Wednesday, August 31, 2011

'Jacks announce exhibition schedule

Before the Muskegon Lumberjacks’ second quest for the Clark Cup gets under way, the United States Hockey League club will cut its teeth on five exhibition games, culminating with three contests at the USHL Fall Classic.

The Jacks’ first exhibition game will take place at Western Michigan University at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16 against the Indiana Ice. Admission is free.

The Jacks will turn around to host another Eastern Conference rival, the Youngstown Phantoms, at West Shore Community Ice Arena on Saturday, Sept. 17. The game will be a fundraiser for the West Shore Amateur Hockey Association. Tickets can be purchased at either Port City Candy in Manistee or Gordy’s Skate Shop in Ludington. Port City Candy is open every day but Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at (231) 887-4333. Gordy’s Skate Shop is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shop’s phone number is (231) 845-9100. Fans may also call the Lumberjacks’ office at (231) 724-JACK (5225) for more information.

The Jacks’ exhibition slate will wrap up with three games in the USHL Fall Classic in Sioux City, Iowa. Muskegon’s first game during the highly scouted four-day extravaganza will be against the Chicago Steel at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 22. The Jacks’ second game will be against the Dubuque Fighting Saints at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23 and they will wrap up the preseason against Green Bay at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. The Jacks’ second and third games at the Fall Classic will be broadcast at

“This is a schedule that will have our guys plenty ready for the regular season,” Lumberjacks head coach and general manager Kevin Patrick said. “The Fall Classic is something our guys are very excited for, and three games in four days will be a great test and a great opportunity.”

The Jacks begin their regular season with four games away from the L.C. Walker Arena before opening the home schedule against the Dubuque Fighting Saints on Saturday, Oct. 22.

North Stars set for seventh NAHL season

Another run for the Robertson Cup is officially under way.

After a summer’s worth of tryout camps, tenders, draft picks and even a trade, the Traverse City North Stars reported for duty this week as the 2011-12 season gets rolling.

The North Stars, coming off the franchise’s first-ever 40-win regular season campaign, will practice together this week in advance of a Labor Day weekend trio of preseason clashes in Sault Ste. Marie. While the club is entering its seventh season, longtime assistant coach Chad Fournier is going into his first year holding the reins as head coach.

“The guys are working hard and we’re excited to be back at it,” said Fournier, between two-a-day practices. “This first week or two is about coming together as a team, getting back in that winning frame of mind, and preparing for the season. The goal is to improve every day.”

The weekend event will feature six teams from three junior hockey leagues, including the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Eagles, Soo Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers and Sudbury Cubs and Ontario Junior Hockey League Hewitt Cup champion Wellington Dukes. Traverse City will face off against Blind River in Friday’s tourney opener, Wellington on Saturday, and conclude with a Sunday tilt against the host Eagles.

“It won’t count in the standings, but it does count in terms of what direction we take as a team,” Fournier explained. “There will be plenty of college (scouts) there as well, so there’s some individual motivating factors too.”

While Fournier and his North Stars squad would like to get off on the right foot this weekend, the North American Hockey League’s regular season isn’t far off, either. The NAHL Showcase gets cranked up on Sept. 14, featuring all 28 teams in a four-day spectacle that attracts thousands of fans and college scouts from across the league’s considerable footprint and beyond. The team’s home opener is set for Wednesday, Sept. 28 against North Division foe Port Huron.

“We’re still introducing some concepts, and as a staff we’re still learning about our players,” Fournier added. “Friday, Saturday, and Sunday will be a chance to see how we’ve progressed, and what we’re doing well. We’re all pretty excited to be here, to get going, and to start the journey.”


: Soo Eagles Labor Day Weekend Showcase

WHERE: Pullar Stadium - Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.

7:30 p.m.: Blind River v. Traverse City

1 p.m.: Soo Eagles v. Sudbury
4:30 p.m.: Soo Thunderbirds v. Blind River
8 p.m.: Wellington v. Traverse City

1 p.m.: Sudbury v. Blind River
4:30 p.m.: Soo Thunderbirds v. Wellington
8 p.m.: Soo Eagles v. Traverse City

11 a.m.: Sudbury v. Wellington
4 p.m.: Soo Thunderbirds v. Soo Eagles

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Metro defenseman Corder off to Oakland

In what has turned out to be a very successful offseason for the Metro Jets in terms of player advancement, defenseman and former captain Mike Corder has committed to ACHA Division I power Oakland University based in nearby Rochester.

Corder played two years for the Jets and was the 2009-2010 captain and assumed the same role the first half of last season. Statistically, the 21-year-old from Warren posted two goals and 12 assists in 76 career games with a combined 186 penalty minutes.

His solid defensive play, coupled with his fearlessness on the ice, had several colleges taking note as last season came to a close.

“I was really unsure as to where to attend school and try to play hockey this season,” said Corder. “I discussed the colleges with (Jets head) coach (Jason) Cirone and he put me in touch with (OU assistant) coach (Nick) Tomczyk. I spoke a few times with coach Tomczyk and he said that the OU staff had seen me play with the Jets. I went to the first camp of the summer and enjoyed the up-tempo style that the OU players played. I wanted a good college and a good opportunity to play for a national championship – OU is that college. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team and the program.”

OU won the Division II national championship in 2004 and 2006 under former head coach Sean Hogan, also a former Jets player in the mid-1990s, and then moved to Division I and won the national title in 2007, also with Hogan at the helm.

Corder has aspirations off the ice, too.

“My goals academically are to do the best that I can and get the best grades that I am able to get while I try to decide what I want as a major,” Corder explained. “During my first two years, I plan to get a lot of my general education classes out of the way while I try a few different areas to see what interests me. I would like to earn a degree in something that will allow me to stay connected to hockey when my playing career is over.”

The Grizzlies have a handful of ex-Jets on the roster, including forward David Merkle, a former teammate of Corder’s during his first season in Waterford.

“It is nice to have something in common and a few familiar faces does make the transition and getting to know the team a bit easier,” noted Corder.

Showing his humble side, Corder gave thanks to the Jets’ organization and has high hopes for the organization moving forward.

“My two seasons with the Jets made me a more well-rounded player “ said Corder. “I gained a lot of experience and learned a great deal from the coaches, especially coach Cirone. I really learned my role as a player and how to simplify the game. Coach Cirone made the game easy to understand, even at the faster pace of juniors. I don't feel that I would have had the opportunities to get an education and continue to play a high level of hockey without my time with the Jets organization and coach Cirone.

“During my first season, the team started to move a little bit in the right direction. After coach Cirone came in, the team really started to gain momentum going down the right road. The bumps will have to be smoothed out a bit, but I know that coach Cirone expects nothing but 100 percent night in and night out and he won't settle for anything less from his players or himself. I know that the NA3HL draft was very positive for the team and they tendered some good players. I am excited to see what the Jets can accomplish this upcoming season.”

Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images

Training camp starts Friday in Saginaw

The Saginaw Spirit will open defense of its West Division regular season crown earned a season ago with the commencement of its 2011-12 main camp at the Dow Event Center this week.

The camp will open with 44 players in attendance, including 17 from last year’s squad.

