Friday, October 30, 2009

Lockwood more than just fists for Jets

Every team needs an enforcer-type player and Steve Lockwood fills that role to a ‘T’ for the Metro Jets.

Lockwood, a 19-year-old native of Clarkston, led the CSHL with 261 penalty minutes last year and is once again near the top of the pack this year. While improving his play on the back end for the Jets, his on-ice presence is a big factor during games.

“For Woody, his biggest and best asset is his physical play,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “The opposition knows when he's on the ice. I think it makes everyone on our team a little more comfortable knowing we've got Woody there to keep the flies away.”

Still, in comparing last season to this current season, Skop said Lockwood’s play with his gloves on continues to impress the Jets’ coaching staff.

“His overall game has taken a giant step forward from last year,” said Skop. “He's playing in all situations and handling it well. He's doing an excellent job for us on the penalty kill. Having a big body like that (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) really helps our kill. He owns the front of his net, and if our opposition wants to go there, he makes them pay. He's started to see the power play and is doing a good job of getting his heavy shot through and on net.”

Lockwood has been partnered much of the year with rookie Steve Vandenberghe and the two developed instant chemistry.

“Woody does a good job supporting Vandy with the physical side of the game and Vandy does a good job helping Woody when he's got the puck on their stick,” explained Skop.

And with two wins in their back pocket after last weekend, the Jets are on a roll and some of the credit goes to the veterans like Lockwood.

‘Going through the season we did last year, and then the start that we had this year, the onus really fell on the veteran guys to put the team on their back and step it up,” Skop added. “A real character check, Woody's been the vet who’s most led the way.

“We expect a lot from Woody the rest of the way here. He's gotten better every week and hopefully, he can continue that trend.”

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

Metro won two straight games at Lakeland Arena last weekend in topping Flint Saturday night and then Motor City Sunday afternoon.

Both were blue-collar efforts that have begun to be the team’s trademark in the early going of this season and Ian Mercer earned his first two wins of the season in goal.

Against Flint, Brett Grech’s power-play goal midway through the third period was all the Jets needed as they rode Mercer’s 30-save performance to a 1-0 shutout.

Jon Wickersham shadowed Flint star Matt Cinader all night long and kept the 14-goal scorer off the scoresheet, along with the rest of the Jr. Generals.

Sunday afternoon, four different skaters – Grech, Mike Denston, Josh Magnan and Jon Elliott – scored and Mercer stopped 30 shots in a 4-1 victory.

Vinnie Pietrangelo added two assists.

This weekend, Metro plays just one game as it hosts Queen City Saturday night at 7:50 p.m.

JET FUEL

All three of the Jets' wins this year have come at home, where they are 3-4-0-1.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Nick Kenney, a forward from Wixom who led the Jets in scoring during the 2006-2007 season, is now a freshman at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Kenney registered 31 goals and 35 assists three years ago and finished in a fifth-place tie among all CSHL scorers.


Photo by Andy Grossman

TC's Huff commits to Ferris State

Traverse City North Stars winger Andy Huff has lit the lamp an astonishing 12 times through 15 contests so far this season, but he bagged his biggest goal of all on Wednesday: committing to play his college hockey at Ferris State University.

“Obviously, it’s something I’m pretty excited about,” said Huff, a Howell product whose tally total has him tied for the top spot in the North American Hockey League. “And to be going in as a true freshman next year is a huge bonus. While my focus right now is on helping this team win hockey games, the next goal will be to go in and try to contribute right away at Ferris.”

With his size (6-2, 210 lbs.), academic acumen (3.1 GPA/23 ACT), and torrid schoresheet pace this season, Huff was unlikely to last long on the radar screens of NCAA Division I hockey programs. However, his profile was enhanced recently when the National Hockey League Central Scouting recognized Huff on their annual draft watchlist, pegging Huff as a potential draft choice in rounds 3-5 of next summer's entry draft.

“Ferris has been tracking him since early on in midgets with the Honeybaked program,” said North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “And they’re very fortunate to get a kid like Andy. He can flat-out score goals. He’s made an impact at this level that you don’t often see from a 17-year old.

“Coming into the season, we were somewhat concerned about where some of our offense would come from with some guys out with injuries, but Andy stepped up, filled a void, and helped bridge the gap for us in a really big way.”

Huff – who had 34 goals and assists on 28 others last season with Honeybaked – scored his first junior goal in the Stars’ first game of the season on Sept. 12, and hasn’t slowed a bit. He has been held off the scoresheet in just four games so far and had a six-game goal streak snapped in the team’s last game on Sunday. He has 16 points through 15 games, owns a +10 plus-minus rating, has logged five power play markers, a pair of game-winners, and has amassed 10 points in the last seven games.

“The goals, the points are a tribute to linemates and teammates,” offered Huff, who plans to study Criminal Justice when he gets to Big Rapids next fall. “I’ve been fortunate to be a part of a winning team here and I’m excited about the potential to be a part of a special season. It’s been pretty exciting so far.”

Huff’s proclivity for offensive production is more attributable to his precision sniping – he’s third among NAHL skaters with at least 40 shots on goal with a 21.8 percent shot accuracy – as his persistence (t-11th with 55 shots). Huff is second on his own team in terms of attempts per outing, trailing Kyle Jean’s otherworldly 6.2 shots-per-game pace.

“You can coach guys on systems, teach them technique, help get them in shape, make sure their academics are being attended to, and a lot of other things,” Palumbo added. “But some guys just know how to score goals, and Andy’s definitely one of those guys who knows what to do with the puck.”

Huff is among more than 30 current and former North Stars who have joined the NCAA ranks in the club's four-plus seasons in the NAHL. Four current players – Jean, Dan Radke, Kelin Ainsworth and Tyler Marble – have signed with Lake Superior State University, and will face Huff and FSU many times in future CCHA seasons. Huff will also team with TC alum Kyle Bonis at Ferris State, as the former Stars captain is presently in his first season with the Bulldogs.

“We want to continue to be a place where college coaches can come and find NCAA-level talent,” Palumbo said. “And they got a good player and good kid in Andy. We knew he was good, that’s why we tendered him. But I’m not sure any of us could have predicted the impact he’d have right away. He’s leading the league in goals at age 17. That alone tells you he’s a special player with a very bright future in this game.”

Despite the attention from collegiate and professional scouts, Huff says he’ll just continue to work hard on and off the ice – and in the classroom – as he hones his skills.

“Of course, the NHL is in the back of the mind, but it’s way back there,” he explained. “That’s every player’s dream. But I certainly won’t be putting all my eggs in that basket, that’s for sure.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Whalers' newcomers fitting in nicely

Courtesy Plymouth Whalers


Josh Brittain’s day last Friday started like most days, but things have a way of changing quickly in the Ontario Hockey League.

“I was half-dressed for practice when I got called into the office and was told I was going to Plymouth, so sign some paperwork,” Brittain said. “I’m definitely excited to put on a good show for the fans this year and to help this team out as much as possible.”

The Whalers acquired Brittain from Barrie in exchange for Sudbury’s third-round choice in the 2010 OHL draft and Oshawa’s second-round choice in the 2011 draft.

Brittain didn’t waste any time after the trade was confirmed. He drove from Barrie to Kitchener in time for Plymouth’s game against the Rangers on Friday, beating the Whalers team bus by a good 30 minutes.

Not long after that, he was skating on a line with Tyler Seguin and Myles McCauley and contributed to the Whalers’ 2-0 win in Kitchener.

Although the Colts are considered contenders in the Eastern Conference race with a record of 9-4-0-1, they have an eye for the future, so acquiring the draft choices in the deal may help them in the long run.

The Whalers are looking for help right now in acquiring Brittain, who was selected by the Anaheim Ducks in the third round (71st overall) of the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

“Brittain is a proven veteran in this league,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’s a power forward who has scored goals wherever he’s played. He brings a veteran presence to our team.”

Originally selected by the Kingston Frontenacs in the first round (14th overall) in the 2006 OHL draft, Brittain was traded to Barrie last season. Brittain has scored 68 goals with 60 assists for 128 points and 269 penalty minutes in 202 career games at the time of the trade. He enjoyed his best offensive season last year when he scored 32 goals with 20 assists for 52 points in 68 games split between Kingston and Barrie.

