Monday, March 29, 2010

NAHL first round schedule released

The North American Hockey League announced today the schedule of the eight, best-of-five divisional semifinals series of the 2010 Robertson Cup Playoffs.

Marquette Rangers vs. Motor City Metal Jackets
Game 1: Friday, April 2 @ Marquette, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, April 3 @ Marquette, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Thursday, April 8 @ Motor City, 7 p.m. $
Game 4: Friday, April 9 @ Motor City, 7 p.m.* $
Game 5: Saturday, April 10 @ Marquette, 7:30 p.m.*%
$ at Kennedy Ice Arena
% at Berry Events Center

Traverse City North Stars vs. Janesville Jets
Game 1: Friday, April 2 @ Traverse City, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, April 3 @ Traverse City, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Thursday, April 8 @ Janesville, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Friday, April 9 @ Janesville, 7 p.m.*
Game 5: Sunday, April 11 @ Traverse City, 5 p.m.*

*If Necessary

South Lyon's Thomas picks Air Force

The Topeka RoadRunners have announced that forward Tony Thomas has committed to the Air Force Academy for next season.

Thomas, a 19-year-old from South Lyon, played in all 58 regular-season games for the NAHL South Division champions, one of only three RoadRunners to do so. He finished the regular season with 20 goals and 47 points to go along with a plus-20 rating.

"Tony has met and exceeded every character standard we expect of a RoadRunner,” said RoadRunners head coach Scott Langer. “Air Force is not only getting a solid player with a very good hockey IQ, but an even better young man."

Thomas is the 12th current NAHL player to commit to Air Force.

“I’ve always held the staff at Air Force in very high regard,” Langer added. “They did a great job recruiting Tony and I know it work out well for everyone."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Whalers get Windsor in second round

Game 1: Thursday, April 1, 7:05pm at Windsor
Game 2: Saturday, April 3, 7:05pm at Plymouth
Game 3: Monday, April 5, 7:05pm at Windsor
Game 4: Wednesday, April 7, 7:05pm at Plymouth

Game 5: Thursday, April 8, 7:05pm at Windsor *
Game 6: Saturday, April 10, 7:05pm at Plymouth *
Game 7: Monday, April 12, 7:05pm at Windsor *

*If Necessary

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rangers win North Division title

The Marquette Rangers set a goal for themselves earlier this week, and that was to win all three games on their schedule this weekend and win the North American Hockey League’s North Division title.

The team did just that, ending with Saturday night’s 3-0 shutout over the Janesville Jets to claim its championship at Lakeview Arena.

“It doesn’t even feel real right now,” team captain and forward Garrett Ladd said afterward. “We set this goal at the (NAHL Showcase Tournament) in Blaine (Minn.) and worked all year to make this happen. I was here when we reached bottom two years ago (when the Rangers finished in last place) so to get the title is just an unbelievable feeling.

“I love these guys, I can’t think of a better group to be playing with right now; but we still have a long road to go so we’ll enjoy this tonight and then look forward to next weekend.”

Ladd scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the first period, his 23rd of the year, on an unassisted effort past Janesville goaltender Matt Wichorek.

Bobby Bodette and Brent Bain added goals in the second and third periods, respectively, to compliment a 34-save shutout by goaltender Lukas Hafner.

Rangers head coach Kenny Miller said he got exactly what he expected from his No. 2 goalie this weekend after Hafner was called in action for the injured Kevin Kissaw.

“Luke is No. 2 just because of a numbers situation,” the coach said. “We knew he could play at this level all along. The guys believe in him and supported him and he really took advantage of this situation and the opportunity he was presented with.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am for this group of guys. They’ve worked hard all year, survived some bumps in the road, but when it came time to get it done, they really stepped up and earned the right to be No. 1 going into the playoffs.”

The Rangers will host the Motor City Metal Jackets this coming weekend at Lakeview Arena, while Janesville will travel to face the No. 2-seed Traverse City at Centre Ice Arena.

Marquette (35-22-1, 71 points) and Traverse City (33-20-5) finished the season tied in overall points, but Marquette won the title the first tie-breaker with more regular-season wins.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Paliafito off to Sacred Heart in fall

After enjoying two non-consecutive terms with the Traverse City North Stars, Chris Paliafito is the Grover Cleveland of Traverse City goalkeeping.

And after stints with three other clubs in the interim, he now knows where he’ll be spending the next four years: Sacred Heart University.

Paliafito, who has served 44 games between the pipes for the Stars between the 2007-08 and 2009-10 seasons, signed with the Pioneers, who play in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Hockey Association, this week.

“I’m glad to finally have it decided,” said Paliafito, who spent time with the USHL’s Indiana Ice, and NAHL’s Owatonna Express and Alexandria Blizzard between TC stops. “I had been talking with their coaches for a while now, so I knew there was some level of interest on their part. It’s pretty satisfying to know that I’ll get a chance to play at the college level and get a good education.”

The Shelbyville, Ky., native is 6-7-2 this season with the North Stars, with a 3.22 goals-against average and .889 save percentage in 16 appearances. He went 11-9-6 in 2007-08, with nearly identical averages.

“Chris came in back in 2007 and, along with (fellow goalie Brandon) Stephenson, really kind of stabilized our goaltending, and helped us get the program pointed in the right direction,” said Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “He’s a fierce competitor. He doesn’t like giving up goals.”

Paliafito was an especially key cog in January, when Drew Strandberg went down to injury, and he engineered a 3-0-2 run, helping keep the Stars in contention for the NAHL North Division title. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound backstop surrendered two or fewer goals in seven starts this year, and becomes the sixth D-I property on the current Stars roster. The others are Andy Huff (Ferris State), Kelin Ainsworth (Lake Superior State), Kyle Jean (LSSU) Tyler Marble (LSSU) and Dan Radke (LSSU).

