Thursday, March 31, 2011

Link joins Muskegon scouting staff

The Muskegon Lumberjacks took another measure to make sure no future hockey stars in Michigan go unevaluated by adding Charlie Link to the team’s scouting crew.

Link is the varsity head coach of Mona Shores’ outstanding hockey program. The Muskegon native assisted with the Jacks’ tryout and training camps last summer and was also a key player in the organization and execution of the inaugural Muskegon Winter Showcase in February.

“Since I arrived in Muskegon, Charlie has been a phenomenal support and outreach,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick said. “He’s been tied into the high school game in Michigan for years, and we’re proud to have someone with his background and knowledge.”

“It’s a pleasure to work with such a first-class organization,” Link said. “I know how hard (Lumberjacks owner) Josh Mervis works, and how hard Coach Patrick works. It’s hard to keep up with them, but I know I will. And I’m looking forward to it.”

Link has directed the Sailors to three runner-up finishes in the Michigan High School Athletic Association state hockey tournament during his 10 years behind the bench. He also coached fellow Muskegon native and current Detroit Red Wing Justin Abdelkader.

Link played minor-professional hockey on and off for five years, including a stint with the Muskegon Mohawks. Link’s scouting emphasis will be Michigan prep hockey, but that’s not to say he won’t assist in other districts.

“We like our scouts to cross over and see different areas,” Patrick said. “If they only see their level, they won’t see how the big picture comes together.”

Link’s addition bolsters the Jacks’ scouting presence in Michigan, the second-leading producer of United States Hockey League skaters. He is committed to discovering and recommending players who not only aspire to someday make the National Hockey League, but also the honor roll.

“Scholastics are crucial,” Link said. “You’ve got to be a good student – not just a great hockey player, but also a great young man.”

Link and his wife of 25 years, Kristi, have a son Ian and a daughter Lauren.

Warriors, North Stars battle in round 1

The North American Hockey League has announced the schedule of the eight best-of-five divisional semifinals series of the 2011 Robertson Cup playoffs. One of the North Division series features the Michigan Warriors vs. the Traverse City North Stars.

Game 1: Friday, April 1 @ Traverse City, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, April 2 @ Traverse City, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Friday, April 8 @ Michigan, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Saturday, April 9 @ Michigan, 7 p.m. *
Game 5: Monday, April 11 @ Traverse City, 7 p.m. *

* if necessary

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

'Jacks coach Patrick grooms NHLers

By Christopher Heimerman

Blake Geoffrion recently scored six goals in his first 90 minutes of ice time with the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators.

Less than a year ago, he was hoisting the first Hobey Baker Award ever won by a Wisconsin Badger. During Geoffrion’s four years at the University of Wisconsin, Muskegon Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick played a vital role in the upstart forward’s development.

“I couldn’t be more proud of Blake. He got drafted by his hometown team and has gotten off to a great start,” Patrick says. “Despite the fact that he’s only been playing seven or eight minutes a game, he’s finding his way into the scoresheet. He’s doing just what you’ve got to do – he’s playing his role, being a great teammate and making it hard for them to keep him off the ice.”

Patrick also played the role of advisor for Geoffrion, a former United States Hockey League star who was ready for the American Hockey League following his junior year at UW, but elected to stick around for a fourth year.

“Blake had to make a real tough decision, and of course I was pleased to get the chance to keep watching his growth and further assist in his development,” Patrick says. “And in hindsight, he got to play for a national championship. He won the Hobey Baker and after spending about half the season in Milwaukee he’s tearing it up with Nashville. When he looks back, I think he’d probably make the same decisions.”

Geoffrion’s name is on some long, heralded lists. He has become the first fourth-generation player in NHL history. He also is one of many former Patrick mentees who are enjoying massive success at the highest level of hockey.

Patrick can’t help but gush when he talks about Jake Dowell, who was a captain on the Badgers’ 2006 national championship club, also wore the “C” with the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League and played a role in the Chicago Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup season a year ago.

“Jake Dowell is just a warrior,” Patrick says. “He is as hard-nosed as they get and was a big piece of the national championship team. He’s paid his dues and done it the hard way and now he’s getting the opportunity to be a regular in the Blackhawks’ lineup. It’s always great to see great players get rewarded.”

Dowell wasn’t the only Patrick protégé who had his fingerprints all over the Stanley Cup playoffs last season. Patrick basked in the opportunity to see one of his more cerebral students, Joe Pavelski, when the former Badger was running up the light bill for the San Jose Sharks during his goal-scoring spree in the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs.

“Joe is a special player. He’s a very cerebral player and thinks the game on another level,” Patrick says. “He’s a student of the game and can’t get enough. Those players are so much fun to be around and coach. Then to see him have such massive success on the highest level, I couldn’t be more excited for him.”

Throughout his celebrated coaching career, Patrick has learned that every player is different and coaches play a different role in helping them maximize their potential. For instance, Brendan Smith, who posted a 30-point season for the Badgers last year and currently is a Western Conference All-Star with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, had something you just can’t coach – unbridled tenacity.

“You don’t coach Brendan Smith’s compete level,” Patrick says, laughing. “You try to manage it. He’s as competitive as the day is long.”

Which is why it’s a foregone conclusion to Patrick that Smith will be a Red Wing in the near future.

