Monday, August 31, 2009

Whalers alumni game brings smiles

By Pete Krupsky/Plymouth Whalers

I fully intended to write an in-depth report of the Plymouth Whalers first-ever alumni game, held August 30 at Compuware Arena.

The game featured 26 players who presented all eras of the Whalers franchise, starting with Pat Peake – who played on the first-ever team in 1990 at Cobo Arena – and ending with Chris Terry and Brett Bellemore, who played on last year’s Plymouth squad.

I wanted to chat with each and every one of the 26 players who participated, find out what they’re doing, if they live in the area, what kind of work are they doing and everything else.
I decided to scrap the idea after my first couple of conversations.

Duane Harmer (1993-95) often skated with Bryan Berard as a defense partner during his playing days with the Jr. Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Arriving at Compuware Arena with his wife, two kids, a stroller, a hockey bag and two sticks, Harmer had a lot going on just walking into the rink.

“You know, it’s the first time I’ve been here,” Harmer said with a smile as he watched his kids. “We’re not that far away and we did some shopping in the area before coming here, so it’s been a good day so far.”

As Harmer walked to his locker room, he met recent Whalers captains and fellow alums John Mitchell (2001-05), Chris Terry (2005-09) and Steve Ward (2004-07).

I was curious, because I wanted to see how alumni from different eras who never met would react.

The interaction was simple, effective and common among hockey players.

“I’m Duane…John…Chris…Steve,” they all said and shook hands all around.

If you’re keeping score, the game ended with the Whites winning 12-11 although everyone was hoping for the Blues to tie the game after they pulled the goaltender and there was a (wink) malfunction with the center ice clock, which seemed to freeze at 5…4…3….2…1 as the Blues stormed the White end of the ice looking for the equalizer.

The score didn’t really matter. The real story was the smiles on the faces of the fans who watched the game and the honest, sincere emotion of the players who were able to meet each other for the first time or maybe re-connect with each other for another afternoon.

Another side story featured a packed CJ’s Brewery after the game, which resembled a typical post-game situation after any Whalers game.

“There was real good vibe in the building today,” said Char Merckel, Compuware Arena director of ticket sales and operations. “It was great to see all the smiles on the fans. Although a lot of people who came to the game are Whalers fans, it wasn’t a typical hockey crowd. There was a lot of positive emotion in the rink today and it was great seeing everyone enjoy themselves.”

Not only did alum Jeff Mitchell (1992-95) play in the game, he spent the intermission showing his kids and their friends all around the arena. They toured the Whalers locker room and covered every other part of the building over the course of the afternoon.

Before the game, alum Kris Purdy (1997-00) sat in the alumni's locker room alone in his stall, deep in thought. He looked the same as he did when he played for the Whalers. Injuries robbed Purdy of a promising playing career, but he’s become relatively successful in the local business community and enjoys life with his wife and two children.

There were a couple of generations of Whalers in the building. Bill McCauley (1992-95) re-connected with current Whaler and cousin, Myles McCauley.

Bill McCauley was a first-round draft choice of the team back in 1992. McCauley is 12th on the Whalers all-time career scoring list with 72 goals and 137 assists for 209 points. He joins Rob Zepp and Jonas Fielder as the only members of the franchise to be selected twice in the NHL Entry Draft. McCauley was selected in the fourth round (83rd overall) by Florida in 1993 and by Boston in the third round (73rd overall) in 1995.

Myles McCauley was taken in the 14th round (219th overall) in 2007 and is starting his second season with the Whalers.

“I’m going to have to come to some games this year,” Bill McCauley said with a smile. “Myles has some skill, doesn’t he?”

Other alums have enjoyed a long career in minor professional hockey. Although Shaun Fisher (1997-00) looked the same height and weight as when he played in Plymouth, he’s going with a shaved head – the exact opposite of the long hair he displayed during his playing days in Plymouth.

“I started to lose my hair, so it was time to go all the way,” Fisher said.

Fisher has signed with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL this season.

Since the game had only one goaltender, the Whalers enlisted Mark Hill to play the game for the Blues. Hill has an important connection with the Whalers as he houses current Plymouth player Tyler G. Brown in Canton.

Peake (1990-93) is the only player to have his number retired in franchise history. He brought his entire family, including parents, to the game.

Peake was seen leaving the event 30 minutes after the game.

“I’d love to stay, and maybe we will another time,” Peake said. “But my daughter has soccer and we have to go. Call me again next year. I’ll help out any way I can.”

Many players were contacted but couldn’t make the event due to various circumstances. Still, the first-ever alumni game was a success and the Whalers hope to build on that success to make future alumni events as special as the first one.

The Whalers thank the following alums that made the game: Dan Collins (2003-07), Wes Cunningham (2005-08), Shaun Fisher (1997-00), Andrew Fournier (2003-08), Jordan Grant (2003-04), Duane Harmer (1993-95), Scott Holsinger (1997-99), Jamie Lalonde (1997-00), David Liffiton (2001-04), Joe McCann (2005-08), Bill McCauley (1992-95), Ryan McGinnis (2003-07), Jeff Mitchell (1992-95), John Mitchell (2001-05), Dan Pawlaczyk (1993-97), Pat Peake (1990-93), Kris Purdy (1997-00), James Ramsay (1998-01), Tom Sestito (2004-07), Zack Shepley (2003-08), Damian Surma (1998-02), Chris Terry (2005-09), John Vigilante (2002-06), and Steve Ward (2004-07).