Brittain was asked to describe his style of play.

“I think I’ll bring a big frame to the rink every night, taking pucks to the net and doing all the little things, along with scoring some goals,” he said. “Hard work is my main characteristic, like the rest of this team. That’s one thing I like to bring every night. Obviously, I’m a big power forward, physical. I show a little creative upside, too.”

Brittain has a positive early impression of his new team.

“It’s really nice to see that everyone’s a hard worker,” Brittain said. “Everyone competes. We have a great coaching staff and a great organization. All the guys are very tight-knit. We had a huge group in the back of the bus last night (after the Kitchener game) and it was great.”

What’s it like playing on a line with Seguin?

“It’s pretty cool,” Brittain said Saturday night during an intermission interview. “He’s wicked fast – it’s hard to keep up with him sometimes and he’s got great vision. Every shift, we’re coming off and talking to each other, just getting familiar with each other and how we play."

Ironically, a few moments after answering the question about Seguin, he scored his first goal with Plymouth in the Whalers’ 6-1 victory over Belleville. Seguin skated to the slot, cut to the left side of the Belleville net and found Brittain on the other side of the goal.

“Brittain’s a great player and a great person off the ice,” Seguin said of his new line mate. “He just goes in there, bashes bodies and gets the puck. He can bury the puck and did that tonight. He played real well for us.”

The Whalers have had good success in bringing in veteran players from other teams. Evan Brophey, Wes Cunningham, Patrick Lee, Steve Ward, Joe McCann, Ryan Ramsay and Jeff Weber are all positive examples of veteran OHL players who found new life with the Whalers.

Brittain is looking to help his team in the short-term and his career in the longer view.

“One of the reasons I’m glad I’m in Plymouth is I’ll develop into how the Ducks want me to play," said Brittain. "It’s just a great fit overall.”

SAME PLAYER, DIFFERENT NAME

When you come to Compuware Arena on Friday to watch the Whalers play the Owen Sound Attack, you’ll see another new name of the Plymouth roster – although it’s the same player.

James Marsden – acquired by the Whalers from Kingston on September 30 – wants to be known as JR Marsden.

“When I was young, my mom (Sandra) called me JR,” Marsden explained. “I always thought about changing my name to JR – a lot of my friends (in Exeter, Ont.) still call me JR. I just think a new name means a fresh start.”

Marsden is an honest grinder who enjoys playing in Plymouth.

“I think with Coach Vellucci’s style of aggressive forecheck, it’s been great so far here,” Marsden said. “I’m just looking forward to this year. I’m having a lot of fun.”

The current Plymouth Whaler often gets compared to the actor James Marsden.

“Always,” Marsden said with a smile. “So many people are always confusing him with me and vice-versa.”

Marsden sees a lot of potential in Plymouth.

“You look at this squad and we have a lot of depth,” Marsden said. “With Seguin as hot as he is and (AJ) Jenks and everyone else, I think we can give Windsor a go. I’m just hoping to play a part as a third-line grinder and help us get there.”

Photos by Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Marquette off to expansion Janesville

After a disappointing sweep at the hands of Traverse City last weekend, the Marquette Rangers will try and rebound this Friday and Saturday as they travel to take on the Janesville Jets in North American Hockey League North Division play.

The Rangers lead the Jets by six points in the division race. This weekend will mark the first ever games between the two franchises.

“They’re a new team, but not your typical expansion team,” Rangers head coach Kenny Miller remarked. “They’ve done a nice job as an organization of finding both quality newcomers, as well as some veteran guys from other teams in our league and others. They’re very well coached, so it will definitely be a challenge for our club.”

Miller also added that the two losses to Traverse City, although not good, may have been a wake-up call for his team as they head to Wisconsin.

“We got off to a good start this year, and sometimes that can work against you," he said. “We were challenged and didn’t respond the way we think we’re capable of, and our guys know this. Sometimes you need to be reminded that winning in our league isn’t easy. We got a full dose of that against T.C. last weekend. We’ve had a good week of practice, which shows me a lot about how our guys are responding, so we’re hopeful we’ll pick things up and move forward.”

NAHL expansion franchises generally don’t fair too well in their first season, but Janesville is off to a solid start as the Jets are 7-8-0 after 15 games and lead both Motor City and Alpena in the division. A familiar face will greet the Rangers, too, at the Janesville Arena as Michael Thompson, a Rangers defenseman from 2007-09, currently patrols the blue line for the Jets.

Janesville split two games with Alpena this past weekend winning 6-0 Friday before the IceDiggers turned the tabled with a 2-0 win Saturday evening.

Marquette continues to be led in scoring by Garrett Ladd (6g, 9a, 15 pts.) and Andrew Kolb (6g 8a, 14 pts.). Brent Bain (13 pts.) and Marquette native Collin Saint-Onge (11 pts.) are the other Rangers players in double-digit scoring on the season.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

North Stars on top of North Division

Courtesy NAHL

With splits in their previous three series, the Traverse City North Stars celebrated a sweep last weekend knocking off the Marquette Rangers twice to take possession of first place in the North Division standings.

“We have a lot of respect for Marquette, and any time you take two from a divisional opponent it’s significant,” said North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo, whose team improved to 10-4-1 on the season. “I’m pleased with our start, but I think there’s room for improvement.”

Eric McLintock (pictured) unleashed for a hat trick and two assists, including one on Kyle Jean’s game-winning marker, in the North Stars’ 7-2 triumph on Saturday. Josh Miller and defenseman Curtis Heinz each added a goal and an assist and goaltender Drew Strandberg turned aside 15 shots.

The following afternoon, Strandberg stopped all 16 shots he faced as Traverse City blanked the Rangers, 4-0. Jean connected for a pair of goals in the victory, including the game-winner, and linemates Doug Clifford (three assists) and Nick Shkreli (goal, two assists) each fashioned three-point games.

“We’ve been relying on too many individual efforts to be successful, but last weekend I saw us play a better team game,” said Palumbo. “I like the fact, too, that we don't rely on one person or line to score; I like our balance.”

Palumbo is also high on his team’s veteran leadership, which includes McLintock and Jean, a Lake Superior State University recruit who returned to the lineup recently after recovering from an offseason injury. Both third-year forwards are proving their worth on and off the ice.

“Eric has skill and provides us with a physical presence and Kyle is a very dynamic kid and his impact has been immediate,” said Palumbo. “It’s good to see those guys grow into leaders after being here for a couple of years.”

The same can be said for defenseman Travis White. Another North Star in his third NAHL season, the 19-year-old captain from Sterling Heights, is logging a ton of minutes on the blue line in all key situations.

“Travis is the consummate team player and always puts the team first,” said Palumbo.

Of the newcomers, forward Andy Huff has wasted no time making his presence felt. Tied for the league lead in goals with 12, the 17-year-old sharpshooter from Howell was tabbed by NHL Central Scouting on its “Watch List” for 2010 draft-eligibles released last week.

“He’s been an impact player for us from Day 1,” Palumbo said of the Honeybaked Midget Major product. “He has the ability to shoot the puck from all areas of the ice and score.

“With his size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and skill, I can see why people regard him so highly. Andy definitely has the ability to continue to be a consistent scorer in our league and at the next level.”

Another first-year North Star, Strandberg has begun to settle in between the pipes. The 20-year-old Thunder Bay, Ont., native who played last season in the Superior International Junior League now has eight wins on the season to accompany a 2.51 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

“Drew continues to get more comfortable,” said Palumbo. “He had an adjustment period from the SIJHL, but you can see his confidence growing each day. He was very consistent last weekend and made some big saves when we needed them.”

The arrivals of Clifford, formerly of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, and Kelin Ainsworth, another Lake State recruit who also toiled last season in the SIJHL, have helped bolster the North Stars’ attack, too.

“Doug has provided us with offense and grit. He’s a very competitive player who’s at his best when he’s challenged,” said Palumbo. “And Kelin plays with a lot of intensity and has also helped with our offensive punch.”

Off the ice, the North Stars have been enthused with the support around town, especially the response to the team’s cancer awareness game against the Janesville Jets on Oct. 16, which drew over 1,000 in attendance.