“If he was in another organization, I’m sure he would have already seen NHL games,” Patrick says. “But Detroit has a great process and it works – they’re very patient with their players. Brendan will be up when (Wings GM) Ken Holland determines that the time is right.”

Patrick had a hand in Smith’s arrival at UW, as he did with so many standout players. Scouting and recruiting is as crucial a facet of his current job as any other. Orchestrating victories behind the bench is only an excerpt from his “War and Peace”-like job description. Not surprisingly, the recruiting aspect is the one that Patrick relishes most.

“Why I love this game so much is the people who you meet,” Patrick says. “You’re going to a lot of different towns, a lot of different rinks, all in the hopes of not only learning about the player on the ice. You find out about what they’re about, what their character is and what their background is.”

And recruiting is one aspect of the job that can never be short-changed.

“The biggest thing is you’ve got to do the work,” Patrick says. “You have to be talking to people and have to be watching. You can’t fly in and fly out. It doesn’t work that way. It’s an inexact science to begin with, and if you’re flying in and out and not putting in the time, you’ll hit more foul balls than you do home runs. I like to focus on hitting a lot of doubles.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Muskegon scout LaCombe a key cog

By Christopher Heimerman

Charlie Taft is a skating testament to Chris LaCombe’s eye for hockey talent.

LaCombe, the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ scout in Minnesota, first pegged Taft when he was 12.

LaCombe was coaching Taft’s summer team, the ’91 Predators, and the student had a profound impact on his teacher.

“Greatness has always been in Charlie, and I saw it in him immediately,” LaCombe says.

At the time, Taft’s current linemate Isaac Kohls – then with the ’91 Lightning – was a much bigger blip on scouts’ radars. But LaCombe was able to identify, and was drawn to, Taft’s intangibles.

“He’s going to be in the NHL one day,” LaCombe says. “He has the personality. He’s soft-spoken but strong. He’s a natural-born leader. He’s not a boisterous type. A lot of guys who tell you how great they are? They’re usually wrong.”

Taft, an Edina, Minn., native, had a breakout game within a breakout season Friday, March 25, when he set a Jacks record with five points in a 5-0 victory over Cedar Rapids at the L.C. Walker Arena. He also set the franchise’s high-water mark with a +5 plus/minus rating. The 6-foot-1, 186-pound winger registered the Jacks’ third hat trick of the season and scored a highlight-reel short-handed goal, his third such tally of the season. His 16 goals rank fourth on the team.

Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick had personal knowledge of Taft long before the Jacks selected him in the fourth round – 51st overall – and calls him “one of the strongest skaters in the league.”

Strong skating is just one of a laundry list of attributes – tangible and intangible – that LaCombe looks for when scouting.

“I look for a passion for the game,” LaCombe says. “Do they have an edge to their game? Are they physical and working to get there? I’m also looking for a consistent player. Skills are very important, but you can’t overlook a player’s makeup.”

LaCombe, who’s been pegging players for the Jacks for two years, struck up a friendship with Jacks owner Josh Mervis while working for the Omaha Lancers. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year

LaCombe says he “pushed very hard” for the Jacks to draft Taft a year ago.

“Even though I knew of Charlie and was impressed with him, Chris had much more personal interaction with him, and we want our scouts to fight for the guys they believe in,” Patrick says. “Getting Charlie was a great pick for us.”

It’s that time of the year again; LaCombe is in town for the weekend, helping the Jacks’ brass build their big board for the upcoming Futures and Entry drafts.

“The board gets bigger and bigger every year,” says LaCombe, who thrives on the draft process. “This is definitely the most exciting time of the year for me,” LaCombe says. “The action in the war room is intense. You’re trying to build the best team possible. I’m only one opinion and, of course, ultimately coach makes the decision. But it’s exciting to be part of the process.”

The building process is a relentless one, and LaCombe and the Jacks’ Michigan scout Dan Lerg were involved in intense meetings with the Jacks’ brass during the recent Muskegon Winter Showcase. During said meetings, the Jacks’ scouts shared their targets and recommendations. Patrick’s metaphor of choice for the draft is a puzzle. And he knows it’s one that can’t be solved without the Jacks’ scouting staff.

“Chris is a key to the development of our program and our culture here,” Patrick says. “What his eye is on is going to be an important piece of the puzzle.”

A year ago, LaCombe not only pushed for the Jacks to draft Taft, but also affiliate players Josh Archibald, Ryan Bullock, Grant Besse and Nicolas Seeler, all of whom Patrick says are either on or ahead of their development schedule. In fact, Archibald might not even get the chance to wear the Jacks’ crest, as he might be bound for the University of Nebraska-Omaha this fall.

“That’s ultimately what our goal is to do here,” Patrick says. “It’s a good pick even if we never see him in Muskegon. It means we’re onto the right players.”

Trading punts for pucks

LaCombe is in his 24th season coaching bantam hockey in Minnesota. He grew up in the small town of Mora in central Minnesota. He followed in his brothers’ footsteps and played football at St. Thomas University.

“I think I should’ve probably played hockey looking back on it,” LaCombe says. “But my brothers had played football, and Mora was a big football town. It was mini-Friday Night Lights.”

Now LaCombe’s children are following the family tradition. His oldest daughter, Christina, is a freshman hockey player at Syracuse. His son, James, just completed his senior season with Minnesota prep powerhouse Eden Prairie High School. His 14-year-old daughter Stephanie also plays, as does his 10-year-old son Jack, who is in squirts. LaCombe’s wife, Sandy, is the daughter of a former Minnesota Golden Gophers goaltender.