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saginaw training camp concludes

The Saginaw Spirit wrapped up their eighth annual training camp this weekend, further solidifying the team’s roster in anticipation of the approaching season.

Team White took game three of their scrimmage series against Team Blue Friday by a score of 13-2. Rookie Vince Trocheck tallied four goals for Team White during the game for a total of seven goals in the series. Team White’s victory gave them a 2-1 decision in the three-game series.

The Spirit headed to Brighton last night for an exhibition match-up against the Plymouth Whalers. Plymouth took a 7-2 win in the contest, with Tyler Murovich and Dylan Fitze notching the Spirit markers. For a full game recap, visit

The Spirit take on the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in a home-and-home exhibition series this coming weekend. The Spirit will head to Sault Ste. Marie Friday for a 7:30 p.m. match-up and then return home for a 4:00 p.m. contest at TheDow Event Center on Saturday.

The Spirit wrap-up the preseason with a exhibition game against the Sarnia Sting on Thursday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. in Sarnia.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Whalers gearing up for '09-10 season

Thunderstorms in Florida forced NASA to call off the shuttle Discovery’s launch into space Tuesday.

But there are no delays around the start of another Ontario Hockey League season, with all 20 teams reporting to training camps this week.

Enthusiasm is high as the Whalers report back to Plymouth. Several players got a jump-start to the season by working hockey schools earlier this month.

Whalers goaltender Matt Hackett had a smile on his face as he strolled into the rink. As he prepares to play for the Minnesota Wild in the NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City from September 6-10, he didn’t talk about himself.

Tyler’s (Seguin) really flying, isn’t he?” Hackett said simply.

Seguin helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2009 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament earlier this month, leading the tournament in scoring with four goals and six assists for ten points over four games.

Seguin’s early start to a new season augers well for the Whalers.

Now starting his third season, Tyler G. Brown (pictured) is one of the early reporting veterans who worked the Whalers hockey schools earlier this month. He enjoyed himself as the schools wore on.

“I’ve always enjoyed helping kids out,” Brown said. “It’s nice putting a smile on their face and making sure they enjoy their time here with the Whalers.”

Brown looks a little bigger to start a new season.

“I definitely did a lot of work over the summer,” he said. “I worked out on the golf course, so it was a lot of labor, but overall, it was a good summer. I got a lot of things done and worked on a lot of things I wanted to work on.”

Brown was involved in a turning point during the Whalers last game played, on April 11 in Game Six of the Western Conference semifinals against Windsor at Compuware Arena. The Whalers – facing elimination – were trailing 3-1 early in the third period when Brown scored a shorthanded goal that was waved off. Matt Caria scored a few minutes later to cut the deficit to 3-2, but Brown’s disallowed goal could have made a difference.

Plymouth was eliminated in a 4-2 decision to the Spitfires.

“I wish the goal would have counted,” Brown said. “It would have given us more of a chance in the series and given us more confidence. But it happened, so we’re looking forward to getting back to the playoffs and going at Windsor again this year.

“We still have a young core this year, but we’re feeling pretty confident. We can keep up with any team in the league.”

Brown was asked what he wanted to improve upon in 2009-10.

“I was more of a defensive player (eight goals and 13 assists) last year, so I’d like to be more offensive this year," Brown said. "It’s nice to be relied on defensively, but I want to put up more points and be more of a leader on the ice.”

RJ Mahalak (Monroe) is another third-year forward looking to pick up the pace.

“Our older guys have been together for a couple of years now, so (hopefully) we’ll gel pretty well,” Mahalak said. “I want to step it up offensively. I definitely need to put the puck in the net more and try to set some more guys up. I want to be more of a contributor and not a grinder.”

Mahalak likes the make-up of the 2009-10 Whalers.

“It seems like we have a real good mix,” Mahalak said. “We have a few older guys on offense and a lot of young guys on offense, too. We should be solid defensively as well.”

The Whalers participate in off-ice testing on Wednesday. The Whalers hit the ice in scrimmages on Thursday and Friday from 9-11am and 2-4pm on both days.

On Saturday, Plymouth plays Saginaw in “The Battle of Brighton” at the Kensington Valley Ice House against Saginaw and then on Sunday, the Whalers are hosting their first-ever alumni game at 2:30 p.m. at Compuware Arena.

Photo by Walt Dmoch


Spirit welcomes 47 to training camp

The Saginaw Spirit welcomed 47 players to town this week to attend their eighth annual training camp.

Seventeen Spirit players from the 2008-2009 season are set to participate in the camp, including NHL draftees T.J. Brodie (Calgary), Nick Crawford (Buffalo), Edward Pasquale (Atlanta), Cody Sol (Atlanta) and Jordan Szwarz (Phoenix). Of the 47 players in town, five are free agents. The roster features 31 Canadians, 15 Americans and one European.