“I think, like any team, if we can be successful we’ll continue to see (attendance) grow,” said Palumbo. “That and having new additional local owners (which includes Rich and Raj Wiener and former Detroit Red Wing Dallas Drake, among others) has made a difference in the community as well.”

Bullish on his team’s NCAA potential, four of Palumbo’s players have already committed to Division I programs with all of them - Ainsworth, Jean, Tyler Marble and Dan Radke - heading to Lake Superior.

A coincidence, says Palumbo.

“The Lake Superior connection is just a fluke, quite frankly,” he said. “Aside from Ainsworth, we were interested in all of those players before Lake Superior committed to them.

“Obviously, its proximity to Traverse City (which is roughly 150 miles from Sault Ste. Marie) and my relationship with the staff (Lakers head coach Jim Roque and Palumbo played together at the school) helps, but we have several other college programs watching our team and we promote our players to every school.”

With this coming weekend off, the North Stars will get to recharge the batteries before a home-and-home set against the Alpena IceDiggers on Nov. 6-7.

“Our focus moving forward is to continue to improve on a day-to-day basis,” said Palumbo. “The team needs to come first and everything else will hopefully take care of itself.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Corder 'in control' on Jets' back end

Mike Corder
is one of those players that epitomize the old adage of hard work paying off.

Coming into training camp this past summer, the 19-year-old Warren native was one of four players competing for one spot on the Metro Jets’ blueline.

Corder played well and cemented his place on one of the last days of camp.

“At camp, Mike proved how much he wanted to be here,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “We spoke with him after the first night and let him know our situation about also looking at three or four other guys for one spot. The next day, Mike came out, got in a good scrap, played hard, threw his weight around and did just what we were looking for him to do.

“He earned his spot that day.”

Drafted in 2008 by Motor City, Corder opted to play another season of midgets with the Mt. Clemens Wolves. He then went undrafted in last May’s CSHL draft and was signed as a free agent by the Jets.

“We had Corder on our radar for a couple years,” Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. “He has great character, is very persistent and plays a steady game. He plays tough and in control.”

According to Skop, getting Corder has meant getting a player with a knack for leadership. Corder was recently named one of Metro’s alternate captains.

“Mike brings a good defensive presence to our talented back end,” Skop said. “He’s our most defensive-minded d-men and is also a good PK guy. He’s very physical in his own end, owns the front of his net and isn’t afraid to mix it up and answer the bell. He’s been partnered with ‘Petey’ (Vinnie Pietrangelo) most of the year and I think they complement each other very well.”

Skop also said that even though the season is just six weeks old, Corder has made the coaching staff take note in his overall game.

“Cords is the guy who thus far has been our most improved player,” said Skop. “Coming into camp, Mike had obviously spent some time in the gym. He was much stronger and quicker than he was when we last watched him play at the state tournament last spring.”

More than points, though, has been Corder’s ability to light a fuse under his teammates.

“He’s one of the guys who lays it on the line every day in practice and every time he sees the ice in a game,” Skop said. “Is Mike the most talented guy on our squad? No, but Mike is the guy who’s most willing to do whatever we ask of him, whenever we ask, as long as it helps the team.

“It’s safe to say that if every guy had Cords’ mindset, we’d be in a little better spot right now.”

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

The Jets were blanked, 7-0, last Sunday afternoon by Dubuque.

R.J. Heath stopped 37 shots in the loss.

“We played the first two periods and then took a nap in the third,” noted Wolfe. “This was definitely a winnable game for us.”

This weekend, Metro hosts Flint on Saturday night and Motor City Sunday afternoon. Game time Saturday is 7:50 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee starts at 1:20 p.m.

Both Flint and Motor City feature former Jets players. Defenseman Ryan Eby (2007-2009) sent to Flint in a summertime trade and forward Paul Elezaj (2008-2009) was picked up by Motor City a few weeks back.

Flint, who beat Motor City Wednesday night, currently sits in sixth place in the standings with a 6-4-1-0 record. Motor City is in the CSHL basement at 0-13-0-0.

JET FUEL

Metro defenseman Steve Lockwood leads the CSHL with 60 penalty minutes. He led the league in PIMs last year with 261.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Forward Dominic Osman (2000-2001) and defenseman Steve Oleksy (2003-2004) are teammates this season with the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye.

Photo by Andy Grossman

Whalers deal for Barrie vet Brittain

The Plymouth Whalers announced today the acquisition of 19-year-old left wing Josh Brittain from the Barrie Colts.

In return, Plymouth sends Sudbury’s third-round choice in the 2010 OHL draft and Oshawa’s second-round choice in the 2011 draft to Barrie.

Brittain was selected by Anaheim in the third round (71st overall) of the 2008 NHL draft.

Brittian is expected to report to the Whalers in time for tonight’s game in Kitchener and will make his home debut on Saturday night when the Whalers host Belleville at 7:05 p.m.

“Brittain is a proven veteran in this league,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’s a power forward who has scored goals wherever he’s played. He brings a veteran presence to our team.”

Originally selected by the Kingston Frontenacs in the first round (14th overall) in the 2006 OHL draft, Brittain was traded to Barrie last season. In 202 regular-season games in the OHL, Brittain has scored 68 goals with 60 assists for 128 points and 269 penalty minutes. Brittain enjoyed his best offensive season last year when he scored 32 goals with 20 assists for 52 points in 68 games split between Kingston and Barrie.

Brittain rejoins current Plymouth forward James Marsden, another ex-Frontenac.

Photo courtesy Terry Wilson/OHL Images

Malysa putting in work for Whalers

By Bob Miller
Special for plymouthwhalers.com


Nick Malysa is a guy who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go after it.

The Bridgewater, N.J., native had friends who had advanced their hockey careers by playing in the OHL. When he heard about the Plymouth Whalers’ interest, Malysa didn’t sit idly by and wait to be sold on playing in Plymouth. He took proactive steps to find all he could about the franchise.

“Once a team contacted me or my agent, I would go on their website and look at the team and I’d look at the community to see how it is,” said Malysa of the process he used of garnering information about his potential new home.

“I also talked to two guys from my area who were in the OHL,” continued Malysa. “I talked to them about how they liked it. My choice to come to Plymouth was an easy one. I came to the town for a Friendship Tournament Weekend and got to see the place. It’s a great town and it’s in the US, so that helps with the schooling.”

When they drafted the 6-foot, 193-pound defenseman in the fifth round of last spring’s OHL draft, the Whalers provided Malysa the opportunity to make the jump from the North Jersey Avalanche of the MJHL all the way to playing as a 16-year-old in the OHL.

Known as an all-round style of blueliner, Malysa combines great skating ability with good puck movement skills and a keen sense of composure.

Modestly, Malysa says he’s “a stay at home d-man, not flashy, just doing what I have to do to get the job done.”

As a young player, moving so far away from home requires a big transition both on the ice and off the ice.

Purely as a hockey player, Malysa immediately noticed the difference in the level of play.

“The first month was kind of hard to adjust to,” he observed. “The game is faster than I was used to and the other players are so much bigger and stronger. The practices are a lot more fast-paced and there’s a lot of competition.”

Malysa has held his own in the early going of his initial OHL season, though, as he adapts to OHL play with a little help from his friends.

“The biggest difference would have to be the speed of the game,” cited Malysa comparing the OHL to his previous time in the MJHL. “The vet who has helped me the most is Leo Jenner. He has been giving me tips on how to be a better player and has taught me a lot.”

Malysa has also adapted to the change in pace from New Jersey to suburban Detroit.

“Off the ice, it took a little to get used to the rural town because I’m from more of a city,” said Malysa. "Not knowing a lot of the team and not knowing anybody was hard.”

Concentrating on constantly improving to make his stay in Plymouth a long and successful one, Malysa is currently “working on my skating, my speed and also my passing.”

If the time and effort he put into learning about the OHL and the Whalers is any indication of the work he will do, Malysa will put in the time and ask the right questions to improve his game and contribute to the team.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Rangers and North Stars ready to go

It’ll be a clash of styles this weekend at Centre ICE, when the irresistible force (Traverse City North Stars) plays host to the immovable object (Marquette Rangers).

The Rangers, who come to town for a Saturday-Sunday series, are permitting a paltry 1.75 goals per game – easily tops in the North American Hockey League – while Traverse City is second in the NAHL on the other end of the ice, cranking out goals at a 4.15/game clip. Only St. Louis (4.18) has generated more scoreboard success.