“She’s a key player and has seen literally thousands of hockey games,” LaCombe says, laughing. “She’s been around the game for a very long time.”

LaCombe takes immense pride in being the Jacks’ eyes in Minnesota.

“In Minnesota, you play with everybody in your ZIP code,” LaCombe says. “It’s unlike anywhere else in the United States. You can’t play outside your school district. It develops a unique style of hockey. You play with your friends you grew up with basically, and it’s hard to get Minnesota players out of here. You’re asking them to leave their home and everybody they’ve been with all their life.

“If you get a kid from Minnesota, you’re getting a guy you know is loyal.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NTDP's Sieloff commits to Miami

Team USA defenseman Patrick Sieloff has committed to play collegiate hockey at Miami University following his USHL career.

The 16-year-old has collected four points (1g, 3a) and a plus-two rating in 29 USHL games this season for Team USA's Under-17 squad. Sieloff is also second on the team with 58 penalty minutes.

The native of Ann Arbor scored his first career USHL goal last month in the 3-2 shootout loss to Youngstown on February 25.

Photo by Tom Sorenson

K-Zoo tender Mayhew named Mr. Hockey

The Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings have announced that forward Gerald Mayhew, one of its first NAHL tender signings for next season, has been selected as Michigan's Mr. Hockey.

Guiding the Wyandotte Roosevelt Bears to the their first state championship in school history on March 12, Mayhew capped off a senior season, where he dazzled the competition scoring 44 goals in leading the Bears to a 27-3 record.

“This is a tremendous honor for Gerald,” said Marc Fakler, general manager and head coach. “This is a result of his consistency and hard work throughout the season and demonstrated sportsmanship and leadership.”

Mayhew, who captained the Bears this season, is the first Wyandotte player to receive the title given annually to the top high school hockey player in the state by the High School Coaches Association. He was also selected to the Michigan High School Dream Team.

“He is a very skilled player and possesses a strong desire to win,” said Fakler. “His character and state championship experience will be an asset as we build our program.”

The 5-foot-10, 160 pound forward was also the leading scorer in the Michigan Developmental Hockey League, a pre-season high school all-star league. He scored 15 goals and 24 points in 11 MDHL contests.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

NTDP names seven to Under-17 Team

Forwards Connor Chatham (Shiloh, Ill.), J.T. Compher (Northbrook, Ill.), Hudson Fasching (Apple Valley, Minn.) and Brandon Shea (Marshfield, Mass.), along with defensemen Will Butcher (Sun Prairie, Wis.), Steve Santini (Mahopac, N.Y.) and Scott Savage (San Clemente, Calif.) have committed to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for the 2011-12 season.

The players, all from the 1995 birth year, will compete as members of the U.S. National Under-17 Team.

“These seven players will serve as the building blocks for the U.S. National Under-17 Team and represent our largest group of commitments prior to our evaluation camp,” said Ryan Rezmierski, director of player personnel for the NTDP. “Their decision shows that the National Team Development Program is the destination for elite athletes.”

During the 2010-11 season, Chatham skated for the St. Louis Blues Midget Minor team. In limited action due to an injury-shortened season, he tallied two goals in four games in Tier I Elite Hockey League action.

Compher competed for Team Illinois Midget Minor of the Tier I Elite Hockey League and recorded 39 points (17-22), including three power-play goals, two shorthanded tallies and four game-winning goals.

Fasching comes from Apple Valley (Minn.) High School, where he notched 35 points (16-19) in 25 games this season. His five game-winning-goals led the squad.

Shea played for Noble and Greenough (Mass.) School of the Independent School League in New England during the 2010-11 campaign. The forward ranked third on the team with 34 points (16-18) in 27 games.

Butcher skated for the Madison (Wis.) Capitols of the Tier I Elite League. As a defenseman, he led the team with 30 points (10-20) and five power-play goals in 34 games.

During the 2010-11 campaign, Santini played for the New York Apple Core of the Eastern Junior Hockey League and recorded 17 points (3-14) in 44 games.

Savage competed for the LA (Calif.) Selects Midget Minor team of the Tier I Elite Hockey League. He led team defensemen with 24 points (4-20) through 31 games.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jets' captains reflect on '10-11 season

By earning 15 wins this season, the Metro Jets have certainly built a foundation for the future.

Still, not qualifying for the North American 3 Hockey League playoffs stings, but the outlook is bright for next season and a playoff berth is already being discussed for this time next year.

Team captain Morgan James and alternates Justin Bennett and Matt Stirling all feel the 2010-2011 season went better than expected, even considering head coach Jason Cirone didn’t come aboard until late in the summer.

“We had a lot of potential as a team and had the ability to beat any team in the league,” said James. “I just don't think we knew how to put it all together for every game. I feel like we under-achieved because we had the potential to be great.”

“Cirone is a great coach and he deserved more from us,” Bennett said. “The whole year was a roller coaster – highs to high and lows to low. We showed glimpses of the hockey we should have played all year. We as a team were a shell of what could have been.”

“I think the season went well for the Jets,” added Stirling, who represented the Jets in the first annual NA3HL Top Prospects Tournament this season. “I think the addition of Jason Cirone was definitely a great move. Jason established an attitude that the Metro Jets needed to make them successful again. I think we could have done better than our record, but we won more games than most people expected.”