Among the returnees are four Spirit players that were selected in the 2011 NHL Draft this past June: Brandon Saad (2nd Round Chicago), Vince Trocheck (3rd Round Florida), Anthony Camara (3rd Round Boston), and Josh Shalla (4th Round Nashville), along with the recently signed Jamie Oleksiak (1st Round Dallas). Other returning veterans include John McFarland (2nd Round Florida 2010), Brandon Archibald (4th Round Columbus 2010) Ryan O’Connor, Garret Ross (Washington Invite 2011), Brad Walch and goaltenders Tad Galansky and Jake Paterson (NHL eligible 2012).

Four other players with OHL experience will also be in attendance including three skaters acquired in the offseason in Michael Fine (Kingston), Steven Strong (Belleville) and Dean Pawlaczyk (Barrie/Sarnia). Former Belleville Bull Jan Kaminsky has also been invited to the Spirit’s main camp.

Saginaw will also feature its three top picks from the 2011 OHL Priority Selection, and their first selection from the 2011 CHL Import Draft in Nick Moutrey (1st Round), Sam Povorozniouk (2nd Round), Jimmy Lodge (3rd Round) and Vadim Khlopotov (1st Round, CHL Import Draft).

The Spirit will open their preseason schedule on Friday, September 9 as they travel to Sarnia to face the Sting, with the same two teams returning to the Dow Event Center one night later. The exhibition season will wrap up with a home-and-home set with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds Friday, September 16 at the Essar Center and on Saturday, September 17 on home ice.

Saginaw and the Great Lakes Bay Region will welcome back the Spirit for the 2011-12 regular season for home opening weekend on September 30 versus the Kitchener Rangers and the following night against Ottawa. The game against the 67’s will feature the raising of the championship banner from this past season’s West Division title.

The following is the team’s on-ice schedule and fans are encouraged to attend the sessions.

Friday, September 2
10:00 am Practice (Team White)
11:00 am Practice (Team Blue)
3:00pm Scrimmage

Saturday, September 3
9:00 am Scrimmage
3:00 pm Scrimmage

Sunday, September 4
10:00 am Practice

Monday, September 5
10:00 am Practice

Lumberjacks' Masters chooses UNH

Jordan Masters
is relieved to know where he’ll continue to hone his hockey skills after his time with the Muskegon Lumberjacks.

After thorough deliberation, the Jacks’ forward committed to the University of New Hampshire late Saturday night.

“It was between New Hampshire and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,” Masters said. “A lot of deep thought went into the decision.”

Masters, who posted 12 points (five goals and seven assists) for the Jacks in 55 games during his rookie season in the United States Hockey League, leaned heavily on his family to help him make his decision. Perhaps more than anyone, however, he relied on Jacks head coach Kevin Patrick for insight.

“He was a very big help in the process and told me a lot about the differences between the two schools,” Masters said. “It’s great having a coach who knows the ins and outs of college hockey.”

Masters, along with fellow Jacks forward Joe Cox, was a member of the Team USA squad that recently competed in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, and the duo also was part of the Under-17 squad that won the gold medal at the Five Nations Tournament in Switzerland last summer.

Next fall, he’ll join former Jacks forward Casey Thrush in New Hampshire. Also committed for next fall is Jacks forward Mike McNicholas.

A product of Little Caesar’s youth hockey, Masters feels “relieved” to know where he’ll play college hockey before realizing his dream of playing hockey for a living.

“It’s a good feeling to not have to worry about where I’m going to college,” Masters said. “After that? Of course, playing in the NHL is the dream.”

Photo by Dave Reginek/USHL

Muskegon's Klecha picks Bulldogs

Just in time for Muskegon Lumberjacks training camp, Dakota Klecha has committed to Ferris State University.

The Jacks’ second-round selection in the 2011 United States Hockey League Entry Draft has been in conversations with Ferris for years. On Friday, they made him a scholarship offer he couldn’t refuse.

“They put the offer on the table and I thought it was awesome,” Klecha said. “I had to take it. My parents are very happy for me.”

Klecha will attend Baker College full-time before transferring to Ferris in fall 2012. He plans to study business.

“I know between the Jacks staff and everyone at Baker, they will do everything they can to help me succeed,” Klecha said.

The Taylor native leaned on the Jacks’ staff, as well as Belle Tire head coach Chris Coury, who’s been a mentor to Klecha for years and served as his contact person in discussions with Ferris.

Klecha amassed 50 points (28 goals, 22 assists) and 248 penalty minutes during 56 games with the Wichita Falls Wildcats of the North American Hockey League last season and prides himself on affecting every aspect of the game.

“My game elevates when I play my way,” Klecha said. “I can’t be timid out there. I have to be finishing every check, and that’s what jumps my spark. I can’t wait to play hockey again. It’s been awhile.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Plymouth starts camp this Wednesday

Training camp is just a few days away in the Ontario Hockey League.

The Plymouth Whalers report to Compuware Arena on Wed. Aug. 31 for off-ice testing and medical exams.

The Whalers will hit the ice in scrimmages from 9-11am and 2-4pm on Thurs. Sept 1 and Fri. Sept. 2. The scrimmages are free and open to the public and media. Rosters will be provided the days of the scrimmages.

National Hockey League drafts J.T. Miller (first round, NY Rangers, 2011), Stefan Noesen (first round, Ottawa, 2011), Rickard Rakell (first round, Anaheim), Scott Wedgewood (3rd round, New Jersey, 2010), Austin Levi (3rd round, Carolina, 2010), Garrett Meurs (5th round, Colorado, 2011) and Matt Mahalak (6th round, Carolina, 2011) will all be participating in the scrimmages.

In addition, Whaler fans will also get their first look at overage center Andy Bathgate (over from Belleville in a trade) and get reacquainted with rookies Mitchell Dempsey, Danny Vanderwiel, Matt Mistele, Jake Patterson, Chris Lindner and Michael Bunn.

Fans coming to Compuware Arena for the scrimmages should be aware of construction on the CSX railroad crossing on Beck Road just south of the arena. Northbound and southbound Beck will be closed at the tracks during the project. The construction runs from Mon. Aug. 29 through Thurs. Sept.1.

A potential alternative route is taking Sheldon Road north to Five Mile. Turn west (left) on Five Mile to Beck. Turn south (left) on Beck to Compuware Arena.

Plymouth's first pre-season game in Sat. Sept. 3 at 7pm against Windsor at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena in the "Faceoff in Farmington." The game is sponsored by Art Moran Buick-GMC-Mitsubishi, with proceeds going to the Farmington Hills Hockey Association.

Before the game, fans can participate in a pre-game skate from 5:30-6:30pm with Whalers mascot, Shooter, for $2. After the game, the Whalers will be participating in a meet-and-greet and autograph session.

The Farmington Hills Ice Arena is located at 35500 Eight Mile Road.

Fans interested in purchasing tickets from the Farmington Hills Hockey Association can contact Marjann Lawson at Tickets are also available at the Whalers Box Office by calling (734) 453-8400.

The "Faceoff in Farmington" marks the third straight year Plymouth has played on a neutral site to start the pre-season. On Aug. 29, 2009, the Whalers defeated Saginaw, 7-2, in the "Battle of Brighton." Last season (Aug. 7, 2010), Plymouth and Windsor played to a 2-2 tie in Chelsea in the "Clash at the Coliseum."

Plymouth continues the preseason by playing in Windsor on Mon. Sept. 5 at 2pm in Windsor; and will complete the preseason on Fri. Sept. 9 in London and Sat. Sept. 10 against London in St. Thomas, Ont., at Timken Arena.