“It’s early, but it’s our biggest games of the season so far,” North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo conceded. “They’re in first place and ahead of us by three points, they’re 10-2, and they’re just not giving up many goals against. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

Marquette has won nine of its last 10 games, including three of four against North Division rival Alpena over the last two weekends. Rangers goalkeep Kevin Kissaw has been virtually impenetrable so far this season, with a .953 save percentage and 1.44 goals-against average in his 11 starts.

“They’re playing a sound team defensive game and getting great goaltending, and that’s hard to beat,” Palumbo added. “Then you throw in the skilled veterans like (Garrett) Ladd, (Josh) Bussell and (Colin) Saint-Onge – plus the new guys they picked up that are already contributing – and those are the makings of a team poised to make a deep run this season.”

Ladd leads Marquette with 15 points over his first 12 outings, while rookies Brent Bain and Andrew Kolb have 13 points each. Those three players lead the club with six goals apiece.

Bussell, whose junior career has come full circle after starting out with the Rangers in 2007 and stopping off in Motor City, Mahoning Valley and Texas, has two goals and three assists in his first six contests back with Marquette.

“If we want to be successful, we’ll have to come out with a better first period than we’ve been playing,” Palumbo surmised. “We’ve played well, but in spurts. We have to start putting together three full periods of hockey and there’s no better time to stem that trend than against the team we’re chasing in the standings.”

The North Stars’ offensive cavalcade begins with Andy Huff, who leads the NAHL with 11 goals. The primary setup man has been Dan Radke (pictured), whose 11 assists put him third among NAHL skaters. Eric McLintock and Kelin Ainsworth have double-digit point totals through a baker’s dozen worth of games, while former Marquette winger Kyle Jean has racked up three goals and three assists in his first four games since coming off the injured list.

“We’ve been able to score some goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we have to play a more complete game,” Palumbo opined. “The goals can’t come at the expense of playing in our own zone.”

The Rangers and North Stars hook up on Saturday night in a 7 p.m. contest before the first matinee of the season to close out the series on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Challenge Cup series renewed Friday

The top spot in the North American Hockey League North Division will be on the line this weekend as the Marquette Rangers travel to Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City Saturday and Sunday to take on the second-place North Stars.

The weekend will also mark the first two games in the newly re-named Charter Communications Challenge Cup series between the two teams. Traverse City has claimed the trophy each year dating back to the 2007-08 season when it was first introduced.

“I love playing in these games,” Rangers forward Josh Bussell said Wednesday. “The intensity is always really high between us and them, and if we don’t give 110 percent every shift, we won’t win - it’s that simple. Our job is to go out and play the way we’ve been playing so far this season, work our butts off and hope for good things to happen.”

Bussell added that the rivalry between the two teams in complimented by the similarity of the two organizations, and the cities they represent.

“Marquette and T.C. are a lot alike,” he said. “The games there are loud and fun to be at, just like here at Lakeview with all of our fans. The atmosphere when we come to town is like it is here when they come to Marquette. The communities are similar, so those things just add to the rivalry between us and them.”

The Rangers, fresh off a sweep of Alpena at Lakeview Arena, continue to be led in scoring by a combination of veterans and newcomers. Third-year forward Garrett Ladd leads the team with 15 points on six goals and nine assists, while rookies Brent Bain and Andrew Kolb each have 13 points apiece. Marquette native Collin Saint-Onge has tallied five goals and six assists for 11 points.

Marquette’s Kevin Kissaw (9-2, pictured) continues to lead all NAHL goaltenders with a 1.44 goals-against average and a save percentage of .959.

Traverse City split with the Janesville Jets last weekend, winning 5-4 Friday, before falling to the Jets 6-3 Saturday evening. Marquette travels to Janesville next weekend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Alpena's Timar commits to Air Force

The Alpena IceDiggers have announced that third-year forward Ryan Timar has committed to the U.S. Air Force Academy for next season.

Timar, from Novi, has five goals and seven points through 11 games this season. He tallied 11 goals among 37 points in 53 regular-season games in 2008-09.

“(Air Force head coach) Frank Serratore and myself agreed that this is a great opportunity for Ryan and the perfect fit,” said IceDiggers head coach Jack Fritsche. “I think he'll make an immediate impact on the Air Force in a lot of ways. He has the commitment and discipline to shine and contribute when he walks through the door.”

Timar, who turns 20 next month, is the seventh current NAHL player to commit to Air Force, which has qualified for the NCAA tournament the past three seasons.

“Ryan has had an amazing impact on the (IceDiggers) organization,” Fritsche added. “He's a leader by example. Through good times and bad, he's been a positive influence on his teammates, not to mention the coaching staff.

“He has an amazing work ethic and dedication to not only the success of the team, but to his day-to-day performance as a person. No matter what Ryan chooses to do in life, we're going to see great things from him.”

PHOTOS: Whalers dye the 'dos pink

TOP PHOTO (l-r) - Tyler G. Brown, Peter Neal and Ryan Hayes admire Michal Jordan's mohawk.

BOTTOM PHOTO (l-r) - Leo Jenner, Tyler J. Brown, Matt Hackett and James Marsden

Photos taken at Lucky Hair Salon in Canton by Rena Laverty

Michigan NAHLers on NHL draft list

Thirteen North American Hockey League players were recognized on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau's "Players to Watch" list for 2010 draft-eligibles released on Oct. 20.

The preliminary listing is comprised of players who have been identified by NHL Central Scouting using the following criteria: A Rating: A must-see player who is predicted to be a potential first- or second-round draft selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft; B Rating: A player to note if a scout is in the area, a potential selection in the third-to-fifth round; C Rating: A player that Central Scouting is tracking, a potential late-round selection in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.

B-rated players from the NAHL include: Alpena IceDiggers defenseman Joel Benson, Marquette Rangers defenseman Carter Foguth, Traverse City North Stars forward Andrew Huff (pictured) and Wenatchee Wild forward Shawn Pauly and goaltender Mac Carruth.

C-rated players are: St. Louis Bandits forward Ryan Belonger and defenseman Michael Gunn (Livonia), Marquette forward Tanner Kero, defenseman Cody Donnay and goaltender Lukas Hafner, Wenatchee forwards Christian Hilbrich and Tyler Parker and Wichita Falls Wildcats defenseman Ian Young.

In addition, one player from the North American Prospects Hockey League was recognized: Milwaukee Jr. Admirals’ U18 defenseman Jose Delgadillo, who is a C-rated prospect.

NHL Central Scouting will release its midseason rankings of 2010 draft-eligibles in January, followed by its final rankings in April.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Four Michigan natives make U.S. Selects

USA Hockey announced yesterday the 22-man roster for its 2009 U.S. Junior Select Team that will compete at the World Junior A Challenge Nov. 1-8 in Summerside, P.E.I.

The U.S. roster includes 21 players currently competing in the United States Hockey League, the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league.

Four players on the roster are from Michigan - goalie Will Yanakeff (Jerome, Sioux City), defensemen Kevin Albers (Lake Orion, Green Bay) and Kevin Gravel (Kingsford, Sioux City), both also property of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers, and forward Shane Berschbach (Clawson, Indiana).

Team USA takes on Canada East in its first game on Nov. 1 at 6:00 p.m. EST.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Whalers gearing up for Pink Out! game

When the Plymouth Whalers take on the Belleville Bulls this Saturday at Compuware Arena at 7:05pm, they’ll be playing for more than two points in the competitive Western Conference standings.

Saturday is the Whalers annual Pink Out! for Breast Cancer and the team will playing to raise money and awareness for breast cancer, with a couple of notable changes in the way they normally look.

The Whalers will be playing in pink jerseys designed specifically for the event. The game-worn jerseys will be available for fans to bid on during an auction at the game until the start of the third period. The proceeds from the jersey auction, along with the 50/50 raffle and Hines Park Chuck-a-Puck, will also go to the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute. In addition, the Whalers will be sporting pink hair, courtesy of Lucky Hair Company in Canton, and fans will have a chance to get pink hair of their own or massages at the game for a donation.