In December, goalie Matt Braun earned his first win in a shootout against then-first place Chicago. Other highlights included the Jets taking every game from Battle Creek, their season-ending sweep on the road over Quad City and an earlier sweep at home over Quad City. An early-season five-game winning streak also boosted team confidence when the team hit the .500 mark.

Seeing certain players develop was also a key part of the year, especially in January when forward Tommy Kilgore earned a call-up to the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the North American Hockey League.

“Tommy played well for us all year and his success at the beginning gave him a chance to play in the NAHL,” said Stirling. “Mike (Moroso) came to the Jets from his travel team and helped the Jets considerably. His offensive help, especially in the beginning of the year, helped the Jets win games early as everyone else found their stride. For Ian (Costello), he didn't play many games at the beginning of the year, but he came a long way from where he was and played in many games at the end of the year. Ian didn't give up when he didn't see much action in games and looks like a great player for the Jets in years to come.”

“To me everyone grew significantly,” added Bennett. “Kilgore came in with loads of raw talent and is now leaving polished ready to tackle the NAHL. Stirling came in a shy, skilled player and is leaving a proven leader and go-to player. Costello overcoming size and age to be one of the most reliable blue liners at the end was also something very positive for us.”

As for what lies ahead, uncertainty has always been a staple in junior hockey, but with Metro, good things appear to be lurking on the horizon.

“The Jets are heading in the right direction as a franchise,” Stirling said. “With our improved record this year from previous years, this coming year looks to be even better. Young guys like Travis Hargett and Ian Costello are set to lead the team and hopefully to the playoffs. With some veteran help as well, the Jets can be a playoff team next year.”

Bennett showed a humorous side when discussing the 2011-2012 season.”The future for the Jets looks less handsome without me, but with the coaching staff in place and a solid foundation of talented young players, nothing but good things will happen with this team,” said Bennett.

As the wearer of the ‘C’ and a graduating player, James reflected on what he wishes could have been.

“We had a great time, a lot of fun, and became very close teammates,” James said. “I wish we could start over and do it again.”

Check back next week when head coach Jason Cirone reflects on the Jets’ 2010-2011 campaign.

Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Saginaw's Chiarot signs with Atlanta

The NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers have signed Saginaw Spirit defenseman Ben Chiarot to an entry-level contract with the team.

The Thrashers drafted Chiarot with the 120th pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

Chiarot has tallied 34 points (nine goals, 25 assists) in 61 games this season for the Spirit and Sudbury Wolves.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound defenseman has recorded 67 points (19 goals, 48 assists) in 226 career OHL games over four seasons with Guelph (2007-08 to 2009-10), Sudbury (2009-10 to 2010-11) and Saginaw (2010-11).

The Hamilton, Ont., native competed in one game for the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League during the 2009-10 campaign.

Photo courtesy CHL Images

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Muskegon adds Shuart for home stretch

The Muskegon Lumberjacks have loaded up for the home stretch of the United States Hockey League season by adding one of their affiliate players, Max Shuart, to their active roster.

Shuart, a 6-1, 180-pound forward with a left-handed shot, hails from Northville, Ill. The fleet-footed skater put together an outstanding season with Victory Honda’s Midget Major team, posting 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in just 36 games before joining the Jacks.

Victory Honda head coach Brian Burke is elated that Shuart will get a chance to cut his teeth with the Jacks as they make a run at the Clark Cup.

“The USHL will give Max the greatest opportunity to reach all his goals in hockey and in life,” Burke said. “He’s going to play for a fantastic organization that’s only going to get stronger every season. I’m proud Max will be part of it. We’ll certainly miss him.”

Shuart credits the Victory Honda program with preparing him for the rigors of playing in the premier junior league, including Jacks assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier’s incredible training program.

“With Victory Honda, we did a lot of fast-paced drills and a lot of working out to prepare for the jump to the USHL,” Shuart says. “The competition with Honda’s been great. Every game can go either way, so it’s been great battle testing.”

For Shuart, going the USHL route to eventually reach his dream of playing in the National Hockey League was an easy decision.

“The USHL is the top junior league for staying college eligible,” Shuart said, “and you see a lot of its former players in the NHL. That’s where all of us are aspiring to be.”

The University of Michigan commit has long looked forward to honing his skills under Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick in Muskegon, less than three hours from his hometown.

“It’ll be great to be playing in Michigan and I immediately love it here in Muskegon,” Shuart said. “It’s a great town, the facilities are top notch. What more could you want?”

The Jacks boast two more affiliates with Victory Honda, Mike McNicholas and Joshua Henke.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Romeo native Ciotti chooses Lake State

Courtesy NAHL

The St. Louis Bandits have announced that forward Chris Ciotti has committed to Lake Superior State University for next season.

Ciotti, the Bandits’ captain, ranks second on the team in scoring with 64 points on 27 goals and 37 assists through 50 games.

"Chris has worked hard to earn an opportunity to play college hockey in the CCHA and for a competitive program like Lake State,” Bandits assistant coach Trevor Stewart said of the 20-year-old from Romeo. “Lake Superior will be getting a good hockey player who’ll only get better.”

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Privitera back on offensive for 'Jacks

By Christopher Heimerman

Alexx Privitera is quite familiar with the bittersweet adage “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

The offensive-minded defenseman started his second United States Hockey League season hotter than a two-dollar pistol, amassing 16 points in as many games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

“At the beginning of the season,” Privitera says, “it was like every game was two seconds long and nothing ever went wrong.”