The Whalers open the regular season on Wed. Sept. 21 in Owen Sound against the OHL champion Attack, with the home opener on Sat. Sept. 24 at 7:05 p.m. against Erie.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Whalers' Aleardi ready for new season

While many of the Plymouth Whalers have been busy this off-season with the National Hockey League Entry Draft, NHL rookie camps and national team evaluations and world tournaments, Plymouth veteran Alex Aleardi has had a busy summer around Compuware Arena.

Work every segment of Whalers hockey camps? Check.

Work with Plymouth goaltending coach Stan Matwijiw and his students? Check.

Read to children at the Canton Public Library? Check.

Work out regularly at the arena? Check.

Play inline hockey and help his team win championships? Check.

March in the Farmington Hills Founding Fathers parade? Check.

Change his number from 18 to 40? Check.

Aleardi – from Farmington Hills - sees this activity as a prelude to a successful season in 2011-12.

“It’s going to be an exciting season,” said Aleardi. “We’re a really deep team with a few good new players, all of our “D” returning and a lot of other players coming back, so it’s going to be a fun year for our hockey team.”

For Aleardi, a new season means a fresh start with a new number. Aleardi wore 42 with Kitchener in 2008-09, switched to 27 when he was traded to Belleville and then wore 18 last year with the Whalers.

“My lucky number growing up was 42,” Aleardi explained. “The highest we go in Plymouth is 40, so I wanted to get as close to 42 as possible.”

Aleardi worked the Whalers summer hockey camps to rave reviews from parents and plenty of smiles from his students. He sees the work as something that might turn into a long-range opportunity.

“It’s always great to give back to the community,” he said. “I like to work with kids – it’s something I want to do when I get older if hockey doesn’t work out. It’s always fun to work with kids and see the smiles on their face – (for instance) you pass them the puck and it makes their day. So it’s fun to do.”

Aleardi’s speed is one of his major assets. Some players learned to skate around the ponds, but Aleardi got started in the basement.

“I’ve always been one of the fastest kids in my age group,” he explained. “When I was younger, we had an unfinished basement in my parents’ house. So I put on the roller blades and cruised around the basement for hours at a time. My parents started me when I was two, three, and four years old. So I learned how to skate through my mom and dad.”

Aleardi’s FTB inline team won the NARCH national championship at Germain Arena in Estero, FL and the TORHS national championship at Joe Dumars Fieldhouse in Shelby Township.

According to Aleardi, certain elements of the inline game translate into skill on the ice.

“It really does help with your hands,” he said. “There’s no hitting in roller hockey so it’s a different game. It’s four-on-four, so it’s more of a speed game, which is my favorite type of game.”

The Whalers acquired Aleardi from Belleville on Sept. 20, 2010 and he started his Plymouth career with a bang, scoring two hat tricks and seven goals in his first three games to become the Canadian Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League Player of the Week for the week ending Sept. 26, 2010,

“That week was one of the best feelings of my hockey career,” Aleardi said. “I’m just hoping I can play steadier this year, show I’m committed and show people what I can do.”

After the quick start, injuries and a suspension slowed Aleardi down last season. Still, he finished with his best scoring year in the OHL with 20 goals and 19 assists for 39 points over 65 games.

While many of his teammate are NHL drafts, have played in the World Junior Championships or are up for the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Aleradi is hoping to open the eyes of professional scouts in 2011-12.

“It’s one of my big goals this year,” he said. “I want to show that I’m developing as a player. Having just turned 19, I want to show that I’m continuing to get better in the off-season, getting bigger and stronger. I want to see our team do well this year and go far.”

Photo by Walt Dmoch/Plymouth Whalers

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Import Khlopotov signs with Spirit

The Saginaw Spirit have signed forward Vadim Khlopotov to an OHL contract.

Khlopotov was the Spirit’s first round selection in 2011 CHL Import Draft, selected 43rd overall. The 1994 birthyear native of Russia spent the 2010-11 season skating for the Yaroslavl Lokomotiv 94 club and the Russian U17 National Team, serving as team captain with the Lokomotiv.

Khlopotov recently participated in 2011 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka Tournament where he helped his home country earn a bronze medal at the event.

He is eligible for the 2012 NHL Draft.

Saginaw trades Fitze to Peterborough

The Saginaw Spirit announced Wednesday the team has traded the rights to forward Dylan Fitze to the Peterborough Petes in exchange for a conditional eighth round pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection.

Fitze was originally Saginaw’s third round selection, 60th overall, in 2008, appearing in six games in the 2009-10 season where he recorded three assists.

This past season, the Peterborough native suited up for the Peterborough Stars of the OJHL, collecting 17 goals and 14 assists in 47 games.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

U.S. NTDP Under-17 Team announced

USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which celebrates its 15th season on ice this season, annouknced this wee the roster for its 2011-12 U.S. National Under-17 Team.

The squad, comprised of some of the top American-born players in the 1995 birth year, will compete against teams from the United States Hockey League and North American Hockey League, in addition to taking part in three international competitions during the course of the season.

The 21-player roster features seven defensemen, including Gage Ausmus (Grand Forks, Minn.), Will Butcher (Sun Prairie, Wis.), Trevor Hamilton (Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.), Clint Lewis (Burnsville, Minn.), Steven Santini (Mahopac, N.Y.), Scott Savage (San Clemente, Calif.) and Keaton Thompson (Devil’s Lake, N.D.).

The 12 forwards include Evan Allen (Sterling Heights, Mich.), Connor Chatham (Belleville, Ill.), J.TBold. Compher (Northbrook, Ill.), Dawson Cook (Cadillac, Mich.), Hudson Fasching (Burnsville, Minn.), John Hayden (Greenwich, Conn.), Tyler Kelleher (Longmeadow, Mass.), Kevin Lebanc (Staten Island, N.Y.), Anthony Louis (Winfield, Ill.), Michael McCarron (Macomb, Mich.), Tyler Motte (St. Clair, Mich.) and Luke Voltin (Blaine, Minn.).

Backstopping Team USA will be Curtis Frye (Northwood, N.H.) and Hunter Miska (North Branch, Minn.).

To view the complete roster, click here.

U.S. NTDP Under-18 Team announced

USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, which celebrates its 15th season on ice in 2011-12, announced this week the roster for its U.S. National Under-18 Team.

The squad, comprised of some of the top American-born players in the 1994 birth year, will compete against teams from the United States Hockey League and NCAA Division I and III schools, in addition to participating in three international competitions.

Highlighting the 23-player roster are forward Nicolas Kerdiles (Irvine, Calif.) and defensemen Seth Jones (Plano, Texas) and Jacob Trouba (Rochester, Mich.), all who were a part of the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team that captured the gold medal at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Under-18 Championship held in Crimmitschau and Dresden, Germany.

Twenty-two players on the roster are returning for their second year with the NTDP, including defensemen Connor Carrick (Orland Park, Ill.), Matt Grzelcyk (Charlestown, Mass.), Jones, Patrick Sieloff (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Brady Skjei (Lakeville, Minn.), Gavin Stoick (Portland, Ore.) and Trouba, forwards Andrew Copp (Ann Arbor, Mich.), Cameron Darcy (South Boston, Mass.), Thomas DiPauli (Woodridge, Ill.), Ryan Hartman (West Dundee, Ill.), Kerdiles, Miles Koules (Los Angeles, Calif.), Matthew Lane (Rochester, N.Y.), Stefan Matteau (Chicago, Ill.), Nikolas Olsson (Escondido, Calif.), Kyle Osterberg (Lakeville, Minn.), Quentin Shore (Denver, Colo.), Brendan Silk (Wakefield, Mass.) and Frankie Vatrano (East Longmeadow, Mass.) and goaltenders Colin Olson (Apple Valley, Minn.) and Jared Rutledge (Chicago, Ill.).

