Friday, November 04, 2011

North Stars' Leibinger picks MTU

Even after an ultra-successful rookie season in the North American Hockey League, Chris Leibinger wasn’t satisfied.

Among the youngest players in the league, the Traverse City North Stars defenseman acquitted himself with great aplomb in 2010-11, registering a pair of goals and four assists in 41 appearances with a +4 plus-minus rating. But it wasn’t enough.

“As a 16-year old, it was tough at times,” Leibinger admitted. “I had to get bigger and stronger to work more effectively in our own end. There were times when I’d be in the corner with bigger and older guys, and I wouldn’t always be able to come out with it (the puck).”

North Stars head coach Chad Fournier agreed.

“He was good, but he knew he needed to get stronger,” Fournier explained. “He made the decision to absolutely commit to getting even better over the summer, and we’re starting to see the rewards of that hard work.”

That labor consisted of a steady diet of weights and roadwork.

“I was in the weight room every day, sometimes twice a day,” Leibinger explained. “Kyle Schempp and I had the same trainer, did a lot of running, and probably put on 15-20 pounds. I can really feel a definite difference this year. When I go up against bigger guys, I can hold my own a lot more of the time.”

Leibinger and Fournier aren’t the only ones who have taken note of his ability, progress, and immense potential: Michigan Tech’s coaching staff extended an offer, and Leibinger accepted.

“It feel good to kind of have that part of the equation taken care of,” he said. “Now I can focus on just playing hard for the next year or two and work on improving.”

Leibinger, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound Saginaw product, has a goal and an assist through 12 games so far this season. It’s his all-around ability – and bolstered defensive zone presence – that Fournier says will help him succeed at the NCAA Division I level.

“He’s a real talent, no question,” Fournier added. “He skates well, moves the puck, and can join the play when the opportunity arises. He’s an all-around defenseman who is really starting to excel in the defensive zone.”

Leibinger, who sports a sterling 3.62 grade-point average, has designs on a degree in Kinesiology from Tech after a summer spent with an in-the-field professional.

“I went and visited the director of the program, and it seemed a good fit, in terms of what science classes I had and my grades,” he said. “Working out with our trainer I got to see some of it up close and thought it would be a great profession to be a part of.”

Leibinger is the first of the North Stars players to commit to an NCAA hockey program this season, but Traverse City’s reputation as a weigh station en route to the collegiate game is becoming renowned.

“The ultimate goal for junior programs at this level is to move kids along to college – even more than winning games,” Fournier explained. “When (GM) Anthony (Palumbo) looks at players, he’s trying to bring in guys that can play at that next level, and we’ve always been willing to have a younger team if that means moving kids on to college. And our alumni deserve some credit, too. Guys have gone on to have great success at the next level, and college coaches know Traverse City is a place to find talent.”

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