“It’s sometimes hard to come in as a freshman and command a huge role right away,” said Paliafito, who plans to study business at the Fairfield, Conn., private school. “But my plan is to come in and work hard, stay focused, and come to the rink ready to go every day.”

Paliafito says the rigors of junior hockey have helped prepare him for the road ahead.

“Playing at the highest levels of juniors can really be demanding, physically and mentally,” he said. “It’s a long, grueling season, and I think that helps when you do get to the next level.”

Paliafito is the 16th current or former Stars player to sign with a D-I program, and would be at least the 34th TC player to go on to play collegiately.

“We have a number of other guys drawing serious interest as well,” said Palumbo. “But everyone’s happy for Chris. He’s a great kid, and a great teammate, and we’re glad to see him get to play at the college level.”

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images

Alpena's Henderson chooses Army

The Alpena IceDiggers have announced that forward Mike Henderson has committed to Army (Atlantic Hockey) for next season.

Since being acquired from the St. Louis Bandits earlier in the year, Henderson, from Bloomington, Ind., has 12 goals and 31 points in 22 games with the IceDiggers.

“Mike has been a great player for us this year has contributed the piece of offense we’d been missing,” said IceDiggers head coach Jack Fritsche. “He's a natural scorer with great hands and he has an eye for the net like no other.

Fritsche believes that Army is the perfect fit for the 21-year-old Henderson.

“He’s a disciplined kid, on and off the ice, and I can see him cracking their lineup and contributing from Day 1,” said the coach.

"Mike is a very committed young man who will fit in well at one of the finest institutions in this country,” added Alpena assistant coach Josh Harrold.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Whalers, Spirit named in annual OHL poll

The Ontario Hockey League today announced the results of the 2009-10 Western Conference Coaches Poll.

The OHL Coaches Poll provides member club coaches with the opportunity to recognize the top three players in 16 different skill categories within their own conference.

All 16 Western Conference categories are listed below with the point totals in brackets.

Most Underrated Player
AJ Jenks
, Plymouth (24)
Justin Shugg, Windsor (21)
Garrett Wilson, Owen Sound (20)

Most Improved Player
Greg McKegg, Erie (23)
Josh Shalla, Saginaw (19)
Brett Thompson, Sault Ste. Marie (15)

Smartest Player
Tyler Seguin, Plymouth (24)
Ryan Ellis, Windsor (23)
Jeff Skinner, Kitchener (14)

Hardest Worker
Garrett Wilson, Owen Sound (23)
Eric Wellwood, Windsor (15)
Jordan Szwarz, Saginaw (14)

Best Playmaker
Tyler Seguin
, Plymouth (30)
Jordan Skellett, Saginaw (16)
Joey Hishon, Owen Sound (15)

Most Dangerous in the Goal Area
Taylor Hall, Windsor (27)
Jeremy Morin, Kitchener tied Tyler Seguin, Plymouth (22)
Taylor Beck, Guelph (16)

Best Skater
Taylor Hall, Windsor (39)
John Moore, Kitchener (18)
Nazem Kadri, London (14)

Best Shot
Ryan Ellis, Windsor (29)
Jeremy Morin, Kitchener (28)
Peter Holland, Guelph (11)

Hardest Shot
Jacob Muzzin, Sault Ste. Marie (37)
Ryan Ellis, Windsor (20)
Sam Lofquist, Guelph (10)

Best Stickhandler
Nazem Kadri, London (33)
Tyler Seguin, Plymouth (26)
Michael Latta, Guelph (8)

Best on Face-Offs
AJ Jenks, Plymouth (31)
Scott Timmins, Windsor (24)
Tyler Murovich, Saginaw (17)

Best Body Checker
Leigh Salters, London tied Jacob Muzzin, Sault Ste. Marie (20)
Mike Halmo, Owen Sound (18)
Marc Cantin, Windsor (10)

Best Defensive Forward
Scott Timmins, Windsor (41)
Tyler Murovich, Saginaw (27)
Joe Gaynor, Plymouth (7)

Best Penalty Killer
Scott Timmins, Windsor (35)
Joe Gaynor, Plymouth (21)
Garrett Hunter, London (8)

Best Offensive Defenceman
Ryan Ellis, Windsor (39)
Jacob Muzzin, Sault Ste. Marie (23)
Steven Tarasuk, London (16)

Best Defensive Defenceman
Jacob Muzzin, Sault Ste. Marie (26)
Dan Kelly, Kitchener (25)
Leo Jenner, Plymouth (15)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Final weekend on tap for Marquette

To say the final three regular season games in front of the Marquette Rangers this weekend are important might be the understatement of this new decade.

Marquette sits in second place behind Traverse City, with the North Stars in town Thursday night to battle the Rangers at Lakeview Arena. Marquette is three points ahead of third place Janesville in the North American Hockey League North Division race with the Jets coming to Lakeview Friday and Saturday.

“We’re going to find out a lot over the next few days,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “If we play well, we can win the division. If we don’t, we could finish without home ice for the playoffs. It’s pretty simple what has to happen.”

Miller was cautious, though, when asked about how his team was reacting to the opportunity on front of them this weekend.

“We’re 55 games into the season, so I would expect our guys to understand what’s at stake and what we need to do over the next few nights," said Miller. "We’ll need everyone to show up all three nights (and) we’ll have to work extremely hard all three games if we’re going to have a good result. No one is a rookie anymore, so I expect our guys to react to the situation and give it 100 percent.”