Riley Barber (Livonia, Mich.) joins the squad after spending last season with the USHL's Dubuque Fighting Saints. Barber also helped the NTDP's U.S. National Under-17 Team capture the 2011 Vlad Dzurilla Under-18 Tournament title in Piestany, Slovakia, in February.

Danton Cole will guide the U.S. National Under-18 team in 2011-12, after serving behind the bench for the Under-17 team last season. Matt Greason will enter his second season as an assistant to Cole, while Tyler Eaves will serve as intern coach for the second straight season.

To view the complete roster, click here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Kalamazoo opens camp Monday

The Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings will begin training camp this Monday, August 22, at the Borgess Health Rink at Wings West.

Starting Monday, Marc Fakler, general manager and head coach of the Junior K-Wings, will be leading the team through training camp with on-ice practices Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 2:00pm-3:30pm and on Thursday 1:30pm-3:00pm. The following week, practices will occur 2-3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.

All practices are open to the public.

After three weeks of camp, the Jr. K-Wings will host two preseason games beginning on Saturday, September 10 at 2 p.m. at the Borgess Health Rink at Wings West against the U.S.A. National Team Development Program U-17 team. The U.S.A. team, coached by the experienced Don Granato, will match up against the Jr. K-Wings the following day, Sunday, September 11 again at 2 p.m. at Wings West.

Tickets for the two exhibition games are included in season ticket packages. Single game tickets can be purchased at the door at the game for $5 (cash only). Youth hockey players 12 and under wearing their jersey will receive FREE admission accompanied by a paying adult.

Sunday, September 11 is the ten-year anniversary on one of most horrific tragedies in U.S. history. To honor those who risked their lives not only on that day, but on a daily basis, the Jr. K-Wings are offering FREE admission to all fire, police and military personnel with valid identification.

Jets' captain James gets SPHL deal

The Metro Jets have announced that last season’s captain, Morgan James, has signed a professional contract with the Columbus (Ga.) Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League.

James, a 21-year-old defenseman from Commerce Township, had two goals and two assists in 39 games last year to go along with 180 penalty minutes, fourth in the North American 3 Hockey League.

“Morgan is obviously a big man and plays a physical game, something that I think we missed with Dan Leslie and Craig Stahl retiring at the same time,” Columbus head coach Jerome Bechard said. “He has been utilized as both a defenseman and a forward and was his team captain last year. I think he could bring a lot of intangibles to our team that we may have been lacking last year.”

The SPHL is a Single-A league entering its eighth season in 2011-2012 with nine teams in the southeastern United States. The Cottonmouths have been in the league since its inception in 2004-2005.

James, who sat out the three seasons prior to last year dealing with personal issues, was named Metro’s captain midway through last season. He’s now looking forward to the next stage of his career.

“I’m very excited to get my feet wet in the pros and I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” James said. “I am going to the camp there in early October and have spoken with Coach Bechard who does plan on using me for the 2011-2012 season being that everything goes well. The Cottonmouths, from what I’ve heard and read, are a top organization in the SPHL. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous, but I also have confidence that I will be able to compete. I’ve been training very hard to get ready for this and I have the tools needed to do my job and more.”

Playing for the Jets last year did wonders for James’ development and he said he owes a debt of gratitude to the entire organization.

”I worked so hard in my one season for the Jets that I was noticed by a pro team, but that would not be giving credit where credit is due,” said James. “Without (head coach) Jason Cirone, I wouldn’t be heading down to skate with the Cottonmouths in the SP. I really want everyone out there to know that if you work hard for Jason, listen to him, and do him right as a player that he will do you right in return, whether that’s getting you to the next level or simply turning you into a well-rounded player that plays a role as part of the dynamic machine that is a hockey team.”

With the close of summer around the corner, James has a new set of goals for the upcoming season.

”I’m setting short-term goals only for right now,” said James. “I’m just focusing on going down there, skating my butt off and playing my role to the best of my abilities.”

Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Billets important to Fighting Falcons

The Port Huron Fighting Falcons begin their training camp with off-ice workouts this week, as the players arrived to town last weekend.

While the majority of the players came in from other parts of the state, a few had much longer trips to make.

Goalie Peter Megariotis, for example, drove in all the way from Anaheim Hills, Calif., a trek of over 2,300 miles. Megariotis will call Port Huron home for the next several months after celebrating his 20th birthday in California last week.

Bill and Pam Watt have invited Megariotis into their home to give him a safe family environment from now until the end of the 2011-12 season. The Watts are one of more than a dozen local families to open their homes to Fighting Falcons players this season.

Host families, or billet families, are an instrumental part of any junior hockey organization. With some players living so far from home, their host family gives them a home away from home, providing a bedroom, healthy meals and a safe, family environment.

This season, some players will be spending significant time away from home for the first time, and the support and nurturing provided by host families make that process easier on the 16 to 20-year-old young men.

With the ever-rising cost of gas, even some players from just outside of the Blue Water Area will live in billet homes this season, staying closer to McMorran Arena. With Michigan’s unpredictable winters, a shorter drive to the rink for practice or games is ideal.

Just as Fighting Falcons players vary in age and experience, host families come in all shapes and sizes. Many have younger children involved with hockey, allowing their hosted player to serve as a mentor and role model. Others may not have children of their own, but enjoy the game and wish to support the team, like Jason and Jenny Houck, who will host defenseman Ryan Murray, just weeks after their wedding in late July.

Gary and Tina Temple will host forward Logan Lemirande once again after allowing him to be a part of their family last season. Gary volunteers as an off-ice official for the Fighting Falcons, tracking statistics, submitting lineups and working as a goal judge.

Ian and Kelly Shaw will host a player for the first time, as forward Alex Globke will move in this week. The Shaws have been huge supporters of sports and athletics in the Blue Water Area for years, and Shaw Chiropractic is once again one of the Fighting Falcons’ biggest sponsors.

Sean Gammage, who is one of just three players from last season’s opening night roster to return to the Fighting Falcons, will also return to host parents Rick and Vicki Vargo. The Vargos are huge supporters of the team, serving as president and treasurer of the Fighting Falcons Booster Club.

The booster club will help the team host a meet and greet cook out at Glacier Pointe after practice next Saturday, August 27 at 1 p.m. The event is open to the public, and will give fans the opportunity to see one of the team’s first practices of the season. Hot dogs, hamburgers and drinks will be free to those in attendance immediately following practice.

Future 'Jack commits to Michigan Tech

After honing his skills with the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the United States Hockey League, Tyler Heinonen will further dig his family tree’s roots into the Michigan Tech University hockey program.

Heinonen, a Delano, Minn., native, will join his cousins, Aaron, Chad and Blake Pietila, with the Huskies in fall 2012. His father, Steve, is a Michigan Tech alumnus, and he still has plenty of family in the Hancock-Houghton area.

It came as little surprise that the prolific scorer accepted a scholarship the same day that Huskies head coach Mel Pearson offered it.

“I grew up watching Michigan Tech hockey, my dad went there and three of my cousins play there,” Heinonen said. “This is what everyone wanted. Most importantly, this is what I wanted. It couldn’t have worked out better.”

