mahoning Valley Phantoms have added another piece to their already-potent offense by acquiring Motor City Machine forward Josh Bussell in exchange for first-year defenseman Dustin Hopfner.

In 33 games this season, Bussell has racked up 16 goals and 13 assists with the Machine and the Marquette Rangers - the team with which he started the season.

Bussell is a second-year player in the NAHL, playing in Marquette for his rookie season of 2007-08. He was the Rangers’ second-leading scorer that year with 22 goals and 22 assists in 57 games.

A 2009 Top Prospects Tournament selection, Bussell says he is happy to come to the Valley as the Phantoms prepare for the stretch run.

“I’m pretty excited to join the team,” said Bussell. “I’m hoping I can fit in well with the guys who are already here and be able to contribute.”

The addition of the LaSalle native stacks on even more firepower to the Phantoms’ offense, currently ranked fifth in the league with a 3.77 goals per game average. It also comes in the midst of an offensive hot streak that has seen the Phantoms pour in 39 goals in their last eight games.

Phantoms head coach Bob Mainhardt thinks the acquisition of Bussell will make a big impact on the divisional standings.

“Josh is a well-rounded offensive player,” said Mainhardt, who coached Bussell at Top Prospects last month. “We hope for him to add a nice scoring punch in our tight North Division matchups.”

The move comes just days before the Phantoms’ three-game showdown for first place in the North with the second-place Traverse City North Stars.

Bussell has high hopes for the matchup against the North Stars, against whom he has nine goals and seven assists in 17 career games.

“Obviously, it’s a big series with them only two points behind us,” said the newest Phantom. “I love playing against Traverse City, so I’m hoping we can come away with a three-game sweep this weekend.”

Hopfner, a 19-year-old Eastpointe native, leaves the Phantoms after posting three assists in 34 games and a plus-4 rating on the blue line. Hopfner made a name for himself with Mahoning Valley by throwing big open-ice hits and with strong play in the defensive corners.

Mainhardt says that the Machine got a gem for their defensive corps in Hopfner.

“Dustin is a great defenseman; Motor City is getting a top-four defender who will make an impact immediately,” said the sixth-year Phantoms coach. “You need to give up a good player to get a good one.”

The NAHL trade deadline is next Sunday.

Photo by Robert Meyer/NAHL

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Motor City acquires Army recruit Bobb

The Motor City Machine acquired forward Jon Bobb from the Springfield Jr. Blues today.

Bobb, who has a NCAA Division 1 commitment to Army, is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound second-year NAHL veteran. He started his NAHL career last season with St. Louis and finished the year with Texas when he was part of a four-player trade.

The Chandler, Ariz., native comes to the Machine with two goals and seven assists in 24 games.