Miller also mentioned the fact that the Rangers play well at home as being a positive factor for his club. On the season, Marquette is 18-6 on home ice, but is 1-2 against Janesville at Lakeview. The Rangers are 5-1 at home, however, against Traverse City.

Miller added that his club is searching for some much-needed momentum after going 1-4 over their last two weekends, both of them away from home.

“We want to get things going in the right direction so that no matter where we are or who we play, we’re feeling good about who we are and what we do,” he said.

Forward Tanner Kero continues to lead both the team and the NAHL in goal production as the final weekend looms in the league. The Hancock native and Michigan Tech recruit scored twice last Friday at Traverse City, putting him at 32 markers on the season to go with 19 assists for 51 points.

Andrew Kolb and team captain Garrett Ladd of downstate Fenton lead the team in overall scoring with 61 points apiece. Kolb has 23 goals and 38 assists, while Ladd has scored 21 goals to go with 40 helpers on the season.

Kevin Kissaw (pictured) has continued to carry most the load in net for the Rangers down the stretch. The Goodrich native sports a 23-15-1 record on the season with a goals-against average of 2.76 and a save percentage of .918.

All three games Thursday-Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m. at Lakeview Arena.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Big series this weekend in Traverse City

There are big showdowns, and then there is this weekend’s gargantuan series between the Marquette Rangers and host Traverse City North Stars.

The teams are tied for the top spot in the North American Hockey League’s North Division with 63 points each, with just six games remaining in the regular season. They’ll play a three-game set at Centre ICE arena on Friday, Saturday and Sunday that will go a long way in deciding who will wear the North crown heading into the playoffs.

Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo isn’t looking for a split – or even a sweep.

“We have six games left and we want to win all six,” he said. “I know the old cliché is to take it one shift, one period and one game at a time, and that’ll be our focus for sure. We have to win Friday to win the rest of ‘em, then we have to win Saturday to win the rest of ‘em, and the same on Sunday.”

Marquette comes into the weekend on the heels of a two-game setback at Janesville, but before that series had gone 13-6-1 since being swept in Traverse City back on Dec. 28-29. The Rangers have won six of the 10 meetings between the teams this year, including a two-game brooming of the Stars at Lakeview Arena on Mar. 5-6.

“They’re a team that plays hard but also has a lot – a LOT – of talent,” Palumbo assessed. “(Andrew) Kolb has hurt us, (Tanner) Kero has to be the rookie of the year in our league, and Garrett Ladd is one of the two or three best forwards in the NAHL. In fact, their top nine forwards are all very dangerous. Then you look at their defense and the numbers that (Kevin) Kissaw has in net, and it’s not hard to see why they’ve been among the top teams all year.”

Ladd leads the Rangers with 57 points, including a team-high 38 assists, while Kolb – who has 13 points over 10 games against Traverse City this year – has 21 goals and 35 assists. Kero leads all NAHL skaters with 30 goals, including six game-winners. Nate Taurence leads Marquette defensemen with five goals, while Kissaw is 22-13-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average. His .922 save percentage is third-best in the league.

While they didn’t connect for any of the Stars’ goals in a 4-1 win over Motor City on Wednesday at Centre ICE, the Garrett Thompson-Nick Shkreli-Doug Clifford line has been among the most productive trios in recent weeks. For the season, the triumvirate has amassed a combined 52 goals and 73 assists, with a +62 plus-minus rating. Thompson, along with Traverse City defenseman Bo Jacobs, is tied for third in the league at +29. Dan Radke has a goal in three straight games, while Eric McLintock has five points over his last five outings.

In net, Drew Strandberg has played the last six games, including a 3-0 shutout of Alpena on Mar. 10. He boasts a 20-8-1 personal record, with a 2.40 goals-against average and .909 save percentage, and is 8-2-2 since Dec. 10.

“This is exactly why you start the regular season – to have a shot at winning your division and going on to a successful playoff run,” Palumbo added. “And here it is, the end of the season and we still have a chance to play for it. It’s not necessarily something you get a shot at every year.”

The North Stars will play their final six games over nine days, beginning with Friday’s 7 p.m. series opener. The Stars and Rangers will clash again on Saturday night at 7 p.m., with the series finale Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. The public can enjoy post-game skates with the Stars after games on Friday and Saturday.

Friday’s game is college night, with buck-per-draft beers and $2 select beers for college students age 21 and over (with ID). On Saturday, the first 100 junior high/middle school students get in free, while season ticketholders can each bring a friend for free on Sunday.

The regular season home finale on Mar. 26 against the Diggers is wedged between road games at Marquette (Mar. 25) and Alpena (Mar. 27).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Metro Jets - 2009-2010 Year In Review

It wasn’t quite the season the Metro Jets expected, but the 2009-2010 campaign did have its share of positives and highlights over the course of the year.

For one, the team’s roster was pretty much the same all season long – not many transactions and very little in-season turnover.

Another big plus to the year was that from Game 1 through Game 48, each player on the ice worked hard, never quit and showed marked improvement.

“It was hard to keep giving it your all when there was nothing to play for (once the Jets were mathematically eliminated from making the playoffs), but we still went to practice everyday and ‘punched the clock,'” veteran defenseman Brett Grech said. “We all liked each other on the team, so we just played for each other and tried to have fun. That's what hockey is all about.”

“We improved in all aspects, from playing in our own end to scoring goals, and keeping pressure in the offensive zone,” added defenseman Tyler Schofield. “We just played well as a team and worked hard. Everyone got along very well. We were all friends with one another and we were just like a family.”

Several players stood out with decent individual seasons. While playing on the back in special team situations, Grech spent most of his time on the top forward line with Jon Wickersham and Jon Elliott. All three players had 10 or more goals to boot.