The entire Whalers team will be having their hair dyed pink in two shifts on Wednesday at 10am and 5pm.

By dyeing their hair on Wednesday, the Whalers will be wearing pink hair at high school the rest of the week and then play Friday on the road in Kitchener against the Rangers the night before the Pink Out!

“We did the same thing last year,” said Plymouth defenseman Leo Jenner. “Doing this a couple of days before raises awareness. People get to see you out in public and it raises questions. We can tell the public why we’re doing it and support the cause at the same time. (In the end) that’s what it’s all about.”

Contributing sponsors to the Whalers Pink Out! include Meijer and Stautzenberger Institute, located in Livonia, and Lucky Hair Company.

Last season's first-ever Whalers Pink Out! drew an unprecedented response from the media and fans alike.

Photo - Plymouth forward Tyler Seguin models the team's pink jersey

Sunday, October 18, 2009

PHOTOS: Marquette goes pink vs. Alpena

Marquette Rangers captain Garrett Ladd moving up ice, as well as a shot of the opening faceoff in front of a record crowd, pink ice and female referee Leah Wrazidlo.

The attendance was 2,471 - a record crowd for the NAHL North Division.

Photos by Daryl Jarvinen

Friday, October 16, 2009

Jets hope to keep momentum going

The potential is there for the Metro Jets and there were signs of that last weekend when the Jets took three of four points from the Peoria Mustangs on home ice.

It was a long time coming for Metro, with Saturday night’s 3-1 win being win No. 1 on the young season.

“We had a rough start to the schedule facing two teams that still remain undefeated in league play (Pittsburgh and St. Louis),” Jets GM Butch Wolfe said. “My feeling is that the talent is still there to be successful. It does seem, however, that the learning curve for the new team members is proving to be a bit steeper than anticipated.”

Todd Knaus, Josh Magnan and David Merkle scored in Saturday’s outing to back R.J. Heath’s 30-save performance in goal.

Knaus, just signed last week, he has shown the ability to be in a go-to player in his short time with the Jets. He and Magnan were also teammates last year with the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

“Knaus has proved that he is a top-end player for us,” Wolfe said. “Thus, improving our depth at forward.”

Sunday afternoon, Metro let a 3-2 lead slip away and had to settle for a 4-3 shootout loss after the shootout went nine rounds.

Will Saley, Steve Lockwood (pictured) and Magnan tallied in regulation and Heath continued his stellar play making 31 stops.

In the shootout, Knaus scored in the second round, only to be answered by Timothy Prinz. Dylan Mantay scored five rounds later, but Christopher Kennedy-Prewitt answered back. Saley was then stopped by Ryan Siuzdak and Parker Johnson beat Heath to put Peoria up. Mike Denston failed to score on the next shot and the Mustangs had their first point of the season.

Wolfe said last weekend was a step in the right direction, but the team still has to make improvements, and some of that comes from the veterans on the squad.

“Our leadership is improving with the naming of our captains,” said Wolfe. “But others without the letter on their sweater need to realize that everyone needs to pitch-in to lead by example to get the team going.”

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

After the Peoria games, the Jets traveled to the Lansing suburb of Dimondale Wednesday night for a “home” game against Grand Rapids and fell to the Jr. Owls, 3-2.

It was Grand Rapids’ first win in two years.

"Grand Rapids improved their talent this year, no doubt,” noted Wolfe. “Should we have beaten them? Maybe. Can we beat them the next time out? Yes. Did we beat them Wednesday night? No.”

Jonathon Elliott and Knaus scored Metro’s goals and Ian Mercer stopped 24 shots in the loss.

Former Metro goalie Nick Ceccolini (2008-2009) turned aside 37 shots in defeating his old team.

Metro (1-8-0-1) hosts the three-time defending Hurster Cup champion Dubuque Thunderbirds Sunday afternoon at Lakeland Arena. Game time is 1:20 p.m.

"With regards to Dubuque, they are always a physical team,” Wolfe said. “So we need to pull our laces a little tighter and come to play the way we have shown glimpses of thus far this season.”

Thunderbirds’ head coach Joe Coombs will be back behind the bench this weekend after serving a six-game league-imposed suspension.

JET FUEL

Dubuque has four Michigan natives on their roster in goaltender Bradley Makowski (Wyandotte), forwards Marcus Andary (Sault Ste. Marie) and Lucas Swardenski (Ada) and defenseman Tristan Musser (Lansing).

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Goalie Wylie Rogers, a key cog on Metro’s 2002 Silver Cup national championship team, re-signed over the summer with the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees of the Central Hockey League.

Photo by Andy Grossman

North Stars host Janesville this weekend

Real men wear pink.

Or at least that’s the mantra of the Traverse City North Stars heading into Friday’s series-opener at Centre ICE arena – a contest that’ll be played on pink ice and with the host Stars sporting pink jerseys for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“I think it’s an awesome idea, and hopefully it’ll grow into an annual event,” Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “My family has been touched by cancer – I lost my father and some aunts and uncles to cancer – just like so many families have been impacted by this disease. Our hope is to make a small contribution to worldwide problem through the game of hockey.”

The event will feature auction items – including the same rosy-hued sweaters worn by the home team – as well as food and drink specials, and a ticket discount for fans wearing pink to the game.

It will also feature the second go-round between the NAHL North Division rival North Stars and Jets. The clubs split a pre-Showcase series in southern Wisconsin in early September, with Janesville claiming their inaugural home opener on Sept. 12 (4-3) before TC scored a 4-3 win the following night.

“They’re a bit of a different team than when we first faced them,” Palumbo explained. “I’d have to look, but I’d say off the top of my head that they’ve made 3-5 upgrades to their roster. We’ll have to be ready to play a high-energy first period on Friday and go from there.”

One of those upgrades originated by the Bay, as the North Stars sent veteran defenseman Mike Schenfeld to the Jets late last month for a draft pick. Schenfeld spent 2008-09 in Traverse City. Ross Mauerman and blue-liner Cam Severson lead Janesville (5-6-0) with 10 points each, while Rui Encarnarcao has a team-best six goals through 11 games. Matt Wichorek has started seven of Janesville’s 11 outings, going 3-4-0 with a 3.03 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

“Our power play will have to keep improving,” Palumbo added. “And we’ll have to find a way to keep them off the board when we’re on the power play, too. We gave up three shorthanded goals last Saturday (at Motor City), most because we were all thinking about the offense, and forgot to play in our own end as well.”

Andy Huff leads the 7-3-1 North Stars with eight goals and 12 points, while Eric McLintock has 10 points and Dan Radke has dished out a team-high seven assists. Winger Kyle Jean returned from injury last weekend with a bang, recording three goals and a pair of assists over his first two games. The team expects former Mahoning Valley forward Nick Shkreli to make his season debut this weekend after missing the first 11 games with an upper-body injury suffered in last spring’s NAHL playoffs.

“We’re getting closer to being at full-strength, personnel-wise,” Palumbo said. “That’s a real positive. We just have to be way more consistent that we have been, and way more than we were last weekend.”

The Turn the Rink Pink event is sponsored by Williams Honda, TV 7&4, WLKT/YOU-FM, Thompson Pharmacy & Medical, UV Vodka, Bon Fitte and Miner’s North Jewelers.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Wrazidlo to ref in Marquette Saturday

The Marquette Rangers’ annual “Paint the Rink Pink” game has drawn plenty of well-deserved publicity for its dedication to cancer research over the past couple of years.

This weekend’s festivities will carry even more meaning, as Leah Wrazidlo will officiate the contest to become the first female referee to work a cancer awareness game.

“I’m honored to represent the Junior Development Program and USA Hockey by refereeing in the NAHL, and I’m also honored to represent females and female officials for this charitable cause,” she said. “Each game I officiate is equally important as the last, so every time I step on the ice I make sure I’m prepared to the best of my ability.”

The Rangers, who have again partnered with the Marquette General Foundation at Marquette General Health Systems to raise money for the Cancer Center at MGHS, will play the “Paint the Rink Pink” game on Saturday, Oct. 17 against the Alpena IceDiggers in customized pink jerseys, which will be auctioned off at the conclusion of the game. The opening bid for each jersey is $100.

