Thursday, May 26, 2011

NAHL draft recap: Traverse City

The second leg of the restocking season brought the Traverse City North Stars new hopefuls, as the club claimed eight players in the annual North American Hockey League Draft via conference call on Thursday.

The Stars tabbed midget forward Kyle Schempp of Compuware with their first round pick – the first of three players TC snagged from the metro Detroit-based U-18 program.

The others – forward Jon Farkas and defenseman Garrett Cockerill – are joined by Traverse City West High School defenseman Frank Gilbert, Honeybaked blue-liner Wayland Williams, Victory Honda forward Tony Calderone, Cleveland netkeep Michael Parda and junior hockey veteran John Fritsche as the Stars’ draft-day take.

“We went into the draft with nine names – nine guys we wanted, and we got eight of them,” said Traverse City head coach Chad Fournier. “I’d call that a pretty solid draft. We’re going to be young on the back side again, but we think we’ve addressed a lot at every position.”

Gilbert, who helped TC West to another Big North Conference title last season, was a Division I all-state selection, and is second all-time among Titans defenseman with 44 career points.

“Frank’s a smart, solid defenseman and has grown into a mature role over the years,” Fournier explained. “He moves the puck well, not altogether unlike another West defenseman, Chris Dienes.”

Fritsche is another familiar name to North Stars fans, having spent two seasons with former NAHL rival Alpena. The 6-1, 185-pound forward played an injury-plagued season with Youngstown of the USHL in 2010-11, recording three goals and an assists in 27 contests with the Phantoms, Prior to that, Fritsche led Alpena with 23 goals and 22 assists over 55 games in 2009-10.

“He’s a kid who we took a bit of a chance on, but for good reason,” Fournier added. “He’d be a great leader, a goal scorer, a guy who has been around the game at this level. He may ultimately decide to go to school next year, but we’re hoping he wants to play another season.”

Schempp (6-1, 170) bagged 21 goals and added nine assists over 40 league contests for Compuware last winter, while Farkas kicked in with 16 points over 39 outings. Farkas (5-11, 165) has played 199 games with Compuware since the 2005-06 campaign, amassing 46 goals and assists on 88 others in that span. Cockerill, the third member of the Stars’ Compuware draft triumvirate, delivered six goals and 11 helpers in 37 league games last year, and 30 goals to go with 56 assists in 125 career games with the program.

“Schempp is a big kid who skates hard,” Fournier said. “Farkas is a guy who is on the smaller size who plays and works notoriously hard, while Cockerill is a big, strong kid (6-0, 195) who is young and talented and has tremendous upside.”

Williams is probably the most offensive-oriented defenseman among the new crop, according to Fournier. With 20 points over 33 games for Honeybaked’s midget majors, and 116 points in 218 career games played with the program, Williams may be among those who try to replace the contributions of likely USHL defections Dienes, Zack Dorer and Connor Schmidt.

Calderone did not play due to injury last season, but has 133 career games under his belt with the Victory Honda program – yielding 54 goals and 35 assists. Parda went 14-7-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .918 save percentage with the NA3HL’s Cleveland Jr. Lumberjacks.

“We feel like we did very well and got very lucky to have gotten the guys we did,” said Stars GM Anthony Palumbo. “We could lose up to four of our defenseman to the USHL, so we needed to address that through tenders and the draft and our camps. Now we feel like we have good depth at forward, defenseman, and in net if we do lose some guys.”

The North Stars will host their Lansing open tryout camp June 3-5 at Suburban Ice, and will continue to cull a roster from their returning veterans, tenders, draft choices, and summer camps. Fournier says that Thursday’s draft helped position the club for another season of success.

“Anthony works so hard to find the right guys, and the results speak for themselves,” he concluded. “It’s not an easy thing to identify the best players and the right players for a program, but that’s one of his great strengths, and we’re fortunate to be able to draw upon that keen eye for talent.”

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