Mike Denston made good progress up front as the season progressed and kept opponents honest. Steve Lockwood, at times, concentrated more on the defensive side of the game from the blue line and showed a knack for offense with five goals and 13 assists. When he stuck to the game the coaches wanted him to play, he was effective enough to warrant some looks from North American Hockey League teams.

Forward Tim Hooker improved the team's depth after sitting out the beginning of the season rehabbing from late-summer shoulder surgery.

In goal, 17-year-old Ian Mercer emerged as the No. 1 goaltender and led the team with 10 wins. Perhaps one of his most dominant wins was a 47-save shutout at Queen City on Dec. 6. Mercer was also in net for a 3-1 win at Cleveland on Nov. 22. Mercer also drew some attention from the scouts at the next level.

On Nov. 29, Metro and Motor City played in what is believed to be a USA Hockey-record 17-round shootout at Lakeland Arena. Motor City won the drama-filled game.

The Jets also took Dubuque to a shootout on Nov. 13.

“I think that we gutted out the season because we had enough players who were going to give it their all all the way to the end,” noted Wickersham. “We had enough players who wanted to better themselves and move on to the next level making them go hard until the end.”

“Everyone was always competitive and we enjoyed playing hockey with each other,” Metro team captain Mike Corder said. “Everyone showed up everyday and no one gave up and no one quit. It was a unique experience. It was tough to stay focused with the longer season and all of the travel for all of us rookies, but we all wanted to play good hockey. The chemistry was great from day one. The team was a brotherhood, both on and off the ice.”

Next up for Metro is the annual Central States Hockey League Draft scheduled for late May, preceded by a pre-draft camp May 15-16 at Lakeland Arena. The 2010-2011 schedule should be announced mid-summer.

Livingston ready to face old team

When you look at the upcoming Plymouth-Sault Ste. Marie first-round best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League playoff series, there isn’t much separating the Whalers and the Greyhounds.

The Whalers finished two points ahead of the Soo in the Western Conference race during the regular season. Both teams won a game in overtime. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

Sault Ste. Marie scored 16 goals over six games, Plymouth scored 14. No player on either side scored more than five points over the six-game series. Tyler Seguin led Plymouth with five points, while Jacob Muzzin and Brett Thompson scored five points to lead Sault Ste. Marie.

In goal, Matt Hackett recorded a 2.16 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in six games against the Soo. Greyhounds goaltender Robin Lehner compiled a 2.21 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in five games.

One man with a unique appreciation of both sides is Plymouth veteran James Livingston, acquired by the Whalers from the Soo at the OHL trade deadline.

“They pride themselves on their hard work,” Livingston said about his former team. “Their head coach, Denny Lambert, has been an extremely hard worker his whole career and he’s passed that along to the leadership group and the rest of the team. They definitely work for everything they’ve accomplished and have done well.”

After missing the playoffs last season with the Soo, Livingston is fired up to back in the OHL post-season, even against his old team.

“Missing the playoffs last year was tough,” Livingston admitted. “Anything this year was going to be better than last year. I’m really excited to go up and play my old team. Obviously, it’s going to be a battle, so you have to love that it's playoff time and I am definitely excited.”

In just a short time with Plymouth, Livingston already haunted his old team, scoring the game-tying goal in the third period last Friday in a 2-1 overtime loss in the Soo. The ‘Hounds needed to win the game in regulation to keep their hopes alive for fourth place and home ice advantage.

But Livingston had other ideas. Less than five minutes into the third period, Livingston skated to the right circle in the Soo zone, got a shot through traffic on Lehner, then followed up the rebound and scored on a backhand shot just outside the blue crease.

“Even in practice in the Soo, I didn’t beat Lehner very much, so it felt pretty good,” Livingston said. “I guess I was lucky because I managed to get the puck on net and then I saw the puck was out there (outside the crease on a rebound) and just threw it back on net again.”

When the goal was announced as Livingston’s, a number of pro-Soo fans cheered, which shows the impact Livingston had in the community.

“I guess I was up there long enough to be recognized by some fans,” he said. “It definitely felt good to hear the cheers. It’s nice to be recognized after you’ve put in a couple of years with a team. I loved Sault Ste. Marie, but this (Plymouth) is my new team, so I’m ready to go.”

Livingston has played with and shot against Hackett and Lehner.

“They’re both extraordinary goaltenders,” Livingston reports. “You play with a lot of confidence when the puck goes behind you with the both of them in net. It’s easy to play when they’re out there. It takes the pressure off the defensemen, especially.”

Plymouth fans will see Soo defenseman Jacob Muzzin is all important situations. Like Plymouth’s Joe Gaynor and Leo Jenner, Muzzin is in his fifth season in the OHL. And much like Gaynor and Jenner, Muzzin is a defensive specialist with some offensive upside who will be assigned to try to shut down Seguin.

Muzzin – signed by the Los Angeles Kings – overcame a serious back injury early in his career to become one the best defensemen in the OHL.

“Muzzin was one of my closest friends up there and is definitely a special defenseman,” Livingston said. “He’s worked extremely hard to get where he is now. He’s going to be given the hard task of trying to shut down Tyler Seguin. He’s going to have his work cut out for him and it should be interesting.”

Meanwhile, the Whalers welcomed back defenseman Michal Jordan back to the lineup Sunday.

“He did great, it was a good game to get him back in and get game tested,” Plymouth head coach Mike Vellucci said. “He didn’t have any pain issues so that was very good.”