Pearson, entering his first year as MTU head coach, first watched Heinonen during the Jacks’ tryout camp in mid-June.

“The Lumberjacks’ tryout camp gave us a great opportunity to evaluate players,” Pearson said. “The L.C. Walker Arena is a phenomenal building that gets rocking for players and fans alike. The organization does an excellent job with the camp and I was very impressed with Tyler.”

Heinonen relished the opportunity to perform in front of dozens of Division-I coaches who took in the annual camp.

“That was a big advantage for me,” Heinonen said.“The exposure at camp was great, and I look forward to being scouted by all the NHL scouts that are at games, especially at the L.C. Walker Arena.”

“Players who play in Muskegon have a great opportunity to be seen by college and pro scouts alike,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick said. “Our location and accessibility is excellent in terms of exposure.”

Patrick and all of the Jacks’ staff were impressed with Heinonen’s versatility.

“Tyler came to camp and did a really nice job,” Patrick said. “One of the biggest things he did was showed his ability to make plays – whether it was on the breakout or finishing plays and getting on the scoresheet. Every day, he made himself noticeable by making plays all over the ice.”

The Jacks selected Heinonen in the 14th round of the 2011 USHL Entry Draft (201st overall), shortly after he wrapped up a sensational prep career at Delano/Rockford, a cooperative high school program. The 6-foot, 190-pound forward owns the team record for career goals with 106 and lit the lamp 46 times in his senior year alone.

“I’m very excited to get to Muskegon and play in a league as competitive as the USHL,” Heinonen said. “The season can’t get here fast enough.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Saginaw adds Strong from Bulls for pick

The Saginaw Spirit has acquired defenseman Steven Strong from the Belleville Bulls.

In return for the 1993-born rearguard, the Spirit send the Bulls their fifth round draft pick in the 2014 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

Strong, a Mississauga, Ont., native, just completed his second full season in the OHL, appearing in 63 games in the 2010-11 campaign. He recorded a goal and nine assists this past season along with 73 penalty minutes. Strong was also a member of the Bulls in his rookie season in 2009-10 where he posted a goal, five assists and 52 penalty minutes in 65 games after being Belleville’s fourth round pick in 2009.

Prior to joining the OHL, Strong was a member of the Toronto Marlboros system where he was teammates with high NHL picks Ryan Strome (Niagara IceDogs), Lucas Lessio (Oshawa Generals), Brett Ritchie (Sarnia Sting) and Stuart Percy (Mississauga Majors).

Strong is listed at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds and he will participate in the Spirit’s 2011-12 season training camp which is slated to begin on September 1.

Photo courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Saturday, August 13, 2011

NAHL has potential in Blue Water Area

The Port Huron Fighting Falcons’ second season in the North American Hockey League officially begins next month in Blaine, Minn., where the team will play four games in the league’s annual showcase.

For head coach Bill Warren, however, the season started months ago, just after the team played the final game of their inaugural season.

In preparing for his first full season as the Tier II Junior A team’s head coach, the Port Huron native has overseen three tryout camps and the franchise’s first NAHL draft. Throughout the summer, Warren has worked with the rest of the team’s coaching and scouting staff to put together a roster he says should compete for a playoff spot.

Warren took over as head coach for the franchise at the midway point of last season, after the team struggled mightily, with just one win in the first half of the year.

The team showed many signs of improvement in the second half of the season, but ultimately finished with an overall record of just 6-46-6.

Despite their struggles on the ice, the Fighting Falcons’ 27 home games at McMorran Arena averaged attendance of well over 600.

While Warren knows that winning will help raise that number, he understands that educating the community about the team, the league and the career paths of the players will go a long way as well.

Until last season, Port Huron and McMorran Arena had hosted minor professional hockey teams since the mid-90s. The Border Cats, Beacons and Flags competed in the United Hockey League. From 2007 to 2010, the Port Huron Icehawks played in the International Hockey League, a re-incarnation of the league the original Flags played in during the 60s and 70s.

The Icehawks, like the other professional teams before them, consisted of players aged 20 to 40 with experiences and resumes that varied as widely as their ages. Some players were fresh out of college, just beginning their professional careers. Others were near retirement following decades in hockey. A handful had reached the NHL once upon a time.

Most players hoped to reach or return to the NHL based on their play in Port Huron. More than once, teams in the American Hockey League, the league that serves as a farm system for the NHL, called upon players to skate for them because of injuries to other players.

“There’s no question that it was exciting for our community to be able to host professional hockey for all those years,” said Warren. “I remember when the Border Cats brought in Wayne Gretzky’s brother and Sergei Fedorov’s brother, and I know that Kris Vernarsky had a stint with the (Boston) Bruins before ending up in with the Icehawks.

“I know that a lot of people around here had a lot of strong ties to those professional teams,” he added. “Our team has a unique opportunity to show those people a different part of a player’s career path.”

Junior hockey is perhaps the most vital step in the career of a young hockey player. The players are between 16 and 20 years old and working to earn a college commitment. Dozens of NAHL players earned scholarships to NCAA universities based on their play throughout the season.

Jimmy Davis, who had been tendered to play for the 2011-12 Fighting Falcons earned a scholarship to play hockey at Michigan Tech University instead, following weeks of practice in Port Huron. Rudi Pino, who was an assistant captain on last season’s Fighting Falcons team will also go to Michigan Tech as a preferred walk-on.

Marysville’s Brett D’Andrea will join the Fighting Falcons this season after already earning a commitment to play at Bowling Green State University in the future.

“The kids we have coming in this season are all focused on making their way to collegiate hockey, and I’m confident that we will be able to help them realize that goal,” Warren said.

Junior players are not paid so that they may retain their NCAA eligibility. More than 20 players from this season’s Fighting Falcons team will stay with billet (host) families that welcome them into their homes, making the player comfortable and keeping them safe throughout the course of the season.

Players are encouraged to find part-time jobs or take high school or college classes, and are expected to be role models in the community both on and off the ice. This season, each member of the Fighting Falcons will volunteer with a minor hockey team in the community.

A lack of local players was a concern often voiced by the community last season, and the Fighting Falcons have made local recruiting a priority this summer.

Over 200 players from around the world competed for a roster spot, and the talent from the team’s back yard proved to be superior, with over two-thirds of the training camp roster hailing from the Great Lakes State.

The Blue Water Area is well represented on the Fighting Falcons, with Marysville’s D’Andrea and Nick Horne and Port Huron’s Alex Archibald making the training camp roster.

Last season’s roster was initially built around players in their last year or two of junior hockey, hindering the coaching staff’s ability to develop talent and expand skill sets. This season’s team will show a larger focus on development, with many players competing in their first or second season at the junior level.

“With my background in high school hockey, I know what it takes to develop raw talent into a skill set that can help a hockey club,” said Warren, who coached at Port Huron Northern High School before moving on to the Fighting Falcons. “Our coaching staff will get the most out of this group of kids, and when that happens I think people will get a real sense of what Junior hockey can be. They saw glimpses of it last year, but now we’re ready to bring it on a nightly basis.”

Warren is joined behind the bench by newly-hired assistant coach John Heasty, who had coached at the junior level in Flint, as well coaching for a variety of minor hockey programs. Warren’s brother Matt will return for a second season as assistant coach. Matt Warren played in the NAHL in the 90s for the now-defunct Compuware Ambassadors.