The following is a list of players scheduled to participate in camp:
*Denotes active player from 2008-2009 Spirit roster

Jordan Bailey, Forward (92)
Matt Braun, Defense (92)
T.J. Brodie, Defense (90)*
Anthony Camara, Forward (93)
Daniel Clairmont, Forward (92)
Jamie Commerford, Forward (90) FA
Nick Crawford, Defense (90)*
Mitch Fillman, Forward (90)*
Dylan Fitze, Forward (92)
Kyle Flemington, Defense (92)
Mathew Foubert, Defense (92)
Tadeas Galansky, Goalie (92)
Matt Gellatly, Forward (91) FA
Colin Greeley, Goalie (92)
Kennan Hodgson, Forward (93)
Dylan Impens, Forwrard (92)
John Kavanagh, Forward (91)*
Ian Lavigne, Forward (92)
David Lazarus, Forward (92)
Joe Lepera, Goalie (91)
Alex Lepkowski, Defense (93)
Paxton Leroux, Defense (93)
Mason Murovich, Goalie (91) FA
Tyler Murovich, Forward (89)*
Daniel Pachis, Forward (91)*
Edward Pasquale, Goalie (90)*
Anthony Peters, Goalie (90)*
Joe Pleckaitis, Forward (89)*
Brian Robbins, Goalie (91)
Garret Ross, Forward (92)
Carlton Richard, Forward (93)
Barry Sanderson, Forward (90)*
Mark Scheifele, Forward (93)
Alec Shields, Forward (91) FA
Ryan Schnell, Forward (89)*
Frank Schumacher, Defense (93)
Josh Shalla, Forward (91)
Jordan Skellett, Forward (89)*
Cody Sol, Defense (91)*
Sloan Stewart, Defense (91)
Jordan Szwarz, Forward (91)*
Nick Trecappeli, Defense (91)*
Vince Trocheck, Forward (93)
Eric Trunick, Goalie (92) FA
Billy Ulrick, Forward (93)
Joe Underwood, Defense (90)*
Brad Walch, Defense (91)*

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.”

Monday, August 24, 2009

Metro finds positives in preseason

Even though the Metro Jets lost both of their preseason games to the Flint Jr. Generals last weekend at Lakeland Arena, the positives shown will provide a solid jumping-off point once the regular season starts on Sept. 12.

Metro GM Butch Wolfe said he doesn’t take much stock in the preseason, but did note some areas that impressed him in his team’s outings.

“It’s not a big deal as far as win or lose,” said Wolfe. “We just rolled lines and got a feel for where individual players are. Several things stood out to me. It’s obvious we have a better team than last year, but also, we know we still have to continue to work hard to prepare for our league opener. It’s also obvious that the players have been very attentive in practice and diligent in their conditioning workouts so far.”

One area of improvement Wolfe saw is between the pipes. R.J. Heath (Holly) played in Saturday night’s game, while Ian Mercer (Rochester) got the nod in yesterday afternoon’s contest.

And it doesn’t appear offense will be an issue for the Jets this season, either, as Josh Magnan (Waterford), David Merkle (Waterford), Will Saley (Milford), Mike Herter (Dexter), Mike Corder (Rochester Hills) and Jonathon Elliott (Birmingham) had multi-point weekends.

Another new player, 16-year-old forward Matt Moeller (Fraser), showed a tenacity that opened more than a few eyes during the two games.

“Moeller was spectacular,” said Jets assistant coach Ryan Skop. “He's just a ‘93, but he was our most physical and fearless player.”

Skop, like Wolfe, also reiterated that to see this many positive developments at this stage of the season, the preseason games should be taken with a grain of salt.

"I couldn't be happier with this weekend – two losses or two wins, that's irrelevant. This is preseason,” said Skop. “I'm a big believer that there's a process to being successful and that includes evaluating, correcting, improving. Our process doesn't include preseason special teams units or playing guys who aren't going to be there for us in the fall. This weekend was perfect for us in the sense that it gave every guy on our squad an opportunity to work in every sort of situation. (Head coach) Jamie (Hayden) and I had a chance to evaluate who could play in certain game situations, and who cannot.

“Our guys have worked so hard these first couple weeks that the correcting and improving is going to be the fun part. I'm excited to get back at it today."

After yesterday's game, the players autographed their sweaters and presented them to the members of the Lakeland Hawks 2000 travel team.

Just 19 days until the season opener as the St. Louis Jr. Blues come to town for a pair of games Saturday, Sept. 12 (7:50 p.m.) and Sunday, Sept. 13 (1:20 p.m.).


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spirit training camp starts next week

The Saginaw Spirit will welcome back its returning players and prospects this week for their eighth annual training camp.

The Spirit is pleased to invite the general public to attend the training camp’s three blue-white games.

The first two take place on Thursday, August 27 at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and the third takes place on Friday, August 28 at 9:00 a.m.

All three games take place at the Saginaw Bay Ice Arena.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alpena's Peterson signs CHL deal


Erik Peterson continues to climb the hockey ladder.

After four years spent playing with the Alpena IceDiggers, Peterson is making the jump to minor league hockey, signing a contract this week to play with the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League.

For Peterson, the former Alpena High standout and the IceDiggers' leading scorer for the past two years, the deal with the Mavericks keeps his hopes of getting to the NHL or a European league alive for the upcoming years.

Read the rest of the story HERE.

Saginaw signs four players Wednesday

The Saginaw Spirit announced the signings of four new players – defensemen Matt Braun and Frank Schumacher, goalie Tadeas Galansky and forward Garrett Ross.

All four were introduced amongst family and friends at the Spirit ticket and merchandise store Wednesday afternoon.

Braun signed with the Spirit following a season with the Oakville Blades, where he accumulated a goal and four assists and 61 penalty minutes in 27 games. The 1992-born Mississauga, Ont., native was selected 70th overall by the Spirit in the 2008 OHL Priority Selection.

“I am a big believer that hard work is what will get you far in life,” stated Braun. “I’m more of a defensive player - stay-at-home 'D.' I like to make simple plays and keep the puck out of the net when I’m on the ice."