88.1 FM WSDP will carry the games in Plymouth on Friday and Saturday, starting at 6:40pm with the pre-game show.

Photo and text courtesy Plymouth Whalers

Hackett goes Wild for NHL contract

Minnesota Wild Press Release

Shortly after bolstering the Minnesota Wild’s organizational depth at center by signing Casey Wellman, GM Chuck Fletcher turned his attention to goaltending.

On Wednesday, Minnesota signed Plymouth Whalers goaltender Matt Hackett to a three-year entry level deal.

Hackett, who was selected in the third round (77th overall) of last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, will remain with the Whalers through the team’s playoff run, which begins Friday night. It’s possible that he could join the Houston Aeros at the completion of his Canadian junior season.

His signing boosts the team’s goaltender depth in Houston next season.

"Matt is a big goalie who has played a lot of minutes the last two seasons in Plymouth," Fletcher said of the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder. "His numbers have improved in each of his junior seasons, and he was recognized this season by being invited to Canada’s World Junior camp. We look forward to continuing to see Matt develop in our system."

Hackett enjoyed a breakout season this past year by posting a 38-18-1-2 record with a 2.62 goals against average, and a .925 save percentage, which ranked second in the Ontario Hockey League.

The nephew of former NHL goaltender Jeff Hackett represented Team OHL in the 2009 Subway Super Series and earned a win in a 30-save effort.

Photo by Walt Dmoch

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rangers off to Traverse City for three

With two weekends remaining in the North American Hockey League regular season, the North Division crown is still completely up for grabs.

The Marquette Rangers are tied atop the division with Traverse City and are four points ahead of third place Janesville. Marquette travels to Traverse City for three games this Friday-Sunday, and then hosts the North Stars a week from Thursday before Janesville comes calling to Lakeview Arena for the final two games of the regular season next Friday and Saturday.

Needless to say, this is going to be interesting.

The only certainty in the race is that Alpena will not make the playoffs for the first time in their history, while the Rangers will be in the post season for the first time since their inaugural year of 2006-07.

Everything else is anybody’s guess.

Marquette is looking to get some much-needed momentum as they head down the stretch. The team is coming off a two-game sweep last weekend at the hands of the Jets. Centre Ice Arena in Traverse City will be a difficult place for Marquette to get that much-needed head of steam, having lost all their road games against the North Stars this season.

But not all the news is bad.

Marquette swept the North Stars two weeks ago at Lakeview Arena, part of a three-game winning weekend where the team also secured a playoff bid with a win against Alpena.

Marquette native Tanner Kero continues to the lead the team and the entire NAHL in goals with 30 on the season. Garrett Ladd is the team’s point leader on the season with 57 from 19 goals the 38 assists, while teammate Andrew Kolb has 56 points on 21 goals to compliment 35 assists.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

North Stars start busy stretch of games

To say that the Traverse City North Stars will be busy over the next couple of weeks is a bit of an understatement.

Wednesday’s St. Patrick’s Day contest against Motor City at Centre ICE arena will commence a stretch run of seven games in 11 days, including a three-game homestand this weekend against first-place Marquette, to close out the 2009-10 regular season slate.

“The alternative is to sit home, rest up, and get ready for the playoffs,” observed North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “I think I like the idea of staying in a heavy-rotation routine and keeping our competitive edge right on through.”

And the torrid regular season finish couldn’t come with the NAHL North Division standings more tightly-packed. Marquette owns a two-point lead over second-place Traverse City, which is followed closely by third-place Janesville – fresh off a two-game sweep of Marquette and just two points behind TC in the chase for the second and final home-ice advantage playoff slot in the NAHL North. The Stars have a game-in-hand against both the Rangers and Jets, which they’ll play on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s opponent is also fighting for playoff position, as Motor City has a five-point lead on Alpena for the fourth and last divisional playoff berth and retains a mathematical chance at overtaking Janesville for the third spot.

“Whether we’re playing Marquette, Alpena, Motor City – whomever we’re playing – we have to make the most of every chance we get to pick up points," said Palumbo. "If we have hopes of having home ice, or dreams of getting past Marquette, then every single game from here on out is the most important game of the season, and we have to play that way.”

Motor City lost a pair of games at Alpena last weekend while the Stars sat idle, but swept Janesville the previous weekend at Yack Arena in suburban Detroit. R.J. Kleiman leads the Jackets in both goals (19) and assists (26), while rangy blue-liner Mike Monfredo (23 pts., 155 PIM) anchors the Motown defensive unit. Randy Willis (26 GP), Jason Torf (22) and Phillip Graveline (11) have platooned in net.

A trio of North Stars – Garrett Thompson (45), Doug Clifford (45) and Dan Radke (42) – have eclipsed the 40-point mark so far this season, while Eric McLintock (19 G), Nick Shkreli (35 pts. in 38 games) and Andy Huff (20 G) have reached the 30-point plateau. Drew Strandberg, who is 7-2-1 in goal since Christmas, is now 19-8-2 and fifth in the NAHL with a 2.45 goals-against average. He’s three wins from tying C.J. Motte’s club mark for wins in a season (22).

After Wednesday’s game, the Stars (28-18-5) will have just one day before the division’s top dogs come calling. The Friday and Saturday contests are set for 7:00 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee series final gets underway at 1:00 p.m.

The regular season home finale is on Mar. 26 against Alpena, and is wedged between road games at Marquette (Mar. 25) and Alpena (Mar. 27).