But recently the sands of time went from a gush to a trickle. He went six games without a point and the team posted a 3-5-1 record in the month of February.

“When I hit the wall for a couple of weeks,” Privitera says, “time couldn’t go slower.”

But “Priv” leaned heavily on his assistant coach, Dave Noel-Bernier. The two pored over film for hours at a time.

“Bernie’s been there for me nonstop over the last two months and we’ve developed a great relationship,” Privitera says. “He tells me not to worry about points as long as I keep doing what I need to do offensively and defensively. Scouts see everything. It’s not just about the points.”

Privitera’s confidence has visibly surged over his past few outings, including a 5-2 win in Chicago Saturday night in which he had a goal and an assist.

“Now that I’ve picked it up, time’s flying again,” he says with a big grin.

In his sophomore season in the premier junior league in the United States, the 5-foot-9, 18-year-old Old Tappan, N.J., native currently is tied for second among USHL defensemen with 28 points. His 10 goals are tied for the lead league among blueliners.

He’s quick to point to his former youth hockey organization, the North Jersey Avalanche, for having him prepared for the rigors of the USHL.

“My coach, John Picinic, knows what it takes to play in a league as competitive as the USHL, and he did everything he could to prepare me,” Privitera says. “I can’t thank him enough.”

Privitera also learned how to deal with adversity in his rookie season, notching just six points in 34 games as a member of Team USA’s Under-17 squad – not to mention he had to make the tough decision to leave the program. But he’s pleased to have found out his foresight is 20/20.

“It was not easy to leave, but now I couldn’t be happier,” Privitera says. “The guys here, we’re as tight as I could imagine a team being. That’s the players, the front office, coaches, everyone involved.”

Speak of the devil

Privitera’s former program comes to town this weekend for a pair of games and fourth place in the Eastern Conference hangs in the balance. Team USA has a two-point lead over the Jacks for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Clark Cup Playoffs, so Privitera regaining his rhythm couldn’t have happened at a better time.

“I feel dialed in. We all do, we’re very confident,” Privitera says. “We feel it; we need to win both games.”

The Jacks are 1-0-1 against the U-17s, who Privitera says might be even better than the U-18s he skated with a year ago.

“I actually kind of think the U-17 team is more talented than the U-18 team, but they play a different style,” Privitera says. “They all like to control the puck and move it, whereas the U-18s like to dump and chase.”

The Jacks have eight more home games and four away, including one more tilt with the U-17s on Saturday, March 27.

“It’s all about winning at home to play at home,” Privitera says, “and it’s time to make this place the toughest barn in the league to play in.”

The outlook

Privitera firmly believes the Jacks can and will make a deep run in the playoffs, especially given the squad’s intangibles.

“We’ve got 20 leaders on this team,” he says. “Everyone feels like they can talk to everyone. It’s a rare thing.”

While he doesn’t wear a letter for the Jacks, he walks the walk. He’s waits at the Zamboni entrance before every game, anxious to rile up his teammates one at a time as they first enter the ice. Privitera’s numbers are glaring and he is ranked 197th among North American skaters on the National Hockey League Central Scouting mid-term rankings. Thanks to his qualities both tangible and intangible, he’s bound for Boston University this fall.

“I can’t wait to see where my career goes, but first things first, we all want to bring a title to Muskegon,” Privitera says.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wilson teaching goalies in three leagues

When it comes to goaltending, Randy Wilson knows a thing or two about playing between the pipes.

A former professional goalie, Wilson played for five teams in the old International Hockey League from 1977-1983 and has been a goalie coach the better part of the last 30 years, including two years with the United States National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor and a current gig with the Metro Jets.

“I always knew I wanted to coach,” said Wilson. “I worked my first goalie school back in 1968, so that’s going back a few years. Goalie coaches are still somewhat of a commodity, but it’s only come to pass in the past 12-15 years that goalie coaches are paying jobs. Back in 1998 or so, I started to look at making being a goalie coach my full-time vocation and here we are.”

Along with the Jets, Wilson also works with goalie as two other levels – with the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League and the Motor City Metal Jackets of the North American Hockey League.

With the Jets, Wilson has seen marked improvement this season from Matt Braun and Eric Trunick, two 18-year-olds looking to move up the hockey ladder next year.

“Both Matt and Eric are technically sound and more than capable of making the jump,” said Wilson. “They’re as good as some of the other top goalies in this league (North American 3 Hockey League) and are both good team guys.”

Braun and Trunick each gave praise to Wilson for their play this season.

“Randy has helped me notice and improve a lot of the little mistakes I was making,” said Braun. “I think it’s very important to have someone there who knows the game like Randy does.”

“Randy has helped me this season and he’s been helping me for a few years now,” added Trunick. “We have a pretty good relationship and it’s always good to have him there to remind us of things. Playing juniors, I think you have to have a goalie coach that knows what he’s talking about and Randy is very qualified for the job. I’m glad he has been around to help when I need it the most.”

Wilson noted that over his tenure mentoring young goalies, 35 have been drafted by National Hockey League teams. That stat aside, Wilson said it’s more than numbers and big statistics that make his job fulfilling.