Galansky, a '92-born Czech native, was selected 33rd overall by the Spirit in the 2009 CHL Import Draft.

"I want to become a goalie for the Saginaw Spirit and stop the puck," Galansky said. "I am looking forward to the upcoming season."

Ross and Schumacher, two Victory Honda alumni, were joined at the signing by the staff of Victory Honda and their former coaches.

Ross joins the team as a free agent after being selected 17th overall in the 2009 USHL Futures Draft by Cedar Rapids. The '92-born Dearborn native spent the 2008-2009 season in Victory Honda’s U18 program, accumulating 28 goals, 28 assists and 40 PIM in 46 games.

“I’m the type of player that likes to make plays, score goals, and work hard at the same time,” stated Ross. “I know Coach (Todd) Watson will push me hard and get help me play to the best of my ability."

Victory Honda U18 head coach Sean Ortiz feels that Ross is a tough kid.

“Garret Ross was the leading scorer on our team as a '92," said Ortiz. "He’s a very skilled player and a very competitive kid and that’s what’s going to help him continue to develop and grow."

Schumacher played in Victory Honda’s U16 program last season, posting nine goals, 10 assists and 63 PIM in 30 games. The '93-born Brighton native was selected 130th overall in the 2009 Priority Selection.

“I’m more of an offensive defenseman and I like to move the puck, score goals, and get points," Schumacher said. "My coaches were a big part of my development. They gave me a lot of confidence and continuously encourage me to work hard and do my best.”

Victory Honda U16 head coach Tony Maci guided Schumacher last season.

“Frank played last year as a defenseman and led our team in points as defenseman, which is hard to do at our level," Maci said. "I think he’ll be a good fit for these guys year after year."

All four players are set to attend the Spirit’s fall training camp that starts on August 26.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

North Stars retooling '09-10 roster

David Chaney
’s tenure as a member of the Traverse City North Stars didn’t last long – one training camp, to be exact.

The nimble defenseman, who came to Traverse City from former NAHL North Division foe Mahoning Valley in the off-season, has accepted an offer to play college hockey next fall at Western Michigan University.

“They (WMU) had a player turn pro and had an opening, and they went for David right away,” said North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “It hurts because he’s a very talented player of course, but when an opportunity like this comes along, you can’t be anything but be glad for him, and wish him well at the next level.”

Chaney, a power play specialist who would almost certainly have been a top-four blue-liner, appeared in 41 game for Mahoning last season, scoring six goals and assisting on 10 others. He came to the North Stars after the Phantoms jumped ship for the United States Hockey League in the spring.

Palumbo did not sit idle for long, acquiring defenseman Curtis Heinz in a trade with Wichita Falls for a conditional draft pick in 2010. Heinz, a Grand Rapids native, spent the past two seasons with Wichita Falls. He has registered five goals and 12 assists over 79 regular-season games with the Wildcats.

“Curtis is a veteran guy who saw regular duty two years ago as a young player,” Palumbo said. “He’s been through the rigors of the league, been through the battles. We expect he’ll come in and be a regular contributor. Plus, he’s a Michigan kid who will get to be closer to home now, so it’s a good situation.”

Palumbo also inked veteran goaltender Drew Strandberg, a Thunder Bay, Ont., product who spent the past two years with the Thunder Bay Bearcats of the Superior International Junior Hockey League. Strandberg went 20-6-6 last season with 2.60 goals-against average and .918 save percentage, after winning SIJHL Goalie of the Year honors the previous season.

“We felt like we needed a veteran to go with our two rookie goaltenders,” Palumbo explained. “Drew’s played high-level junior hockey for two years, he’s an '89 birth year, he’s seen plenty of minutes against top-flight competition. He’s had multiple colleges already looking at him and we feel very comfortable putting him in net. It’s a great pickup for us.”

Palumbo and the 2009-10 edition of the North Stars will take to the ice for the first time on Sept. 3 at Centre ICE arena against the Alpena IceDiggers in an exhibition contest. Tickets are $5, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Dallas Drake GTHA New Skater Fund.

Kelin Ainsworth (09-10), Lake Superior State*
Arthur Bidwill (05-06), Colorado College
Kyle Bonis (07-09), Ferris State
Alex Breeden (06-08), Wisconsin-Stout
Clinton Bourbonais (07-08), Air Force
David Chaney (09), Western Michigan
Zeke Costello (05-06), Nichols College
Danny Dries (05-06), New Hampshire
Eric Elmblad (05-06), Michigan
Brett Englebright (06-07), Nichols College
Mike Glaesmer (06-07), St. Mary's College
Kyle Jean (08-10), Lake Superior State*
Brett Jendra (06-07), SUNY-Brockport
David Johnstone (08-09), Michigan State*
Matt Hughes (06-08), Lawrence University
Kory Kaunisto (06-08), Northern Michigan
Tyler Marble (08-10), Lake Superior State*
Patrick Nagorsen (05-07), Western Michigan
Harrison Niemann (06-08), Wisconsin-Stevens Point
Eric O'Hearn (07-09), Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Steven Oleksy (05-06), Lake Superior State
Travis Paeth (05-06), Western Michigan
Phil Partyka (06-07), Wayne State
Dan Radke (08-10), Lake Superior State*
Jameson Raymond (06-08), Lawrence University
Mike Sand (06-07), Niagara
Anthony Schooley (06-07), Michigan Tech
Eric Scovill (06-07), Wisconsin-Stout
Jonathan Sheridan (07-08), Lawrence University
Tyler Stephens (07-09), Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Brandon Stephenson (07-09), Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Nick Von Bokern (06-07), Nebraska-Omaha

*future enrollment

Monday, August 17, 2009

First week of Jets' camp encouraging

The first week of Metro Jets training camp went better than expected.