Monday, March 15, 2010

Whalers and Spirit playoff schedules

Fri., March 19, at Kitchener, 7:30 p.m.
Sat., March 20, at Saginaw, 7:11
Mon., March 22, at Kitchener, 7:30
Wed., March 24, at Saginaw, 7:11
Fri., March 26, at Kitchener, 7:30 *
Sun., March 28, at Saginaw, 4:00 *
Tues., March 30, at Kitchener, 7:30 *

Fri., March 19, at Plymouth, 7:05 p.m.
Sat., March 20, at Plymouth, 7:05
Tues., March 23, at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:05
Wed., March 24, at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:05
Fri., March 26, at Plymouth, 7:05 *
Sun., March 28, at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:05 *
Tues., March 30, at Plymouth, 7:05 *

* Denotes if necessary games

Friday, March 12, 2010

Saginaw announces playoff scenarios

The Saginaw Spirit has announced its potential playoff dates and opponents.

Regardless of who the Spirit play in the first round, the team will host its first home game of the playoffs on Saturday, March 20 at The Dow Event Center at 7:11 PM.

If the Spirit claim sixth place, they will be seeded against the third-ranked Kitchener Rangers:
GAME ONE: Friday, March 19 - at Kitchener; 7:30 PM
GAME TWO: Saturday, March 20 - at Saginaw; 7:11 PM
GAME THREE: Monday, March 22 - at Kitchener; 7:30 PM
GAME FOUR: Wednesday, March 24 - at Saginaw; 7:11 PM
GAME FIVE: Friday, March 26 - at Kitchener; 7:30 PM (If necessary)
GAME SIX: Sunday, March 28 - at Saginaw 4:00 PM (If necessary)
GAME SEVEN: Tuesday, March 30 - at Kitchener 7:30 PM (If necessary)

If the Spirit claim seventh place, they will be seeded against the second-ranked London Knights:
GAME ONE: Friday, March 19 - at London; 7:30 PM
GAME TWO: Saturday, March 20 - at Saginaw; 7:11 PM
GAME THREE: Tuesday, March 23 - at London; 7:00 PM
GAME FOUR: Thursday, March 25 - at Saginaw; 7:11 PM
GAME FIVE: Friday, March 26 - at London; 7:30 PM (If necessary)
GAME SIX: Sunday, March 28 - at Saginaw 4:00 PM (If necessary)
GAME SEVEN: Tuesday, March 30 - at London 7:00 PM (If necessary)

If the Spirit claim eighth place, they will be seeded against the first-ranked Windsor Spitfires:
GAME ONE: Thursday, March 18 - at Windsor; 7:05 PM
GAME TWO: Saturday, March 20 - at Saginaw; 7:11 PM
GAME THREE: Sunday, March 21 - at Windsor; 2:00 PM
GAME FOUR: Tuesday, March 23 - at Saginaw; 7:11 PM
GAME FIVE: Thursday, March 25 - at Windsor; 7:05 PM (If necessary)
GAME SIX: Friday, March 26 - at Saginaw 7:11 PM (If necessary)
GAME SEVEN: Sunday, March 28 - at Windsor 2:00 PM (If necessary)

NTDP names evaluation camp roster

Forty-seven of the top American players born in 1994 have been invited to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp, set to be held to help select the 2010-11 U.S. National Under-17 Team.

The camp will take place March 27-30 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

“The camp is just one step in the process of determining our player pool,” said Ryan Rezmierski, the NTDP’s director of player personnel. “We expect our camp to be a high-intensity, high-skill evaluation. Our scouting staff has worked extremely hard to identify these candidates as a part of that evaluation process.”

Five goaltenders, 16 defensemen and 26 forwards will compete at the camp. The players will be split into two teams - Red and Blue - and will participate in on-ice practices, off-ice training and four games.

Three NTDP alumni will serve as coaches at the camp. Cole Bassett (1998-2000), currently a graduate assistant coach at the NTDP, and David Tanabe (1997-98), the first NTDP alumnus to play in the National Hockey League, will guide Team Red. In addition, Matt Greason, a NTDP graduate assistant coach, and Connor Dunlop (1997-98) will lead Team Blue.

The NTDP Evaluation Camp is open to the public. Day passes can be purchased for $10 at the door each day of the camp.

For a complete roster of the invitees, click here.

Michigan Connections
F Riley Barber, Compuware Midget Minor
D Troy Donnay, Fenton, Belle Tire Midget Minor
G Brandon Hope, Ann Arbor, Honeybaked Midget Major
D Max Iafrate, Belle Tire Midget Minor
D Patrick Sieloff, Ann Arbor, Compuware Midget Minor
D Jacob Trouba, Rochester, Compuware Midget Minor
D Grant Webermin, Southfield, Honeybaked Midget Minor
D Mark Yanis, Grosse Pointe Woods, Belle Tire Midget Minor

Evaluation Camp Game Schedule
Sat., March 27, 5:30 p.m.
Sun., March 28, 4:30 p.m.
Mon., March 29, 6:30 p.m.
Tues., March 30, 11 a.m.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NFL champ coming to Saginaw Saturday

The Saginaw Spirit will welcome Super Bowl champion LaMarr Woodley to Saturday’s home game where he will be participating in a ceremonial puck drop at center ice before the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker and Saginaw native will also speak to Spirit season ticket holders and fans in the Bud Light Blue Line Club pre-game.

“We were honored to have LaMarr as our guest for a ceremonial puck drop after he was named Michigan’s ‘Mr. Football’ for his efforts at Saginaw High,” stated Spirit president and partner Craig Goslin. “Now we are honored to present him to Spirit fans as a NFL Super Bowl champion and All Pro linebacker. He is an all-star on and off the field as he continuously works on initiatives such as the Heroes for Kids charity golf outing to give back to the Saginaw region and support the community he calls home.”

Woodley led Saginaw High to a Michigan Division II state football title in 2000. The linebacker was recognized as being the best high school football player in the state of Michigan in 2002 after being named the Gatorade Player of the Year.