“The bottom line is that we are going to be a team that should be almost unrecognizable to the fans that supported us last season in terms of our competitiveness,” Warren said, adding, “Fans will have 28 chances this season to see some truly special talent this season, and if they follow us long enough they will see a player that shows up in the NHL some day. Tim Thomas played his junior hockey in this league and all he did this year was lead the Bruins to the Stanley Cup.”

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Jets' Moroso looks to soar in Port Huron

After making the jump last season from Midget AA hockey to the Metro Jets, Mike Moroso is hoping to continue the trend this year by moving up to the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the North American Hockey League.

Port Huron starts their training camp next week and Moroso has every intention of being on the Fighting Falcons’ opening night roster. His offseason workload certainly helped him get the attention of the Port Huron staff.

“I prepared myself for the final camp by consistently getting myself on the ice, anything I could do just to skate about four or five times a week,” said Moroso, a 20-year-old forward from Macomb. “Working out and running at least three times a week also was big in my preparation.”

Last year with the Jets, Moroso was third in team scoring with 20 goals and 16 assists for 36 points in 43 games. He also led the team and was second in the North American 3 Hockey League with four shorthanded goals.

”Going into my last year of juniors, I’m looking to improve on last year and hopefully impress some college scouts in hopes to play a high level of college next year,” Moroso said. “Getting the coaching (last year with the Jets) from (head coach) Jason (Cirone), (assistant Sean) Clark and (assistant) Jamie (Hayden) was big in helping me make the NAHL this year. All their knowledge on the game and how they taught it to me made a huge difference in my game.”

PORT HURON CONNECTIONS: Should Moroso wind up with Port Huron, he’ll be the third former Metro skater to play with the Fighting Falcons. Defenseman Sam Bell (Munith) played two games at the start of last year, while Tommy Kilgore (Pinckney) was called up from the Jets to Port Huron for a three-game stretch last season.

Forwards Shane Halaas (Chesterfield) and Ryan Kelly and defenseman Jacob Schlacht (Allen Park) joined the Jets last season in separate trades after both started the year in Port Huron.

Adam Frank (Clarkston), Port Huron’s leading scorer a year ago, was a Jets draft pick in 2010.

Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images

Spirit claim Pawlaczyk off waivers

The Saginaw Spirit claimed forward Dean Pawlaczyk off the OHL waiver wire Monday.

Pawlaczyk, a 19-year-old Madison Heights native, played 48 regular season games with the Barrie Colts and Sarnia Sting last year. He compiled a goal, five points and 135 penalty minutes.

The previous season with Barrie, he had three points and 117 penalty minutes in 43 games.

Pawlaczyk started his junior career with the Traverse City North Stars in 2008-2009, tallying three goals and two helpers in 45 games.

Dan Pawlaczyk, Dean's uncle, played for the Detroit Jr. Red Wings/Detroit Whalers from 1993-1996, winning an OHL title in 1995 and getting to the Memorial Cup finals.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Port Huron camp roster has local flavor

The Port Huron Fighting Falcons today announced the training camp roster as they continue to prepare for their second season of competition in the North American Hockey League.

The roster is split evenly with 13 players returning from last season and 13 new additions.

Head coach and general manager Bill Warren continued his focus on local talent with 19 Michigan natives making it to training camp, many of whom hail from the Blue Water Area.

“We’re going to bring a much higher level of play to the ice this season with the roster we’ve put together,” said Warren, who coached Port Huron to a 5-20-5 record after taking over as head coach last January. The team was just 1-26-1 before Warren became head coach.

“This is a team that is going to score some goals and compete for a playoff spot in the North Division,” Warren added. “This team will bring energy and excitement to McMorran Arena, and we will have players that will make an impact well beyond what they do on the ice.”

Warren’s ties to the Honeybaked midget major team led to six of the state-champion U-18 players heading to Port Huron this season, including goalie Max Milosek. Marysville’s Brett D’Andrea, who also played for Honeybaked last year, joins the Fighting Falcons after already committing to play his college hockey at Bowling Green State University.

Draft picks Easton Powers, Kody Polin, Ryan Murray and Port Huron’s Alex Archibald will all suit up for training camp. Other drafted players, including Ronald Kotkin, a Russian forward strongly recommended by former Red Wing and hockey hall of famer Igor Larionov, may play for the team later in the year.

The Fighting Falcons hold the exclusive NAHL rights to each player they selected in May’s draft, though some may begin the season with tier 1 teams in the United States Hockey League.

Port Huron’s leading scorer Adam Frank (5 goals, 25 assists) returns for a second season in Port Huron after being the only player to appear in all 58 games for the Fighting Falcons last season.

Defenseman Sean Gammage will also return after playing 54 games in a Fighting Falcons sweater last season, while 2010-11 assistant captain Ryan Teal will once again join Gammage on the blue line.

Ten skaters with 1991 birth years will play the final year of their junior careers in Port Huron, including goalie Peter Megariotis, who earned the first shutout in Fighting Falcons history last season against the Chicago Hitmen.

Logan Lemirande caught the eye of many college scouts at Port Huron’s tryout camp, and will return to Port Huron for his final junior season.

Nico Sierra, who impressed many fans last season with his speed and puck handling, is one of ten players on the training camp roster born in 1992.

The Fighting Falcons will work to develop more 17 and 18-year-old players than last year, with Marysville’s Nick Horne one of four players on the training camp roster born in 1993 and Archibald and D’Andrea the youngest with 1994 birth years.

Players will report to Port Huron this Sunday to meet the team’s full coaching staff. Some players will see McMorran Arena and its professional-grade locker room for the first time during that meeting.

Training camp will begin Monday, August 15 with a week of rigorous off-ice training before hitting the ice for practices the following week.

Many Blue Water Area families have selflessly offered to invite Fighting Falcons players into their homes for the season. Over 20 players will meet their host families and step inside their home away from home for the first time after Sunday’s meeting.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Fighting Falcons announce staff changes

With the announcement of their 2011-12 roster less than a week away, the Port Huron Fighting Falcons today announced changes to the organization’s front office staff.

New staff members will help the team strive for success in their second season on and off the ice.

Returning head coach Bill Warren will add the role of general manager to his duties next season, taking control of player movement through trades and tender offers to prospects. Warren looks to build on the momentum of three very successful tryout camps this summer, hoping to bring playoff hockey back to Port Huron.

“The level of talent at tryouts has made it extremely difficult to narrow down a 25-man roster,” said Warren, who took over as head coach half-way through last season. “Too much talent is a good problem to have, though, and it makes me very confident in our team moving forward.”

Director of player personnel Trevor Edwards has expanded his responsibilities to become the team’s new director of sales. Edwards, who played three seasons of professional hockey with the Port Huron Beacons and Flags of the United Hockey League from 2004-2007, will work to expand the Fighting Falcons’ corporate sponsorship sales.

The Carelton Place, Ont., native ran the Fighting Falcons’ tryout camps this summer, and was an integral part of the process of bringing in talented young players for next season’s team.

"I am excited to help show Port Huron what true Junior A hockey looks like,” Edwards said. “It will be a plus to have very talented local players in the lineup as it will be very exciting for the young fans of the Blue Water Area. They will be able to look up to these players as they make the next step in their hockey careers to the USHL, OHL, NCAA and other leagues.

“I also look forward to showing Port Huron that this business model can work long-term,” he added. “It is very different than the semi pro teams that have been here in the past."