“When I get a kid who I think has potential, if I can get him to adapt to good game habits and he can move on, I feel I’ve made a contribution,” said Wilson, who makes his home not far from Metro’s home rink, Lakeland Arena. “The biggest compliment a coach can receive is when a kid tells you that you made a difference. When I’m coaching a kid, I treat him like my own kid. Seeing them learn and excel, that’s the biggest reward for me.”

Born in Pontiac, Wilson played juniors at Lakeland the first year the arena was open and has stuck around ever since.

“This rink has always been home to me,” said Wilson. “I’ve worked with the Jets off and on for the last 12 or 13 years or so and I know (Jets’ GM) Butch (Wolfe) has always run a good program. I think now with the coaching staff they’ve got with (head coach) Jason (Cirone), Clarky (assistant coach Sean Clark) and (associate coach) Jamie (Hayden), from a development standpoint, I don’t know that this league has three better guys coaching one team. What those three have done this season has been pretty remarkable.”

As for what the future holds for Wilson, he said he has his eyes on the big time.

“I actually interviewed last year for the goalie coach job in Tampa Bay, but I didn’t get it,” explained Wilson. “I’d like to get an NHL job in the next 3-5 years, but until then, it’s status quo. I’ll still work and enjoy my time with Metro, Saginaw and Motor City and if I don’t get into the NHL, I’d still like to stay involved in hockey, but maybe I’ll just slow down some.

“I’d like to keep my hands in it, but I only wish I had more time. That being said, I feel I’ve been successful at what I do and I can take pride in that.”


The Jets split on the road in Cleveland last weekend, earning a dramatic win Saturday night before getting shutout Sunday afternoon.

Saturday night, Jacob Schlacht and Tommy Burns scored 42 seconds apart late in the third period to erase a 3-2 deficit and take a 4-3 win.

Schlacht tallied at 17:11 and then Burns potted the game-winner at 17:53.

Brett Grech and Dan Hudson also scored and Justin Bennett tacked on two assists to back Trunick’s 54 saves against his former team.

Jon Buttitta and Matt Zaremba each had a goal and an assist for the Jr. Lumberjacks.

Sunday afternoon, Brian Berger recorded two goals and two assists in an 8-0 win. Alex Larson stopped all 41 shots fired his way for Cleveland.

Trunick made 44 saves for the Jets.

Metro (13-29-1-0) finishes up the 2010-2011 season this weekend with two games on the road at Quad City.


The Jets’ 13 wins this season are the most since another 13-win season back in 2006-2007.


Barry Haber, one of the goalies on Metro’s 2002 Junior B national championship team, owns his own remodeling company in Tallahassee, Fla. – Haber Remodeling.

Upcoming Metal Jackets' promotions

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Michigan natives invited to NTDP camp

Forty-five of the top American players born in 1995 have been invited to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program Evaluation Camp, announced this week by USA Hockey.

The camp, which is held to help select the 2011-12 U.S. National Under-17 Team, will take place March 21-24 at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.

"Our scouting staff works all year to identity some of the best talent in the country,” said Ryan Rezmierski, the NTDP’s director of player personnel. “This is just one step in the process of evaluating players, but we get to see firsthand the dedication and hard work each player puts into the camp. We expect highly competitive sessions.”

The evaluation camp roster includes four goaltenders, 16 defensemen and 25 forwards. The players will be split into two teams - Red and Blue - and will participate in on-ice practices, off-ice training and four games.

Michigan natives among the 45 invites:
Evan Allen, F, Sterling Heights, Honeybaked Midget Minor
Dawson Cook, F, Cadillac, Cadillac High School
Michael Downing, D, Canton, Detroit Catholic Central High School
Trevor Hamilton, D, Grosse Pointe Farms, Honeybaked Midget Minor
Ian Jenkins, G, Ypsilanti, Belle Tire Midget Minor
Michael McCarron, F, Macomb, Honeybaked Midget Major
Tyler Motte, F, St. Clair, Honeybaked Midget Minor
Michael Sabatini, F, Grosse Pointe, Honeybaked Midget Minor
Corey Schueneman, D, Milford, Little Caesars Midget Minor
Alex Smith, D, Brownstown, Honeybaked Midget Major
Devin Williams, G, Saginaw, Motor City Metal Jackets U-18


North Stars' captain picks Ferris State

There are birthday presents, and then there’s the prize that Travis White unwrapped on Wednesday.

On the same day he turned 21 years of age, White committed to play his college hockey at Ferris State University next year – a gift that is destined to keep on giving for the rest of his life.

The Traverse City North Stars’ veteran defenseman has been decorated with numerous NAHL all-star appearances, a pair of All-NAHL North Division honors, and has been a catalyst for a Stars franchise that has posted a 100-53-13 regular season mark since he was acquired from St. Louis before the 2008-09 season.

“It feels good, no doubt – a big relief,” said White, a Sterling Heights product who has played in the NAHL for four seasons in preparation for his Big Rapids foray. “I talked to them at the NAHL Top Prospects event in Ann Arbor, then again over this past weekend. They offered, and I accepted.”

White has been a rock on the Traverse City blue line since arriving, but has taken his offensive numbers to new heights in 2010-11. Through 47 games, he has six goals and 29 assists, including 18 power play assists – third among all NAHL defenders.

“Travis understands his role as well as anyone,” said Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo, who pulled the trigger on the trade that brought White to Traverse City in the summer of 2008. “And as his role has evolved, he’s stepped up to fill it. He has a great feel for where he needs to be on the ice, and he’s an elite penalty-killer – as good a penalty-killer as anyone I’ve ever coached. I am absolutely thrilled for Travis to get this opportunity. He’s definitely earned it.”