He continued to find success in his college career, being a four-year defensive starter and three-year offensive starter at the University of Michigan. His senior year was capped off in 2006 with national recognition, being awarded the Rotary Lombardi Award for best college offensive/defensive lineman of the year and the Ted Hendricks Award for best college defensive end. In 2006, he was selected to the All-Big Ten Conference First Team as well as being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. Woodley shared co-MVP honors with Texas Longhorns and current Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young following Michigan’s loss to Texas in the 2005 Rose Bowl.

Woodley was selected by the Steelers in the second round, 46th overall, in the 2007 NFL Draft. He was a starter for the Steelers in their Super Bowl XLIII (2008) victory and was named to the NFL Pro Bowl in 2009. He was also named Second Team All-Pro in 2009, as voted on by the Associated Press.

Patrick named Muskegon's first coach

After officially joining the United States Hockey League last month, the new member club in Muskegon has named Kevin Patrick as its head coach to lead the team when it takes the ice for their inaugural USHL season in 2010-11.

“We are thrilled to have Kevin Patrick lead the Muskegon organization during our first season in the USHL,” said team owner Josh Mervis. “His knowledge of the game and superb track record of recruiting student-athletes made him the ideal person to help develop a culture of success both on and off the ice in Muskegon. The organization is very fortunate to have someone of Kevin’s caliber, who comes from one of the top NCAA Division I programs in the nation, taking on this leadership role.”

Patrick has spent the last five seasons in the role of assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team. In his first year with the Badgers, he helped guide the team to the sixth NCAA championship in school history posting a 30-10-3 record. The team finished second this season in the WCHA and has compiled a 107-70-22 during Patrick’s five seasons with the program.

“I am truly excited for the opportunity to be the leader of the Muskegon team and to be a part of the premier junior hockey league in North America as it begins its next venture into the state of Michigan,” said Patrick. “It is a great opportunity for me to be in a passionate hockey community as I know the people of Muskegon will be great fans and supporters of the USHL.”

Prior to his tenure at Wisconsin, Patrick served as assistant coach at Bowling Green State University (2002-05) and Union College (1998-2002) while also coordinating the recruiting efforts at both schools. His stints with both programs were marked by improvement as Bowling Green went from eight wins in his first season to 16 wins in his final season, and Union jumped from three victories in his first season to 13 victories in his final season at the school.

The announcement also marks the return of Patrick to the USHL as he spent the 1997-98 season as assistant coach and assistant general manager for the Green Bay Gamblers. He has also been actively involved with USA Hockey, coaching at Select Festivals in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2009.

“I have recruited extensively in the USHL over the last 12 years and now it will be great to come back as a head coach to such a great league,” said Patrick. “The USHL has continued to set itself apart with outstanding organizations that are run with a high degree of professionalism and quality coaches that develop these young men both on and off the ice.”

As a player, Patrick was a four-year letterman at the University of Notre Dame. The defenseman was a captain for the team during his final two seasons before graduating with a bachelor’s of science degree in pre-professional studies in 1992. He played one season of professional hockey before beginning his coaching career at Deerfield Academy (Massachusetts).

Photo courtesy Wisconsin Athletic Dept.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

North Stars entering home stretch

In a sense, the playoff have already begun for the Traverse City North Stars.

With just eight games remaining in the regular season and the Stars training North Division-leading Marquette by four points, every contest takes on added significance – starting with Wednesday’s stand-alone matchup with Alpena at Centre ICE arena.

“Not only are we fighting for our playoff position and dreaming of home-ice (advantage in the first round), but Alpena is playing as well as anyone in the league right now,” said Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “They just swept Marquette at home and lost by a single goal in the third one up there, but they look like they’re very hungry to join the playoff mix.”

The IceDiggers (20-29-2) trail fourth-place Motor City by nine points with seven games left on the docket – including four head-to-head matchups with the Metal Jackets. Alpena has won six of its last seven, and have posted a blistering 9-3-1 record since Jan. 23. They’ve done it without longtime Diggers standouts Jimmy McCusker and Ryan Timar, both of whom were traded away this year. John Fristche is the club’s top gun, with 21 goals and 19 assists – including eight goals in the 12 meetings with Traverse City in 2009-10. Marco Wieser has been in net for all four of the Diggers’ wins in the season series, including a pair of shutouts.

“They play with a pace, tempo and energy that we have to play with as well or we’ll have our hands full,” Palumbo opined. “And it should be easy for us to maintain that kind of intensity from here on out. This is what you play for, where you want to be when you’re through the meat of a 58-game schedule. If we have any dreams of holding off (third-place) Janesville for home ice, or even catching Marquette, that kind of passion has to be there.”

Garrett Thompson, who leads the North Stars (27-18-5) with 22 goals, has racked nearly one-third of that total (7) against Alpena. Doug Clifford has a TC-best 45 points, Dan Radke is the top playmaker with 26 assists and Eric McLintock has 19 goals to go along with 17 assists. Drew Strandberg, who is slated to start Wednesday’s contest, is 18-8-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

The North Stars will have the weekend off before closing out the year on a torrid pace: Seven games in 11 days, starting with a St. Patrick’s Day showdown with Motor City at Centre ICE. The first-place Rangers come into TC for a three-game weekend set Mar. 19-21. The regular season home finale on Mar. 26 against the Diggers is wedged between road games at Marquette (Mar. 25) and Alpena (Mar. 27).

Monday, March 08, 2010

Wieser wins monthly NAHL honors

The North American Hockey League has announced that Alpena IceDiggers goaltender Marco Wieser has been named the Sherbrook Hockey Goaltender of the Month for February.