So good, in fact, that the Jets’ coaching staff gave the players last Friday night off to relax, unwind and get ready for this week’s activities, again to go down at Lakeland Arena.

“All of the guys were very eager to learn and it was very competitive both on the ice and during our off-ice workouts,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “We worked them pretty hard, got their feet going, and everyone responded to that in a good way. These guys want to work hard and want to be pushed. It's very encouraging and exciting to be with a group that wants to work like this.”

One area of camp Skop and Jets’ general manager Butch Wolfe noticed to be a big positive was the chemistry between the new players and returning players. Even the players themselves noticed this.

“The first day or two were pretty quiet,” said rookie defenseman Matt Zacharias. “Not too many guys knew each other, but now we're all talking and getting to know one another. I haven't seen any problems between anyone and everyone is starting to joke around with the guys. Skop has been pushing all of us pretty hard and it is really going to pay off in the long run, especially with all of the competition for spots in the lineup.

“I think it's easy to say that this team should surprise more than just a few people come September and October.”

“The returnees have looked well, obviously having experience, but a lot of the younger guys don't look out of place,” added veteran defenseman Brett Grech. “The first week is never fun, but it seems like we have a pretty good team. Everyone's working hard and obviously, that's a good sign.”

Last week’s camp was comprised of two hours of skating and hockey drills and the same amount of time in the weight room, running outside, plyometrics and more importantly, getting back into the hockey season frame of mind.

“I believe our overall skill set is improved,” said Wolfe. “We may be a bit quicker with more skill. It seems like the focus is on preparing for the season. There seems to be an air of single-mindedness as to the player's purpose at this point.”

“No matter if they played here last year or somewhere else, everyo ne was pushing everyone,” Skop said. “The guys all had good spirits and even when we knew there was nothing left in the tank at the end of practice, they kept working, and had fun with each other doing it. Everyone seems to be fitting right in and gelling together.”

Training camp continues this week at Lakeland Arena, with the opening night roster to be finalized by week’s end.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plymouth alumni game goes Aug. 30

The Plymouth Whalers start their 20th season in the Ontario Hockey League with their annual training camp, held Aug. 26-29 at Compuware Arena in Plymouth.

After reporting to camp and participating in off-ice testing on Wed. Aug. 26, players will scrimmage on Thurs. Aug. 27 and Fri. Aug. 28 from 9-11am and 2-4pm on both days.

The scrimmages are open to the public and media. Rosters will be provided the days of the scrimmage.

The Whalers open the preseason on Sat. Aug. 29 at Brighton against Saginaw at 7pm at the Kensington Valley Ice House. Proceeds of the game will support the Kensington Valley Hockey Association. Tickets for the game are currently being sold at Brighton Ford, located at 8240 Grand River Ave., just north of I-96 in Brighton. For more information, call Brighton Ford at (800) 836-8206.

Training camp concludes on Sun. Aug. 30 with the Whalers first-ever alumni game at Compuware Arena at 2:30pm. Tickets for the event are free. After the game, fans are invited to re-connect with Whalers alumni in a reception at CJ’s Brewery at 5pm.

Whalers alumni currently committed to playing in the game include Pat Peake (1990-93), Chris Terry (2005-09), John Vigilante (2002-06), Steve Ward (2004-07), Andrew Fournier (2003-08), Tom Sestito (2004-07, pictured above), Damian Surma (1998-02), Dan Pawlaczyk (1993-97), Shaun Fisher (1997-00), Bill McCauley (1992-95), David Liffiton (2001-04), Zack Shepley (2003-08), Kris Purdy (1997-00), Scott Holsinger (1997-99), Jamie Lalonde (1997-00), Duane Harmer (1993-95), Jeff Mitchell (1992-95) and James Ramsay (1998-01).

More alumni are expected to be added to the game.

Photo courtesy Walt Dmoch


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NTDP taps Kleinendorst as new coach

Kurt Kleinendorst, who spent the past three seasons as the head coach of the American Hockey League's Lowell Devils, was today named a head coach with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor.

"It's exciting to welcome Kurt to USA Hockey and our National Team Development Program," said Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. "He brings the capacity to help the young men in our program reach their fullest potential."

"We're thrilled to get someone with Kurt's background and experience level," said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey. "He's well suited in helping develop players for the National Hockey League and college hockey and someone I know our players will benefit greatly from having as their coach."

Kleinendorst served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Men's National Team at the 2008 International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Championship in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Quebec City, Quebec. He was also a member of Team USA at the 1981 IIHF Men's World Championship.

Kleinendorst spent the past nine seasons in the National Hockey League's New Jersey Devils' organization. Prior to serving as head coach of its AHL affiliate, Kleinendorst was a member of New Jersey's scouting staff for five seasons, including four as a special assistant scout (2002-06) and one as a professional scout (2001-02). He joined the NHL's Devils as one of the team's assistant coaches for the 2000-01 campaign.

Before working with New Jersey, Kleinendorst served as the general manager and head coach of the Manchester (U.K.) Storm of the Ice Hockey Superleague, Britain's top ice hockey league, for three seasons (1997-2000). He led the Storm to the league championship and garnered coach of the year honors in 1999.