“This should be a fun evening of hockey and entertainment,” said Rangers spokesperson Mark Evans. “It’s a key game within our division, but it’s also a great opportunity for our players to do something to embrace the community they represent. We’re hoping for a great turnout, and high bids on the jerseys to help the Cancer Center.”

Almost everybody’s life has been affected by cancer, and Wrazidlo is no different. Two of her fellow female officials were diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago.

“Thankfully, both of them have recovered, and I know the support they received from the officiating community was extremely positive,” she said.

Wrazidlo began officiating in 2001 as a student-athlete at the University of Minnesota Duluth to earn extra money while finishing up school. Her path up the ranks has led to state tournaments, national championships and international events.

And speaking of the world stage, Wrazidlo, who won an NCAA championship as a player with UMD, will be on the largest in just a couple of months as she, along with two other American female officials - Michigan’s Meg Hishmeh and Minnesota’s Kelly Rolstad - recently received an invite from the International Ice Hockey Federation to officiate in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

“It’s been a long and fun ride,” said Wrazidlo of her career in stripes. “Each year I can’t believe I have the opportunity to do so much. I’ve traveled the United States and several parts of the world to officiate hockey. The best part has been the relationships I’ve formed with so many individuals thanks to ice hockey.”

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Saginaw goes pink this Saturday night

The Saginaw Spirit is partnering with the St. Mary’s of Michigan Seton Cancer Institute for the third annual PINK OUT Breast Caner Awareness Game, taking place this Saturday, October 17.

The Spirit host the Ottawa 67’s at 7:11 p.m.

The action starts with the ladies of the Bay City Hockey Angels. They’ll be putting the fight against breast cancer on ice with a hockey game starting at 5:00 p.m. A Spirit ticket dated for the October 17th game will get you in the door for both games.

The Spirit game will feature a PINK OUT pink pom-pon giveaway for the first 2,500 fans and for a limited time, the Spirit will be selling PINK OUT ribbons for $1.00. Plus, the Spirit will be selling PINK OUT-themed t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts and hats to benefit the Seton Cancer Institute. Proceeds from the team’s PINK OUT merchandise will go to benefit the cause.

The highlight of the event is the recognition of over 30 breast cancer survivors who will be participating in an on-ice ceremonial recognition and puck drop pre-game. The Spirit team will be joining the fight as well, wearing authentic Reebok pink-toned jerseys and pink laces in their game against the 67’s. There will be a live auction benefiting the cause post game, where fans can bid on their favorite player's PINK OUT jersey. Plus, there will be a team autographed PINK OUT jersey on the auction block during the game, with raffle tickets being sold for $5.00 each.

The third annual PINK OUT Breast Cancer Awareness game is made possible due to the support of St. Mary’s of Michigan and the St. Mary’s of Michigan Seton Cancer Institute.

“St. Mary’s of Michigan is a regional leader in the fight against one of America’s top health concerns – cancer,” stated St. Mary’s of Michigan marketing manager Christine Bergman. “By partnering with the Saginaw Spirit for the PINK OUT event and tapping into their incredible fan base, we are able to spread awareness and raise funds to help find a cure for breast cancer. Through our breast diagnostic services including digital mammography and the Seton Cancer Institute for advanced treatment options, we have been able to save more lives and see fewer cases of this disease that can take so much from so many.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fowler impressing early with Spitfires

By Aaron Bell

Cam Fowler isn't your typical first-year OHL player.

The 18-year-old defenceman with the Windsor Spitfires was selected in the first round of the OHL Priority Selection - twice. First by the Kitchener Rangers in 2007 and again in 2008 by the Spitfires. Fowler was committed to playing in the U.S. Development Program and planned to play in the NCAA.

But after watching the Spitfires' impressive run through the OHL playoffs and into the Memorial Cup last spring, Fowler, born in Windsor but raised in Farmington Hills, decided to make the move to the OHL and join the Spitfires this season. So far, it's been a very good fit.

"I think I've been pretty successful so far," Fowler said. "The first couple of games I was just trying to get used to the league and try to get my feet under me. Now I think I know what to expect so it should be good from here on out."

Fowler said that initially he didn't think the OHL route was the best one for him to take but after meeting with Spitfires' GM Warren Rychel and coach Bob Boughner, decided that it was his best opportunity to get to the National Hockey League.

"It just kind of happened that by the time Windsor picked me up the OHL seemed to be the route that I wanted to take," Fowler said. "It was nothing against Kitchener or anything like that; it was just kind of a coincidence. The coaches were a big influence in me coming to Windsor. They haven't let me down since I've been here. They obviously know so much about the game and have been in the NHL before. They can definitely help me get to where I want to be."

Despite being a first year player, Fowler's teammates aren't treating him like a regular rookie.

He helps with some of the rookie tasks like cleaning up the pucks after warm-up but Spitfires' captain Harry Young said that he is spared some of the other duties like loading the bus.

"He gets a bit of a pass," Young said. "I think the guys have really taken to him. He's a great guy for the room and he's fitting in really well. He's an elite player. He's a rookie on the team but he's really not. He's got the skill to play in this league and so far he's been showing them off.

"He's the real deal."

Fowler made an immediate impression in the Spitfires' lineup. He picked up four assists in his OHL debut against the Plymouth Whalers last month and has recorded points in six of eight games this season. Fowler leads all OHL defenceman with 13 points on one goal and 12 assists.

"He's adapted to the league quicker than I thought he would," said Boughner, a former OHL and NHL defenceman himself. "He's a real smart player. He's a puck mover and he makes it easy on himself because he advances the puck. I think he's still learning his opponents but you can see when he has the puck that his natural offensive instincts just take over. He has a real calming effect back there on the blueline."

Fowler is one of five regular defencemen that the Spitfires roll out on any given night and frequently teams with Ryan Ellis on the power play. The Spitfires' powerplay is second best in the OHL, converting on 32.6% of their chances.

"He definitely makes things a little easier out there," Fowler said about playing with Ellis, a first round pick of the Nashville Predators last June. "He sees the ice better than anyone I've ever played with. He made it a smooth transition for me to come in here. I think we've got a good powerplay going and hopefully we just keep it up."

Fowler is a highly regarded prospect for the upcoming NHL Draft and some experts have suggested that Fowler and teammate Taylor Hall could make history as the first two players selected in the draft. So far, Fowler isn't putting much thought into where he will be selected in the draft. He is more concerned with helping the Spitfires enjoy another tremendous season.

"My main goal is just trying to help the team win another Memorial Cup," Fowler said. "I think if we can do that then the personal goals will come along with that. Obviously I'd like to try to be drafted high into the NHL but I understand I still have a lot of work to do to do that.

"We'll just see how things play out."

Click here to watch this video feature on Fowler

Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rangers painting the rink pink Saturday

The Marquette Rangers will be busy this week.

First, they will be preparing on the ice for their home-and-home weekend series this Friday and Saturday against the Alpena IceDiggers. Secondly, and for some, more importantly, the team will be at several locations around Marquette County promoting the “Paint the Rink Pink” night Saturday at Lakeview Arena.

The team has again partnered with the Marquette General Foundation at Marquette General Health Systems to raise money for the Cancer Center at MGHS. The team will play the game Saturday in customized pink jerseys, which will in turn be auctioned off at the conclusion of the game.

“The goal is to get as many people aware of the game and involved in this fundraiser as possible,” said Rangers spokesman Mark Evans. “We’ve always said that part of being a Marquette Ranger will be community involvement, so our guys have been at service clubs making presentations. They’ll be at several bank locations this week all to get people excited for Saturday.”

The Rangers will also be hosting a tailgate party prior to Saturday’s game at Lakeview Arena. The event runs from 5:30-7:00 with food and beverages available. Music will be provided by The Flat Broke Blues Band. The groups’ lead vocalist, Lorrie Hayes, is herself a breast cancer survivor and has performed the national anthem at the two prior “pink games” in 2007 and 2008. The band’s performance has been underwritten by mBank of Marquette.

“This should be a fun evening of hockey and entertainment,” Evans added. “It's a key game within our division, but it’s also a great opportunity for our players to do something to embrace the community they represent. We’re hoping for a great turnout and high bids on the jerseys to help the Cancer Center.”

The opening bid for each jersey will start at $100.00.