White has 12 goals and 65 assists in 196 regular-season contests since the start of the 2007-08 season, and is +43 over that span. He’s also appeared in 26 career playoff games, with a goal, five assists, and a +15 in those outings – and has sported the captain’s ‘C’ the past two seasons.

Palumbo says the track record speaks for itself.

“Travis has won a bantam national championship, a midget national championship, and a junior national championship,” he pointed out. “It’s not a coincidence. He has a will to win, and the ability to impose that will. It’s also no coincidence that the North Stars franchise has experienced a great deal of success since he’s been here. He’s a winner, a great team guy, and that is contagious.”

While many players spend years in bantam and midget programs en route to juniors, White has developed in the North American Hockey League, winning the 2007-08 Robertson Cup title with the St. Louis Bandits. He says the experience has been as instructive off the ice, as it has been formative on it.

“Four years of doing this has shown me all the little things that guys have done right and wrong,” he explained. “That helps you mold yourself into the kind of player you want to become. I’ve also has a chance to mature physically at this level, which has hopefully prepared me for the next.”

White will also be among friends and former teammates at Ferris. Three North Stars alums – Kyle Bonis, Garrett Thompson, and Andy Huff – are already sporting FSU sweaters, with former TC goalie C.J. Motte also committed to the Bulldogs. A pair of White’s current defensive partners – Connor Schmidt and Zack Dorer – have also committed to play in Big Rapids, starting in 2012-13.

“Obviously, there’s a comfort level already knowing so many of the guys,” White added. “I talked to Andy and Garrett and Kyle, and we’re all excited to get to play together again at the next level.”

Like any player who achieves a lifelong dream of playing Division I collegiate hockey, White’s ‘thank-you’ list is as long as his roster of accomplishments.

“My parents have been there from day one,” he said. “It’s not something I could have done without their support. I’ve also had a great housing family in the Hilts all three years I’ve been here – they’re great billets and great people. Also some coaches have really helped me along the way, like my midget coach Brian Burke, Coach Palumbo and the entire North Stars organization – a lot of people who have helped me develop on and off the ice. I’m grateful for all of it.”

Woods' mustache leads to scoring run

By Logan Buckley

In his last seven United States Hockey League games, Brendan Woods has scored six goals and recorded an assist. He has also grown a lucky mustache.

Initially, Woods and six of his Muskegon Lumberjacks teammates all grew mustaches, but while the others have shaved, Woods still sports a Sidney Crosby-esque cookie duster.

“A couple guys went over to Carter Foguth’s house,” Woods says. “It was his idea and we got Just for Men (beard and mustache color) to color them black so we could see them.”

While the other five nose skirts have been “taken off” as Jacks defenseman Alexx Privitera so eloquently puts it, Woods’ still is intact – predominantly because his mates won’t let him remove it.

But Woods has a second superstition he also credits for his recent uptick in potency in front of the goal.

“The superstition I have right now going for me is I change my knob at the top of my stick for every weekend,” Woods says. “And not shaving the mustache lately since I’ve been hot.”

Woods has 12 goals and 11 assists in 45 games so far this season which bests the six-goal, four-assist output he had in his rookie USHL season with the Chicago Steel when a broken femur limited him to only 34 appearances.

After a slow scoring start to begin his Lumberjacks tenure, Woods’ confidence, like his once-pencil-thin mustache, recently has grown, yielding undeniable results.

“It took me a while at the beginning of the year when I was still getting used to the league,” Woods says. “Now I notice I have a lot more time I can hold onto the puck a couple seconds and make a play or score a goal. With the speed and competition in the USHL, it took some time.”

A smooth but powerful skater, Woods takes a lot of pride in being physical on the forecheck and is excellent at creating space for himself and his linemates.

The Lumberjacks brass brought the Fairfax, Va., native to Muskegon with their first pick in the 2010 USHL Expansion Draft, when they noticed those very abilities.

“He’s a prototypical power forward who skates well and has as heavy shot,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick says. “Opposing teams’ defenders are looking over their shoulder when he's getting in on the forecheck.”

A future Wisconsin Badger, Woods has high hopes for his upcoming career in Madison.

“Having a 30-point season for sure as a freshman, I’d be pretty happy,” Woods joked when asked how he saw his first year shaping up.

“Really I just want to go in there with an open mind so I’m just going to go and work my butt off and hopefully that takes me where I want to be - if it’s fourth line or first line, whatever works.”

For now, Woods is focused on the homestretch of the season. Last season, the Badgers donned mustaches all the way to the national championship game. Woods and his nose neighbor? They’re feeling good about the Jacks’ playoff future.

“We just switched a couple lines up and looked great,” Woods says. “Every line jelled. If we keep playing like we are, hopefully it can take us pretty far on a playoff run.”

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Westland's Milam commits to Ferris

The Topeka RoadRunners have announced that forward Nate Milam has committed to Ferris State University for next season.

He’s the second player who competed in last month’s NAHL Top Prospects Tournament to commit to a Division I program after the event.

Milam, a 20-year-old from Westland, has 20 goals and 47 points through 51 games this season.

“Playing in Topeka has been absolutely phenomenal, but, I have to admit, heading back to (Michigan) and playing near friends and family is priceless,” said Milam. “I’m looking forward to wearing the Bulldog, but always representing the RoadRunners.”