Kleinendorst spent five seasons (1991-94, 1995-97) as the head coach and director of hockey operations for the Raleigh Ice Cats of the East Coast Hockey League and was named the league's top coach in 1993. In 1994-95, he served as an assistant coach and assistant general manager of the International Hockey League's San Diego Gulls.

Kleinendorst began his coaching career in 1989 as president and founder of Salt Lake City, Utah-based North American Sports, Inc., where he was responsible for teams of select college and professional players that participated in a series of tours throughout Europe.

He skated professionally in North America for parts of five seasons between 1983-1990 with the Tulsa Oilers of the Central Hockey League, the New Haven Nighthawks and Utica Devils of the AHL, and the Salt Lake Golden Eagles, Toledo Goaldiggers and Indianapolis Checkers of the IHL. Kleinendorst also played two seasons in Europe with the Rotterdam Pandas (Netherlands) in 1987-88 and Iserlohn (Germany) and Peliitat (Finland) in 1986-87.

Kleinendorst played four seasons (1979-83) collegiately at Providence College and was an All-America selection, ECAC Player of the Year and a Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist as a senior.

NOTES: Kleinendorst replaces John Hynes, who announced his resignation earlier this month to accept the position of assistant coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League ... USA Hockey's National Team Development program, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., consists of two teams, the U.S. National Under-18 Team and the U.S. National Under-17 Team. Kleinendorst will coach the U.S. National Under-18 Team in 2009-10, while Ron Rolston will guide the U.S. National Under-17 Team ... Both teams will participate in the United States Hockey League, the nation's only Tier I Junior A hockey league, for the 2009-10 season.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Bigger Hayes ready for Whalers' season

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers

The Plymouth Whalers haven’t played a shift in the 2009-10 Ontario Hockey League season, but veteran Ryan Hayes is one of the busiest Whalers in town.

Currently working the Plymouth Whalers Hockey Schools, Hayes worked six of Plymouth’s previous seven player appearances this summer since returning from Syracuse, N.Y.

Hayes – who turned 20 in June – is happy in Plymouth. When Whalers head coach-GM Mike Vellucci decided to trade right wing Kaine Geldart to his hometown of Kingston, he named Hayes, Joe Gaynor and Leo Jenner as his overage players for the year.

If you are new to the OHL, teams can play just three 20-year-olds or overage players (1989 birthdays this season). Many teams go into the season with a surplus of overagers and trade them later on. It can become a stressful time for everyone involved.

Hayes, Gaynor, and Jenner represent a strong overage class. They all bring positive traits to the rink, both on and off the ice.

“It’s sad to see Kaine go, but we needed to cut down (to three overages),” Hayes said. “I’m happy with the choice, obviously. Joe’s great at both ends of the ice – he can play on special teams, both on power play and penalty kill. Leo is a terrific defenseman – he’s very strong back there and will fight anyone for his teammates. I’m just happy to play the role that I’ve been given here on the team. Hopefully, I can score some goals for the team this year.”

Hayes joined the Whalers around the 2008 trading deadline and scored 26 goals with 19 assists for 45 points in 55 games last season, his first full year in Plymouth. Although Hayes is known as a goal-scorer, he also recorded a +12 rating.

He is looking forward to a good season in 2009-10.

“I just want to keep going and building as a hockey player.” Hayes said. “Most of all, it looks like we have a good team coming back. I’d like to see our team do really well and start better than we did last year.”

Plymouth stumbled out of the gates at the beginning of last season, going 6-11-2-0 through mid--November before righting things when Vellucci went back behind the bench to finish 37-26-5-0. After eliminating Sarnia in five games in the first round of the OHL playoffs, the Whalers took the eventual OHL champion Windsor Spitfires to six games before bowing out in the Western Conference semi-finals.

“The rough start was actually good for us, in a way,” Hayes said. “We all came together as a team. We started to build (some momentum) and started to win some games. Even though we lost to Windsor, we gave it a good shot. I think Windsor was a team that we had a chance to beat and a few bounces the other way, you never know.”

Hayes looks bigger and stronger this summer.

“I’ve been focusing on the gym this summer and trying to get stronger off the ice, which will help me on the ice – so I’m not getting knocked off the puck,” Hayes said. “I’m trying to get my legs stronger, so my first few strides are more explosive and a little better.”

In spite of his size, Hayes battles in traffic areas for the puck as well as anyone in the league. He scores goals in the dirty areas of the ice – in front of the net, usually battling against bigger defensemen.

Hayes was asked about his success in front of the net.

“I just can’t stand losing,” Hayes explained. “I want to do whatever I can towards winning the game. If I have to go out there and fight the biggest guy, then that’s something that I have to do. I’d rather score goals, but you have to do whatever you can to make the team successful.”

Hayes is a creative goal scorer. He’ll bank the puck off goaltenders, score from impossible angles, and has a deft touch in handling the puck.

For Hayes, practice often means a goal in a game in a fun and creative way.

“It’s something I work on in practice,” Hayes said of his goal-scoring. “It’s just fun to mess around and shoot around and see what you can pull off. So I try them in games and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.”

Hayes started last season on a line with Tyler Seguin, who rates a good chance to go high in the 2010 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

“I got a chance to play with Tyler when he was just starting out at the beginning,” Hayes said. “I could tell then he had a lot of talent. He got a great chance to play with Chris Terry and Matt Caria toward the end of the year and that line just exploded for goals.