Wieser, a 19-year-old from Villach, Austria, fashioned an 8-2-1 record in February, including shutouts over the Motor City Metal Jackets on Feb. 19 (42 saves) and the Marquette Rangers on Feb. 26 (34), to compliment a 2.14 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage.

“Marco has given us a chance to win every night all season long and his recent play has fueled our team with confidence,” said IceDiggers head coach Jack Fritsche. “He’s made some tremendous momentum-swinging saves, which is what you need down the stretch.”

In 36 appearances this season, Wieser, who played for Villach’s Under-20 Team in Austria last season and also represented Austria at this year’s World Junior Championships, holds an 18-17-1 mark to go along with a 2.76 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.

“It’s a tremendous honor to receive this award,” said Wieser. “My teammates have been really good in front of me, which has made my job easier.”

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Metro's Wickersham ready for next step

If ever there was a player the Metro Jets don’t want to have back for a second season, it would be Jon Wickersham.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Advancing players to the next level, whatever that may be, is something the Jets have succeeded in over the years and the team hopes the 19-year-old Wickersham can be the latest name to be added to their long list of alumni who have moved up the hockey ladder.

"Game in and game out, Wickersham has been one of our most consistent players, if not the most consistent,” Metro GM Butch Wolfe said. “He's on the ice in every situation and can do it all – score, defend, clear the puck, make good passes, even the little things."

Wickersham hasn’t missed a game all year and goes into this weekend third in team scoring with 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points. Being an alternate captain also showed that Wickersham, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward from Macomb was capable of taking the team on his shoulders if need be.

"From the first day Jon came to camp, we knew he was captain material,” Wolfe said. “He's not real vocal, but he definitely leads by example. When it came time to choose our captains, Jon was one of the three names that kept coming up and he did a great job this year keeping the guys focused and ready to go each game."

Wolfe feels Wickersham will have several North American Hockey League teams pining for his services next season and whichever team he lands with will be getting a fine hockey player and an even better person.

"I think wherever Jon plays next season, that team will be getting a solid player,” said Wolfe. “He is ready for the NAHL, in my opinion, and I really believe he'd make a fine addition to any of the teams in that league.

“I don't think he has anything left to prove at the CSHL level."


The Jets went on their final road trip of the season last weekend and were swept by the first place and regular season champion St. Louis Jr. Blues.

Saturday night, Tyler Schofield scored his first goal of the season and added an assist, while Steve Lockwood had two goals in a 12-3 loss.

Jon Elliott and Wickersham chipped in two assists apiece and Ian Mercer made 43 saves between the pipes.

Sunday afternoon, Elliott scored the lone Metro tally in a 4-1 loss. Mercer finished with 35 stops.

Metro wraps up the regular season this weekend with two at Lakeland Arena against the Pittsburgh Jr. Penguins. Game time Saturday night is 7:50 p.m., while Sunday’s game is a 1:20 p.m. matinee.


Action photos of all Jets players are now available to view and purchase on team photographer Andy Grossman’s website.


Matt Ewert, a tough defenseman on the 2000-2001 Jets team, is no longer playing organized hockey, but is definitely staying busy these days.

Ewert, who just recently got engaged, owns a successful landscaping business in the Chicago area.

Photo by Andy Grossman

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rangers home for three big games

The Marquette Rangers face what could possibly be the biggest weekend in their four-year history when they play host to Alpena this Thursday and Traverse City on Friday and Saturday.

Marquette needs points to overtake Traverse City in the North American Hockey League North Division race with less than a month to go in the regular season. The North Stars lead Marquette by a single point heading into the weekend.

The weekend's first opponent, Alpena, currently sits in the bottom of the division, but the IceDiggers have proven to be no pushover for the Rangers this season. Alpena swept the Rangers in two games last weekend at Northern Lights Arena in Alpena, 5-0 and 4-3 in a shootout.

Thursday will be the final meeting between the Rangers and Alpena, Marquette leads the season series, 8-4.

Traverse City and Marquette will get their first chance of many to settle things this weekend as six of the final 10 regular season games will pit the two rivals against one another. Adding to the Rangers' concerns during March are the remaining four games, all against third place Janesville who trails Marquette by only three points in the division race heading into this weekend.

The Jets play fourth place Motor City in suburban Detroit Friday and Saturday.

Garrett Ladd leads Marquette in scoring with 52 points on 17 goals and 35 assists, while Hancock native Tanner Kero continues to lead the team, as well as the entire NAHL, in goal production with 29.

All three games at Lakeview Arena start at 7:30 p.m.


Fans attending any of the three games this weekend will be given plenty of opportunities to win one of several prizes provided by advertising partners of the team.

Thursday night is “Give Me Gas Night,” courtesy of Holiday Station Stores in the central U.P. When the puck drops at 7:30, someone in attendance will be guaranteed a $50 Holiday gas card. For every goal the Rangers score, another $50 card will be added to the giveaway - up to $300. The winner must be present at the end of the game to collect their prize.

Friday, the Rangers celebrate “Fan Appreciation Night,” where kids will receive free Rangers mini-sticks while they last. There will be other specials available during the evening at Lakeview Arena.

Saturday, someone in attendance is guaranteed a flat-screen TV in the Rangers final “Celebrity Goalie Contest.” When fans enter the arena, they will be asked to put their name on a slip of paper, then place it in one of 10 numbered buckets as their guess as to how many saves the celebrity goalie will make.

Saturday’s “celebrity” will be the first female of the year as Amy Clickner, Executive Director of The Lake Superior Community Partnership, has agreed to don the pads and try to stop 10 shots fired at her by selected shooters during the first intermission.

The drawing for the television will take place at the end of the game, and again, the winner must be present to win.