PHOTO: From left - Rangers defensemen Cody Donnay and Carter Foguth, along with forwards Josh Bussell and Garrett Ladd, were at River Valley Bank in Marquette Monday promoting the “Paint the Rink Pink” game this Saturday.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mercer providing hope for Metro early

If there has been a bright spot this season for the Metro Jets, look no further than their goaltending.

Rotating veteran R.J. Heath and Ian Mercer has proved a viable option for the Jets as each has played well through the team’s first seven games. Heath is two years older than Mercer and the latter has shown he has the maturity in goal to match his counterpart.

Mercer, a Rochester Hills native, was a draft pick of Metro back in May out of the highly successful Honeybaked AAA program. His personal goalie coach, Erik Schardt of Post To Post Goalie Schools, is now on board as the Jets’ goaltending coach.

“Ian has developed greatly over the past season,” said Schardt. “He has shown from moving up from high school to midget minor and now to juniors that he can compete at any level.”

Standing just 5-foot-7 and tipping the scales at just a shade under 150 pounds, size is not an issue with Mercer, who Schardt said reminds him of some pretty elite talent.

“Even though he is not the tallest goalie, he utilizes his quickness and reaction time which allows him to appear larger than he actually is,” Schardt said. “Ian reminds me a lot of (former Michigan State goalie) Jeff Lerg, who is also a smaller stature goaltender.”

Schardt added that if Mercer, who only turns 17 next Monday, continues to improve on a daily basis, the sky is the limit for him.

“Ian is very strong on the cross-crease movements and his anticipation of plays,” added Schardt. “He is one of the hardest workers I have seen and is such a natural athlete. With his hard work and productivity in hockey and in school, I can see Ian playing NCAA hockey in the future.”

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

The Jets' struggles continued last weekend as the Quad City Jr. Flames swept them on the road.

Saturday night, Quad City took a 5-1 decision. Mercer made 32 saves for the Jets, whose only goal was a shorthanded effort by Justin Vinson (Livonia) 13 seconds into the second period.

Then Sunday afternoon, Heath (Holly) was the lone bright spot as Metro was blanked, 6-0. Heath stopped 34 shots in the loss.

The Jets (0-7-0) return home this weekend hosting the Peoria Mustangs for two at Lakeland Arena. Game times are 7:50 p.m. Saturday night and 1:20 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Peoria, 0-6-0 this year, is coached by former NHL draft pick Darwin McPherson, a fourth-round pick in 1987 of the Boston Bruins. McPherson also played four seasons with the Peoria minor-league franchise in the IHL and ECHL.

JET FUEL

Metro has officially named their captains for this season as veteran defenseman Brett Grech (Hartland), an alternate captain last year, rookie defenseman Mike Corder (Warren) and rookie forward Jonathan Wickersham (Macomb) will all wear an ‘A’ this year.

“Grechy’s more of a vocal guy, while Wick and Cords have been our hardest workers,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said.

In the transactions department, Metro released forward James Ryerse on Tuesday and then signed forward Todd Knaus, a Traverse City native who played with current Jets forward Josh Magnan (Waterford) last season with the Soo Eagles of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.

“I’m anxious to see what Todd can do for us,” Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. “He plays with an edge and plays with a lot of intensity. I think he can help us right away.”

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

The Detroit Hitmen of the All American Hockey League have three ex-Jets on their roster this season in forward Matt Mosley (2002-2003), defenseman Jarrett Samp (2004-2005) and goaltender Rollyn Llewellyn (2006-2007).

The AAHL is a Single-A league with six teams for the 2009-2010 season, including two in Michigan with the Hitmen, based in Fraser, and the Battle Creek Revolution.

Photo by Andy Grossman

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Marquette hosts Alpena this weekend

The Marquette Rangers are off to their best start in franchise history and will look to maintain first place in the North American Hockey League North Division race against the Alpena IceDiggers at Lakeview Arena this weekend.

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

The Rangers (7-1, 14 pts.) lead second-place Traverse City (6-3, 12 pts.) heading into this weekend’s action. The Motor City Metal Jackets sit in third place (3-1-3, 9 pts.) with the Janesville (Wis.) Jets fourth at 4-5, good for eight points, while Alpena is fifth at 2-7, good for four points.

If history is any indication, it should be a competitive weekend despite the fact that it’s first place against last place. Alpena leads the all-time series between the two teams, 28-12, over the past three seasons, and holds a commanding lead in games played at Lakeview Arena since 2006.

Rangers head coach Kenny Miller, who came to Marquette from Alpena after the 2007-08 season, is 5-8 against his former club heading into this weekend.

But the Rangers have been hot, and have been getting solid play to this point on both ends of the ice. Goaltender Kevin Kissaw is 6-1 on the season with two shutouts and an NAHL-leading 1.55 goals-against average to compliment a .959 save percentage. Kissaw has twice been named the NAHL GDI Goalie of The Week for his efforts over the past two weeks as the team swept both Fairbanks and Motor City.

Scoring has been balanced offensively between rookies and veterans to start the season. Garrett Ladd leads the team in scoring with 13 points on five goals and eight assists, with newcomer Andrew Kolb keeping pace with 10 points (6g, 4a.)

The IceDiggers have struggled in the early going this season, and only feature one player (Nick Taurence) in double-digit scoring with 12 points on five goals and seven helpers. Taurence is the brother of current Rangers defenseman Nate Taurence.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Whalers add depth with rookie Nanji

The Plymouth Whalers announced today the signing of 16-year-old forward Adam Nanji to a standard Ontario Hockey League contract.

Nanji was selected by the Whalers in the ninth round (173rd overall) of the 2009 Ontario Hockey League draft.

After participating in rookie orientation camp in May and playing in Plymouth’s training camp in August, Nanji was recalled from the Streetsville Derbys of the Central Canadian Hockey League, where he had scored three goals with two assists for five points over 10 games.

Nanji reported to Plymouth today for practice, adds depth to the Whalers forward group and may see some temporary action this season.

Plymouth is currently playing without injured forwards Ryan Hayes, Jamie Devane, RJ Mahalak, Stefan Noesen and Austin Mattson.

Last week, the Whalers acquired 19-year-old right wing James Marsden from Kingston, who played on the road last weekend for Plymouth in Barrie, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Rangers continue to impress in NAHL

Basking in their promising 5-1 start heading into last weekend, the Marquette Rangers kept their winning momentum in full swing with a two-game sweep over the Motor City Metal Jackets.

The series marked an important test for the Rangers, who were eager to get their North Division schedule off on the right foot.

“It was our first road series of the season, so for us to be able to go in and get four points was good for us,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller, whose team sits atop the North Division standings with 14 points. “This division is going to be tight, so any weekend sweep is good for any team.”

The Rangers opened the set with a 4-3 shootout victory on Friday. Tanner Kero and Andrew Kolb scored in regulation and the shootout, with Josh Bussell adding Marquette's other goal in regulation. Between the pipes, goaltender Kevin Kissaw stopped 29 shots in regulation and overtime and three of five in the shootout.

Kissaw (pictured) turned aside all 33 shots he faced the next night as the Rangers skated to a 2-0 triumph over the Metal Jackets. Kero and Garrett Ladd supplied the Marquette goals.

“We're really happy with our start,” said Miller, whose team has surrendered only 15 goals, fewest in the entire NAHL. “We knew going into the season we had a younger group (of players) than in years past, but we also knew we had good players.“Kevin (Kissaw) has been solid every night, our team defense has been really good, and we've gotten timely goals at key times.”

Kissaw, whose stock continues to rise in the college recruiting circles, has been pivotal in the Rangers' early success. Now in his second season with the club, the 19-year-old from Goodrich holds a 7-1 mark to compliment a league-best .959 save percentage and a 1.55 goals-against average, which is tied for lowest in the league.

“He's our rock, and he gives us a chance to win every night,” said Miller. “This is a big year for Kevin in terms of making a solid impression on the college scouts that are in the building each night.”

Offensively, the Rangers are getting a boost from another veteran in Ladd, 20. Now in his third season in Marquette, the team's captain from Fenton leads the club with 13 points on five goals after eight games.

“We've leaned on Garrett, both on the ice and in the locker room,” said Miller. “He has the ability to take games over with his skating and his skill set. He definitely has the ability to be one the elite players in this league.”