“He’s a very talented young player and I think he’s going to have a bright future in the National Hockey League some day. He’s very fast, can score and is good in his own zone. It’s said he’s not very good in his defensive zone, but I think if he works hard enough, he’s got the gift in his hands. He’s a very talented player.”

Although Terry has moved on to professional hockey, he had a noticeable effect on Hayes as the two became good friends. In fact, Hayes has moved in to Terry’s former billet house this season - Steve and Suzanne Kowalkoski.

Because of his service to the community, Terry won the OHL’s Dan Snyder Memorial Award. Hayes has followed the example of his friend and has embraced community service with enthusiasm.

“Chris has shown me a lot about (the effect) of the appearances and dealing with the kids,” Hayes said. “He was great with it and he obviously deserved to win the OHL’s Dan Snyder Award for Humanitarian Service. He left a mark on all of us. A lot of the older guys that are coming back – Joe Gaynor, among others, who played with Chris for four years – all respect what he did and how he acted with the kids off the ice.”

Hayes’ hockey career is unusual, in that he’s one of the few players who have skated for the National Team Developmental Program in Ann Arbor, played college hockey for Boston College, and now plays in the OHL.

He compares the three levels.

“The USA team was great for me, because I met a lot of good friends and still have a lot of good connections,” Hayes said. “It’s like a family, because you’re with the same team and same family for two years. You see the same guys every day and they become your brothers, which is good for development. The NTDP was great for my strength, which I think I needed at the time.

“Then going off to college was a little different for me. Guys were older and I didn’t get a chance (to play). I came here and started to get more ice time and more of a chance to play, so I feel like I’m in a better position here and I’m really excited about this year.

“A lot of people look down at the OHL and say that guys don’t get a chance to go to school, but I’m pretty sure 100 percent of the guys here go to school and take classes throughout the whole year. I don’t see where the downfall is. The schooling is there for me, so I’m happy with my decision.”

Hayes is optimistic about 2009-10.

“I just want the best for our team right now,” he said. “I think if the team does well, then guys on our team are doing well. I’d love to win a championship this year, but it’s going to be tough. A lot of teams are trying to load up, but if you’ve got the heart and desire and are ready to battle every night, then we can take it home.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Jets acquire Bennett from Jr. Generals

The Metro Jets and Flint Jr. Generals completed a trade today that sees the Jets acquire forward Ron Bennett from Flint for veteran defenseman Ryan Eby.

Bennett, a 19-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie, ended last season with a goal and two assists in seven games for the Jr. Generals after beginning the year with the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he had six points in nine games. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Bennett also registered four of those points in one games with a one-goal, three-assist outing last Sept. 19 against Blind River.

“Ronnie should add maturity to the team on and off the ice,” said Metro GM Butch Wolfe. “He will most likely see the majority of playing time at forward. However, it’s nice to have another player that can spend time on our blue line if necessary. Others of the same ilk are (recent signee) Jon Wickersham and (veteran) Brett Grech.”

Eby, 18, played 35 games with Metro last season with a 9-19-28 line and 109 penalty minutes. In 2007-2008, he recorded 16 goals (10 on the power play) and 27 points in 45 games with the Jets. The trade will also allow Eby to play closer to home, as he is a Linden native.

“We’d like to thank Ryan for his contributions last season and hope he can get a fresh start in Flint,” added Wolfe.

Eby photo courtesy Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hynes resigns post at U.S. NTDP

John Hynes, who has spent the last seven years as a head coach at USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, has resigned to accept the position of assistant coach at Wilkes-Barre Scranton, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

“John has done a tremendous job and had a positive impact on hockey in our country on many fronts,” said Scott Monaghan, director of operations for the NTDP. “He’s got a bright future and we wish him and his family the very best.”

Hynes most recently served as head coach for the U.S. National Under-17 Team during the 2008-09 season. He led the U.S. squad to the North American Hockey League North Division regular-season championship for just the second time in NTDP history.

The Warwick, R.I., native led the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team to gold in 2006, silver in 2004 and bronze in 2008 at the International Ice Hockey Federation Men's World Under-18 Championship. He also served as an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior Team that captured its first-ever gold medal at the 2004 IIHF World Junior Championship and was the head coach of the 2008 U.S. National Junior Team.

“We were fortunate to have John as part of our coaching staff at the NTDP for seven years,” said Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations at USA Hockey. “He has certainly left his mark on the way we develop players in this country.”

A search for Hynes’ replacement is underway.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Red Wings prospect traded to Whalers

The Plymouth Whalers today announced the acquisition of import forward Tomas Tatar and several future draft choices from the Kitchener Rangers in exchange for import forward Gabriel Landeskog and the Whalers' second-round choice in the 2010 CHL Import Draft.

Plymouth also acquires Windsor’s second-round draft pick in the 2011 Ontario Hockey League draft, Kitchener’s fourth-round draft choice in the 2013 draft and the Rangers' first pick in the 2010 CHL Import Draft. The Whalers also acquire a conditional choice – Kitchener’s second-round pick in the 2012 OHL draft – in the deal.

Landeskog and Tatar were both selected in last June's Import Draft and are considered two of the more high-profile players taken in the draft. Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci made a pair of trades to move up in the CHL Import Draft to take Landeskog, 16, with the third overall pick.

Tatar – 18 years old and from Slovakia – was selected by Kitchener with the sixth overall pick.