As Edwards’ responsibilities have increased, the Fighting Falcons have added two new scouts to the organization, Chad Dameworth and Jason Deskins.

Dameworth enjoyed an eleven-year professional career in the AHL, ECHL, UHL and IHL, including stops with the Port Huron Border Cats and the Port Huron Beacons. The Marquette native played college hockey at Northern Michigan University.

Deskins is also a former pro, having played against Edwards and Dameworth in the 2004-05 season as a member of the Quad City Mallards. A Warren native, Deskins is very familiar with the talent level of the NAHL, having played in the league with the Compuware Ambassadors before his collegiate play at Miami (Ohio).

Behind the bench, Warren has added an assistant coach with years of experience at the junior level. John Heasty, a former assistant coach of the Flint Jr. Generals of the Central States Hockey League (now North American 3 Hockey League) will join the Fighting Falcons this season.

The Fighting Falcons have also added Marcus Vazquez as game day operations manager for the upcoming season. Vasquez takes on the role after spending the past two years in the same position for the Flint Generals and Michigan Warriors.

The team has retained the services of many of last season’s employees, including assistant coach Matt Warren, equipment manager Todd Churchill, athletic trainer Nate Bauer and media and public relations manager Mike Reed.

Owner Maribeth Hayes knows that improvement off the ice is just as important as improvement on it if the team hopes to see an increase in attendance this season.

“I’m extremely excited about the changes we’ve made within the organization, and I think the experience the new staff members bring to the table will be an invaluable asset for us,” said Hayes. “We are a much different organization than we were at this point last season, and I think our staff will continue to keep us moving in the right direction.

“We are committed to keeping hockey in Port Huron for the long haul,” Hayes added, “and we can’t wait for the home opener October 1.”

While the coaching staff takes on the tough task of finalizing the 2011-12 roster, the rest of the organization is focused on becoming more active in the Blue Water Area community.

The organization strived to be visible throughout July’s Blue Water Fest, appearing in the Rotary International Day Parade with their booster club, the Port Huron Minor Hockey Association and the Blue Water Hockey League. Players also passed out information and schedules on Family Night and Boat Night.

This weekend the Port Huron Fighting Falcons Booster Club will have a tent set up at Desmond Landing for the Port Huron/Sarnia International Offshore Powerboat Race, where they will sell t-shirts and raffle tickets; the grand prize includes a pair of season tickets.

Season tickets are on sale now for just $150 at the Fighting Falcons office inside McMorran Arena. The team has recently introduced the “Stars of Tomorrow” package, which includes a ticket to each of the team’s seven biggest promotional nights of the season for $46. The first 200 fans to purchase a “Stars of Tomorrow” package will also receive a free round of golf at Black River Country Club.

Whalers get OA Bathgate from Belleville

The Plymouth Whalers have announced the acquisition of 20-year-old forward Andy Bathgate from the Belleville Bulls.

In return, the Whalers send third round picks in the 2013 and 2014 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selections back to Belleville.

Bathgate is the grandson of NHL Hall of Famer Andy Bathgate.

Bathgate was selected by Belleville in the third round (54th overall) in the 2007 OHL Priority Selection and was taken by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the fifth round (151st overall) in the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

Bathgate enjoyed his best offensive season in the OHL last season for the Bulls, scoring 25 goals and 35 assists for 60 points in 64 games. In all, Bathgate has scored 42 goals and 75 assist for 97 points in 172 career games in the OHL.

The acquisition of Bathgate gives Plymouth five overage players (1991 birthdays) on the roster - forwards RJ Mahalak, Jamie Devane and Peter Neal, along with Bathgate - and defenseman Beau Schmitz. OHL teams can play three OAs during the season.

Photo courtesy Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Kalamazoo completes pair of trades

The Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings announced today the completion of two trades with member NAHL clubs.

Adding to their blue line, the Jr. K-Wings have acquired defenseman Chris Leone from the Wichita Falls Wildcats for future considerations. The veteran defenseman will be entering his third season in the NAHL, with both of his previous campaigns occurring with the Wildcats.

Last season, Leone was one of three members of the Wildcats selected to represent the South Division in the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.

"Adding a veteran defenseman of Chris' caliber certainly enhances our roster,” said Kalamazoo coach-GM Marc Fakler. “He is a reliable defender that makes good decisions, will provide valuable leadership to our team and also has the ability to be an asset on the power play."

Leone recorded 27 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 102 games over the last two seasons for the Wildcats.

A native of Dearborn Heights, Leone will have family nearby, as his older brother, Mike Leone, is a forward for Western Michigan University.

In a separate transaction for future considerations, the Jr. K-Wings have completed a trade with the Michigan Warriors for forward Nick Kovalchik.

"Nick skates extremely well and possesses good hockey sense and championship experience," said Fakler. “He showed a great scoring touch last season and as a result one of the top goal scorers in the state.”

A First Team All-State Selection last season with Wyandotte Roosevelt High School, Kovalchik was second on his team in goals scored with 41 and lead Wyandotte to the school's first ever state championship.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Jr. Revolution thinking progression

Courtesy NA3HL

There is nowhere to go but up for the Battle Creek Jr. Revolution.

A winless 2010-2011 season in the North American 3 Hockey League pretty much makes anything positive next year a success.

“Yeah, even if we win one game, that’s 100 percent improvement, right?” asked new head coach Richard Keyes.

Hired in early July, Keyes has been in the Battle Creek area having started the Kalamazoo Institute of Ice Hockey in 2006 after his nine-year pro career came to a conclusion. He said he had been contacted in the past about coaching the Jr. Revolution, but the timing wasn’t right.

Now, it is.

“Right now is the right opportunity,” said Keyes, who also played collegiately at Michigan State in the mid-1990s. “It’s no secret about the 0-44 season last year and that we need to re-structure the organization and turn it into a world class situation. To be honest, I enjoy projects like this. I think I have a good reputation as a development coach and I believe taking over the Revolution is right up my alley.”

While no players have been signed yet by Battle Creek, Keyes sees that as a chance for an every-man-for-himself mentality when it comes to tryout camps later this summer.

“We’ve opened up our roster and are looking for disciplined and dedicated players,” Keyes said. “These players also need to have an exceptional commitment level. We need players who are willing to make the sacrifices needed to play at this level.”

The past couple years have had the Revolution pro team in the All American Hockey League, but with that league ceasing operations last spring, the Jr. Revolution is the lone team in town.

Keyes thinks that’s a good thing.

“This is a great hockey community,” said Keyes. “I believe people who supported the pro team will also come out and support the junior team. They need to know they’ll be watching kids who will be advancing to higher levels of hockey.”

While hockey has always been a part of Keyes’ life, the NA3HL presents a new endeavor. And while he admits he didn’t know too much about the league prior to taking the job in Battle Creek, from what he’s seen and learned since then has been very encouraging.

“Once I got involved, I made some calls and asked some people what they knew about the 3HL and everyone I talked to was very excited,” said Keyes. “This league is gaining prestige and that’s what I want to be a part of. I didn’t want to join a destination league where kids come and play after high school and that’s it. I want to be part of a league where kids come here, develop and move up to the North American Hockey League, United States Hockey League and college. I want to see kids that want to get to the next level. I believe the 3HL can offer that.”

Keyes also has plans to run the Jr. Revolution in a professional and consistent manner.