Other veterans making a difference upfront include Collin Saint-Onge and Scott Henegar, along with defensemen Austin Accettura, Kevin Gibson and Nate Taurence.

“These guys have helped in a lot of ways,” said Miller. “They've made an impact in each of the first eight games and they're making sure our young guys understand what it means to be a Ranger, both on and off the ice.”

Kero, a University of Nebraska-Omaha recruit, headlines a talented crop of first-year forwards, along with Kolb and Brent Bain, both of whom are among the team's most consistent scorers.

On the back end, Cody Donnay and Carter Foguth - both only 17 years old - continue to make strides game after game.

Despite the fast start, the Rangers, who have missed the postseason two years in a row, aren't looking too far ahead. Constant improvement is first and foremost on Miller's mind as they delve into their competitive divisional schedule.

The team plays three of its eight remaining October games at home, including its third annual “Paint the Rink Pink” charity game to support breast cancer awareness and the Marquette General Foundation fund for cancer treatment. That game is slated for Oct. 17 against the Alpena IceDiggers.

“We've been preaching to the guys that we just want to get better each day,” said Miller. “We want to continue to play well in our own end and continue to make good, smart plays every night.”

And winning ultimately means more attention from college programs, something not lost on Miller or his band of Division I hopefuls.

“Several of our guys have gotten interest from colleges,” said Miller. “It's important for us to keep playing the way we are and, if we do, I think we'll get much more attention.”

Friday, October 02, 2009

Wickersham more than just a last name

When the Metro Jets drafted Jonathan Wickersham last May, the Jets hoped they would be getting more than just a talented forward with a snazzy last name.

They were right.

“Wick's been the guy on the team that, thus far, has most exceeded our expectations coming into the year,” Metro assistant coach Ryan Skop said. “When we drafted him, we knew we were getting a solid two-way hockey player, but he's been all that and more. When we talk about ‘bringing it every night,’ Wick's the guy who does that best. He's a hard-working guy that just doesn't quit.”

Wickersham, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound native of Macomb, also has impressed on the ice.

“He's a big guy up front who skates well and does all the little things, whether it be finishing a check, blocking a shot, taking a hit or whatever he's going to do what it takes to help the team,” Skop noted. “The most underrated part about his game is what he brings to the dressing room. He has very good leadership skills and because he's such a hard worker, when he talks, guys listen.

“He's been key in guiding us through our slow start here, and it's because of guys like Wick that I'm confident that, despite our start, we'll be alright this season.”

Wickersham has two goals this season and both were the result of hard work. His first tally came Sept. 13 at home against St. Louis and his second came last Sunday in Pittsburgh. His two goals also rank him second on the team behind Josh Magnan’s (Waterford) three.

Last season, Wickersham, 19, played for the Summit Plastics Midget AA team with current teammates Anthony Marrocco (Shelby Township) and Dylan Mantay (Troy), and that Summit team went on to win the Michigan Midget AA state championship.

Snazzy name and all.

LOOKING BACK, LOOKING AHEAD

The Jets' first visit to suburban Pittsburgh was not a pleasant one as the first-year Jr. Penguins pinned two losses on the Jets last weekend.

R.J. Heath (Holly) made 40 saves in Saturday night's 7-0 loss.

Sunday afternoon, Magnan, Wickersham and Mike Denston (White Lake) scored for Metro, but it wasn't enough as Pittsburgh took the game by a 10-3 count.

Ian Mercer (Rochester Hills) started in goal and stopped 57 shots for the Jets, now 0-5-0.

“This weekend was a tough one,” Skop said. “We made a lot of mistakes I didn’t expect wed be making at this point. Against good teams like Pittsburgh, we can’t do that. It seemed like every time we got going, we ended up in the box – penalties are mistakes, too. We have to stay aggressive, but we’re going to correct these mistakes and move forward. I think our guys went through stretches in all our games where they stuck to the plan and had success, so now we have to start sustaining those stretches through entire games.”

“We're having a hard time figuring our what to do to get the things being taught in practice to get applied to games,” Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. “We’re collectively scratching our heads right now.”

The Jets travel to Quad City this weekend for two games with the Jr. Flames Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Metro's next home games are a pair with the Peoria Mustangs Oct. 10-11 at Lakeland Arena.

Quad City (0-4-0) is lead offensively by Andrew Amendola (two goals), Devin Holmes (three assists, four points) and Josh Prygon (three assists). Balazs Goz, a Hungary native, has looked good on defense, along with Zach Honert and Scott Eberline, while David Jacobson has a 2.40 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in goal.

The Jr. Flames won all four games last year with the Jets.

JET FUEL

A year ago this weekend (Oct. 4, 2008), Metro beat Flint, 6-3, in Flint behind six different goal scorers – Brandon Nault, Will Saley, Lou Licari, Adam Novack, Brett Grech and Cameron Hnot. Mick Kolbasowski added three assists and Nick Ceccolini made 49 stops in goal.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Defenseman Sam Bell made the lineup of the NAHL’s Motor City Metal Jackets this season after playing with the Jets two seasons ago and recording four assists in 47 games and finishing second on the team with 132 penalty minutes.

The 19-year-old Bell, a 6-foot-6, 235-pound native of Munith, is pointless in three games so far this season with five penalty minutes.

Photo by Andy Grossman

Metal Jackets satisfied with early play

After inheriting a team that won all of 11 games last year, Motor City Metal Jackets head coach David Cole had his work cut out for him in the offseason.

His arduous efforts - through September, anyways - have seemingly paid off.

The Metal Jackets, who play out of the Detroit suburb of Wyandotte, are out of the gates with a formidable 3-0-2 record, picking up eight out of a possible 10 points as they enter the heart of their North Division schedule.

This weekend, they welcome the Marquette Rangers to town for a two-game set on Friday and Saturday.

“I’m happy with our start - it’s very important for our franchise,” said Cole. “To not have any blemishes in the loss column at this point is encouraging, and we certainly feel we can build on all the positives.”

The Metal Jackets’ success begins between the pipes, where Randy Willis (pictured) has won two of his four starts - both shutouts - with Jason Torf picking up the other victory allowing only one goal against.

“Our goaltending has been very solid up this point and has been the backbone of our success so far,” said Cole.

Offensively, veteran Patrick Sullivan is fitting in nicely in his new surroundings. After spending last season with the Kenai River Brown Bears, he has three goals and an assist to start his season.

First-year players Steve Brancheau, a 19-year-old from River Rouge, and John Scorcia have also impressed. Brancheau has seven points on two goals and Scorcia six on three tallies.

“Those two have been pleasant surprises,” said Cole.

So, too, has the response from the local community, where the Metal Jackets continue to build winning relationships off the ice.

“It’s been extremely encouraging to experience the positive support from Wyandotte and the Downriver communities of Detroit,” said Metal Jackets owner Kenji Yamada. “We’re confident, as we continue to build our organization, we’ll continue to provide quality, affordable entertainment.”

The Rangers make their way to town with some swagger of their own, coming off a two-game sweep over Fairbanks last weekend after a 3-1 record at the NAHL Showcase Tournament.

“The North Division is going to be very competitive, and Marquette is a very good hockey team that will be a very big test for us,” said Cole. “The games should be a measuring stick for where we are this early in this season.”

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Bussell back with Marquette, again

Former Marquette Rangers forward Josh Bussell is coming home.

After being traded to Motor City in October of 2008, Bussell became available and has been offered a spot back on the Marquette roster. He should be in the lineup this weekend as the team travels to Wyandotte for games this weekend against the Metal Jackets.

“We’re excited to have Josh back in our lineup,” Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said. “He always played well in Lakeview, was a bit of a crowd favorite, and can do a lot offensively when given the chance. We’re confident he’ll once again be a strong presence in our division.”

Bussell, 20, was the Rangers' second-leading scorer during his rookie season in 2007 with 44 points (22g, 22a) on the season, and was leading the team in scoring in 2008 when the trade was made to bolster the Rangers' defensive unit. That trade brought Reed Rushing to Marquette, and Rushing later signed with Bowling Green for this season.

Bussell also spent time last season with Mahoning Valley before that organization moved to the United States Hockey League. He began the season with the Texas Tornado before returning to Marquette.