Tatar was taken in the second round (60th overall) of the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Detroit Red Wings. He scored seven goals with eight assists for 15 points in 48 games for Zvolen the Slovak ExtraLiga, but played very well for the Slovakia in the 2009 World Junior Championship. Tatar tied for fourth in the tournament with seven goals and four assists for 11 points in seven games, leading Slovakia to a fourth-place finish.

“Tatar’s an obvious talent and we hope he reports,” Vellucci said. “But what makes the deal attractive is the draft choices included as part of the package. Our scouting staff can use those assets or we can utilize them to make other trades.”

Monday, August 03, 2009

Jets sign local talent Magnan

A Waterford native is coming home to play for the Metro Jets.

Josh Magnan, a 19-year-old forward, signed with the Jets after last weekend’s tryout camp at Lakeland Arena and will join fellow Waterford-area natives Steve Lockwood, David Merkle and Tim Hooker on the team this season.

Magnan already has a year of junior hockey under his belt as he tallied eight goals and 35 points in 42 games with the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League last season. Magnan was also second on the team with 103 penalty minutes.

Two seasons ago, he played high school hockey for Waterford Kettering.

“Josh is an edgy player with a good skill set,” said Metro GM Butch Wolfe. “We look forward to him contributing to what is shaping up to a much-improved start this year.”

Jets assistant coach Ryan Skop offered his take on Magnan’s signing.

“‘Mags’ is a big addition for us,” said Skop. “He’s a guy who plays the game with an edge, has a good set of paws and can put the puck in the net. He isn’t the biggest guy out there (5-foot-11, 155 pounds), but he definitely plays bigger than his size. He gives us another weapon that our opponents will have to account for. We’re very excited to have Josh with us this year.”

Next up for the Jets is training camp, scheduled to start next Monday at Lakeland Arena.

“We’ll go hard for two weeks and get these guys back on the ice, working the kinks out, get their feet going, get them in our system and hit the ground running,” Skop said. “It’ll give us a good chance to evaluate these guys on a day-to-day basis, how they work, how hard we can push them, and we’ll see just how much they’re willing to give.”

Metro starts the 2009-2010 season on Sat. Sept. 12 at home against the St. Louis Jr. Blues. Game time is 7:40 p.m.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Traverse City roster finalized Sunday

For Traverse City North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo, the final day of training camp is a bittersweet affair. The three-day competition of lofty talent yields exceedingly difficult personnel decisions and Sunday was no different.

“It’s a great day because you pick your team and there’s excitement about all the potential,” Palumbo explained. “But it’s also a day filled with conversations with young men who are talented, have worked very hard and are great kids. Sometimes it’s those conversations that stick with you as much or more than telling a kid he made your team. As time goes by and you begin to set about preparing for the season, some of that goes away, but it’s easily among the toughest aspects of coaching.”

The 2009-10 roster, which was hewn from eligible returnees, tenders, draft picks, and a summer’s worth of tryout camps – culminating with Sunday’s training camp finale – features a very familiar flavor. There are 14 players coming back, plus a trio from former NAHL North Division rival Mahoning Valley, and a pair of local high school products who earned roster spots with their strong weekend showings – Traverse City West product Eric Rivard and Traverse City Central’s Jared Van Wormer.

“Now we knew coming in that they both of them were good hockey players,” Palumbo said. “But they played their way in. Eric just kept making plays, and showing up all over the ice. Everybody who was evaluating kept raving about his consistent performance. He was strong in the offensive end, and a real presence physically. I wouldn’t call anyone who makes it onto the roster from our training camp a ‘surprise’, but I’m not sure we realized they were this ready.”

Among the returning players is All-North defenseman Travis White, plus an additional four returnees – Bo Jacobs, Chris Heineman, Cody Walsh and Mike Schenfeld – along the blue line. Heineman, who is slated to undergo surgery later this summer, is out until at least January.

Matt Davis – a former teammate of Schenfeld at Lake Forest Academy – along with draft picks Nilan Nagy and Trevor Campbell – round out the unit.

Seven forwards return from last year’s club that went 34-17-7, including Dan Radke, Tim Opie, Kyle Jean, Eric McLintock, Josh Miller, Garrett Thompson, Sean Burke and Chris Salomone.

Jean will miss at least the first month of the season with an upper body injury suffered last season. First-round draft pick Taylor Burden skated into a North Stars sweater, as did tenders Sean Keane and Andrew Huff and Ontario import Kelin Ainsworth.

Tyler Marble, who became the Stars’ third goalie a year ago after the retirement of Dallas Kniss, and Brian Jean – younger brother of Kyle Jean – landed backstopping duties. Palumbo said the team may well add a veteran goalie to the mix.

While many of the weapons from last season’s franchise year return, three former foes will now sport the interlocking 'TC.' Forwards Nick Shkreli and Doug Clifford bring a combined 24 goals and 46 assists from Youngstown, while David Chaney brings own-zone prowess and a special teams skill set to the Stars.

“It’s hard to say exactly what kind of team we’ll have yet, style-wise,” Palumbo assessed. “But it’s probably similar to last year’s team in that respect. There are some injuries to contend with, but we do have depth. There’s a lot of potential to meet and exceed some of the benchmarks we set last year, but ‘potential’ is a big word. We’re at the beginning now.”

The club opens with an exhibition game against Alpena on Sept. 3 at Centre ICE arena. The regular season gets underway with a Sept. 12-13 at Janesville (Wis.) in advance of the Sept. 16-19 NAHL Showcase in suburban Minneapolis.