“When I played juniors, we were on the ice four or five days a week and for two hours each day,” explained Keyes. “To me, that was a great selling point and that’s what we will be offering here in Battle Creek. We want to set ourselves apart from other teams in the league and think we can offer something that not many teams can offer. By being on the ice and me teaching and the players learning, I’m hoping that will create opportunities for these kids like the ones I had that led me to play in the NAHL and then D-I college. We want to teach the lifestyle of a student-athlete.”

Still, Keyes knows that turning around a program that has won just a handful of games over the past few seasons (including time in Grand Rapids as the Jr. Owls) is more than a snap of the fingers and wishful thinking.

“This next season will be a process, a challenge,” said Keyes. “Once we start this year, my hope is that we can get right in there and let people know we’re not the same team of the past. We want everyone to know that Battle Creek will be in the mix.”

Soo captain Leonard chooses Marian

Aaron Leonard
, the ever likeable captain of the 2010-2011 Soo Eagles, has committed to the Marian University Sabres of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.

Leonard, a 21-year-old from Allen Park, had recieived numerous offers and finally chose to move on to Marian.

Leonard played two seasons for the Eagles. In his rookie season of 2009-2010, he lead the Eagles with 22 goals and 45 assists for 67 points. He again added 67 points in the 2010-2011 season with 28 goals and 39 assists.

The always smiling Leonard was a steadfast performer for the Eagles in the 2011 NOJHL playoffs and scored 11 goals and eight assists for 19 points in 17 games.

Warriors' trio off to Wisc.-Stevens Point

The Michigan Warriors have announced that three members of the 2011 Robertson Cup finalists team will continue their careers and play college hockey at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Forwards Andrew Kolb, Scott Henegar and defenseman Kevin Gibson will be playing for new Stevens Point head coach Chris Brooks.

The Pointers play in the nine-team NCAA Division III Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.

Gibson, Kolb and Henegar were core members of the Warriors team that fell in the Robertson Cup championship game to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.

Kolb, a one-time Michigan Tech commitment, led the Warriors in goals, assists and scoring with 65 points in 44 games, while Henegar, also the Warriors captain, was third on the team in scoring in the regular season and showed his leadership during the playoff run in leading the team in power-play goals and goals scored during the playoffs.

Gibson was the Warriors third leading scoring defenseman during the regular season despite playing in only 27 games for the Warriors after being acquired from the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers. Gibson also chipped in 10 points in 16 games in the playoff run.

Warriors coach Moe Mantha said that he “is proud of the fact that the Warriors are producing players that are able to contribute both on and off the ice at the next level.”

“I’ve heard nothing but positive things about these players and we are excited to have them a part of the Pointers program," noted Brooks. "They will be getting an excellent opportunity to contribute to our team from the start."

Muskegon trainer Rule moves up to Army

The Muskegon Lumberjacks are proud to announce that Jason Rule, after serving as head athletic trainer for two seasons in Muskegon, has accepted a position as an athletic trainer with the United States Military Academy.

Rule will be part of the athletic training staff at West Point and will be the exclusive trainer for the Black Knights’ hockey program.

“Working with Jason was a great experience and he’s a true professional,” Lumberjacks head coach Kevin Patrick said. “His commitment to the health and welfare of our players was second to none. Our players missed very few games because of injury, and that’s a tribute to his commitment. He will be a tremendous asset to the Army hockey program.”

In addition to his tenure in Muskegon, Rule has completed internships with the New England Patriots, the Jacksonville Jaguars and was a graduate assistant athletic trainer for the West Virginia Mountaineers’ football team from 2007-09. Rule is a member of the National Athletic Trainers Association and the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society and is ATC and PES certified.

Rule credits Lumberjacks president Tim Taylor for “giving him his first shot,” and cherished his time working with the Jacks’ coaching staff.

“My experience in Muskegon has put me in position to be successful,” Rule said. “Being able to work with Coach Patrick and (Lumberjacks owner) Josh Mervis was a huge opportunity, and I benefitted immensely from working with Coach (Dave) Noel-Bernier. His strength and conditioning program is extraordinary.”

Rule will start his new job Monday, and is elated to have a chance to work with yet another outstanding coaching staff. Army head coach Brian Riley has been named the Atlantic Hockey Association Coach of the Year in three of his seven years behind the bench for the Black Knights. His father, Jack Riley, directed the USA Olympic team to the gold medal in 1960.

“They’ve built a legacy, and Coach Riley’s reputation precedes him,” Rule said.

Rule will get to be reunited with several Jacks alumni, as Ryan Misiak will play for AHA member club Mercyhurst College this fall, and Isaac Kohls and Chris Lochner will play for Niagara University.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Traverse City roster has local flavor

When the dust finally settled following a competitive three-day, invite-only tryout camp at Centre ICE Arena on Sunday, nearly one-third of the Traverse City North Stars’ 2011-12 roster were Traverse City natives.

Holdover veteran forwards Eric Rivard, Mitchell Snider, and Jared Van Wormer will return, and are joined by fellow habs Kyle Froese (TC Central HS), Frank Gilbert (TC West HS), Jake Peacock (Bay Reps), and Eric Jones. Jones spent last season with the midget Lansing Capitals, but played at TC Central the year before. With seven TC products – and Cadillac’s Will Badner also in the mix – the Stars’ roster boasts a distinctly regional flavor.

“We’ve always had good local talent come through here,” said Stars head coach Chad Fournier. “In fact, some of the best high school players we’ve had over the years have come from around here. I think it says a lot about the high school programs, and the quality of the coaching they get from the time they step onto the ice with the GTHA all the way through high school.”

An experienced group of forwards leads the Stars roster, with top returning scorer Alec Shields back to build on his 21-goal, 30-assist campaign. Badner, Rivard, Snider, Van Wormer will join Michal Toman, Alexander Taulien, and Chris Waterstreet up front. Jones and Peacock, along with Kyle Schempp (Compuware U18), Jon Farkas (Compuware U18), Seth Adams (Big Rapids HS), Kyle Loridon (Lansing Capitals U18), and Josh Nardella (Hawkesbury CJIHL), skated onto the opening roster.

Following the camp, the North Stars acquired forward John Chinchen (Lansing Capitals U18) from Wichita Falls.

“There’s a lot of experience there – our proven strengths are up front right now,” Fournier explained. “There’s a lot of talent on defense and in net, just not as much junior experience.”

Robert Wiener and Chris Leibinger are the only returning veterans along the blue line, with a trio of defenseman (Chris Dienes, Zack Dorer, and Connor Schmidt) from the 2010-11 club moving on to the USHL. Gilbert and Froese are among those vying for rearguard time, as are Ryan Nick (Victory Honda U18) and Nathan Harris (Lansing Capitals U18).

“We’ve got veterans that will have to step into a larger role,” said Traverse City GM Anthony Palumbo. “But by the same token, some of these younger guys are going to have to step up as well. We have a lot of new faces on defense and in goal, and we may look to add a veteran defenseman to that mix as well, but it’s an exciting and talented group.”

Draft pick Michael Parda (Cleveland NA3HL) and former British Columbia Junior B backstop Kyle Laslo will look to seal off the Traverse City net when the preseason commences in late August.

“It’s exciting to finally have a team assembled,” Fournier added. “It’s a process of trying to identify the right players, fit them together, and go after some wins. We can’t wait to get started.”

The North Stars will kick off the 2011-12 regular season on Sept. 14 at the annual four-day NAHL Showcase in suburban Minneapolis. The home opener is slated for Sept. 28 against Port Huron.