For Topeka head coach Scott Langer, seeing Milam commit to Ferris State is particularly gratifying.

“Nate has always been one of those first-on, last-off type of players,” said Langer. “He’s consistently working on his game.

“There's a reason he had 14 goals in his rookie season (of 2009-10) and has followed that up with 47 points and counting. This young man does not stop working."

“Nate’s a threat every shift and has been one of the most determined RoadRunners night in and night out,” Langer added. “Ferris State has made a very good decision on a very solid young man.”

Like his teammates before him with college deals secured, Milam is putting his full attention towards the immediate task at hand: a Robertson Cup championship.

“We’re focusing on staying sharp, sound in mind and in body,” he said. “We believe in one another, and that makes a huge difference.”

Milam also notes his appreciation for his parents, brother, Jody, and sister, Karie, and also his billets in Topeka, Mike and Karen Cline.

“I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by quality people,” he said. “I’m very grateful.“The (RoadRunners) owners (Don and Barb Stone), along with the coaches, have created an amazing culture here. They've proven they truly care about not just winning as a franchise, but the personal success of every player. There's no better place to play juniors."

Friday, March 04, 2011

Young Costello has Jets' coach beaming

Ian Costello is proof of the old adage, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.”

Standing just 5-foot-9 and tipping the scales at about 150 pounds, Costello has played in 20 games this year for the Jets and performed well enough to where Metro Jets head coach Jason Cirone has plans for his 17-year-old defenseman next year.

“I’d take 25 Ian Costellos if I could, 25 kids with hearts bigger than they actually are,” Cirone said. “Ian’s not a big kid, but he plays like he’s the size of (Jets captain) Morgan James (6-foot-4, 255 pounds). Every shift of every game, he doesn’t take any shifts off and that’s why he’s in the lineup. I’m excited to see what he’ll bring next season.”

Costello, a Lansing native, was originally going to skate for the Grand Rapids Jr. Owls this season, but when the franchise was sold and later moved to Battle Creek, Costello wanted an option close to home and made that choice come to light with a simple phone call.

“My dad and I called up Coach and asked if I could come out to their practice to show him what I could offer to the team and I guess I did something right,” said Costello, who played last year for the Grand Rapids Griffins AAA midget minor squad. “I made the team and played with them for the whole year. It was great being able to play juniors at a young age. It was also a great experience to play in a high-level league with some great players. All this is making me a better player and I hope to get better every year so I can keep moving up.”

Aside from playing half the season as a 16-year-old and sitting out the first month and change after taking an inadvertent skate to his armpit from teammate Mike Denston, Costello knew what the situation was coming into the year and accepted it with maturity far greater than his birth certificate shows. He’s hoping this year will be a springboard to increased ice next fall.

”For playing in half of the games, I felt that I was played a good amount,” Costello said. “I kind of figured that I wasn’t going to play all the games. I have to work a lot harder than the guy I’m against because of the size. I think this year has made me a smarter player and made me also a quicker one. What I mean by that is when I have the puck, I have to already know what I’m going to do with it before I actually get because if I don’t, I’ll be put into the nickel seats.

”I feel that my strongest part of my game is the ability to work as hard as I can at what I do such as play forward, penalty kill or power play. I have been told I see the ice really well, too.”

With a heart as big as his, expect Costello to see even more of the ice in 2011-2012.


The Jets closed out their home schedule with a 7-5 loss Saturday night at Lakeland Arena to the Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks.

Veteran forward Brett Grech, in his final home game, scored twice for the Jets, while Mike Moroso and Justin Bennett each had a goal and an assist and Matt Stemkoski scored the other goal.

“I thought Grech had a great game for his last home game and played like it,” Cirone said. “All the usual suspects played well. All the guys that seem to show-up did. As for the other guys, I don’t know what they’re waiting on. We have four games left and they look like they’re waiting for something to happen. They’re in for a surprise when it’s Game 45 and nobody’s called and nobody’s looking at them.”

Tommy Kilgore and Matt Stirling chipped in two assists apiece for Metro and Matt Braun finished with 45 saves in goal.

Matt Zaremba and Joe Sposit paced the Cleveland attack with two goals and an assist each.

“The first period, I thought we played well and our goalie kept us in it,” said Cirone. “Then there was about a nine-minute stretch in the second period where we didn’t play disciplined and took some bad penalties that killed us and cost us four goals. Then we get into the third period and win the third period, 3-2. Our lack of discipline and the lack of our defense wanting to do their job cost us again.”

The Jets travel to Cleveland for two games this weekend at Ice Land U.S.A. Game time is 9 p.m. Saturday night and 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Metro finishes out the regular season next weekend with a pair at Quad City.

“There is always something to play for and our kids have to understand that,” said Cirone. “Someone is always watching. You can’t hide in this sport.”


Three of the five 1990 birthdates on the Metro roster had points in their final home game last Saturday night – Grech with the two goals, Bennett with a goal and an assist and James with an assist. Of the other two, defenseman Mike Corder was solid on the back end and forward Tommy Burns didn’t play.


Steve Oleksy, who manned the Jets’ blueline in 2004-2005, was called up to the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League on Thursday.

Oleksy, a 25-year-old from Chesterfield, had been playing for the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads, where he recorded seven goals and 21 points in 55 games this season.

Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images