Monday, April 30, 2012

Whalers sign 2010 draft pick Hartman

The Plymouth Whalers announced today the signing of 17-year-old center Ryan Hartman, who was originally selected by the Whalers in the fifth round (95th overall) of the 2010 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection.

Hartman will attend the Plymouth-Canton Education Park in 2012-13.

“I’m extremely happy to be here,” Hartman said. “Plymouth is the best place for me to be, considering it’s my draft year (2012-13). I’m looking to make the best out of it.”

“Playing in Plymouth offers Ryan the best environment to continue his hockey career at an elite level,” Plymouth coach-GM Mike Vellucci said. “He’ll also be able to maintain a commitment to education.”

Hartman – 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, from West Dundee, Ill. – played last season for the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, where he finished second in team scoring with 16 goals with 25 assists for 41 points with 136 penalty minutes in 59 games. He scored two goals with four assists for six points for the gold-medal winning United States team in this spring’s World U-18 Tournament.

Hartman played for the NTDP U-17 program in 2010-11, where he scored 22 goals with 12 assists for 34 points and 88 PIM’s in 52 games.

The Whalers originally drafted Hartman out of the Chicago Mission program, where he scored 25 goals and 19 assists for 44 points and 64 PIMs in 38 games in 2009-10.

Hartman followed the Whalers while playing in Ann Arbor last season.

“I made it to ten regular season games and made most of the playoff games in Plymouth,” he said. “I watched the team and I really liked what I saw.”

While observers consider Hartman an emerging power forward with a scorer’s touch, he patterns his game after a well-rounded player in the National Hockey League.

“I like David Backes (St. Louis Blues),” Hartman said. “He hits hard and can bury the puck, too. He’s an all-around power forward.”

As a late 1994 birthday, Hartman fits in well with the Whalers core group of players like Tom Wilson, Cody Payne, Matt Mistele, Danny Vanderwiel, Mitch Jones and Mitchell Dempsey.

Photo/Plymouth Whalers

Six more commit to NTDP for 2012-13

Forwards Anders Bjork (Mequon, Wis.), Nolan Stevens (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and Joe Wegwerth (Brewster, N.Y.), along with defensemen Ryan Collins (Bloomington, Minn.) and Johnathan MacLeod (Dracut, Mass.) and netminder Blake Weyrick (Ojai, Calif.) have committed to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for the 2012-13 season, it was announced today.

The players, all from the 1996 birth year, will compete as members of the U.S. National Under-17 Team.

“We are proud and excited to welcome these six players,” said NTDP director of player personnel Peter Ward. "The character and commitment level on each of these young men is outstanding."

Bjork appeared in 29 games for the Chicago Mission Midget Minor team of the High Performance Hockey League, tallying 14 goals and recording nine assists. His six game-winning goals were most in the HPHL, while his three power-play markers were a team best. Additionally, Bjork helped lead his team to the 2012 National Championship Tier I Youth Under-16 semifinals.

Stevens played for the Los Angeles Junior Kings Midget Minor team of the Tier One Elite League. He averaged over a point per game (1.33), scoring 17 goals and adding 15 assists in 24 contests, missing time earlier in the year due to injury. He also helped lead his squad to the 2012 National Championship, Tier I Youth Under-16 semifinals.

Wegwerth comes from the Brewster Bulldogs of the Empire Junior Hockey League where he served as team captain during the 2011-12 season. He tallied 17 goals and collected 35 helpers in 34 games played.

Collins skated for Benilde-St. Margaret's (Minn.) High School of the Minnesota State High School League and notched one goal and recorded four assists in 29 games as the Red Knights claimed the 2012 MSHSL Class AA State Championship. He also registered a plus-11 rating on the season.

During the 2011-12 season, MacLeod skated for Kimball Union Academy (N.H.), helping the Wildcats claim the New England Prep School Ice Hockey Association championship. He collected 13 assists in 31 games.

Weyrick was most recently featured between the pipes for Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.), where he posted a 18-4-8 (W-L-T) record. He recorded a 2.43 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage.

The U.S. National Under-17 Team roster currently stands at 11 forwards, seven defensemen and one goaltender, having previously announced commitments by forwards Jack Eichel (North Chelmsford, Mass.), Jared Fiegl (Parker, Colo.), Ryan Hitchcock (Manhasset, N.Y.), Dylan Larkin (Waterford), Ryan MacInnis (St. Louis, Mo.), Sonny Milano (Massapequa, N.Y.), Alex Tuch (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) and Chris Wilkie (Omaha, Neb.), along with defensemen Louis Belpedio (Skokie, Ill.), Nathan Billitier (Spencerport, N.Y.), Ryan Bliss (Bedford, N.H.), Jack Glover (Golden Valley, Minn.) and Joshua Wesley (Raleigh, N.C.).

Friday, April 27, 2012

NAHL - Port Huron/Kalamazoo North finals

(1) Port Huron Fighting Falcons vs. (2) Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings
(Port Huron wins series 3-1)
1. KZO 2 at PHN 4
2. KZO 2 at PHN 5
3. PHN 1 at KZO 2 (OT)
4. PHN 4 at KZO 0

* if necessary

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Lumberjacks ready for USHL Futures Draft

The Muskegon Lumberjacks will take their first tangible step toward building the 2012-13 team next week, when they will have six selections in the annual USHL Futures Draft.

Only players born in 1996 are eligible to be chosen in this year’s Futures Draft, which will take place Tuesday, May 1. Unlike the Entry Draft, which is based on reverse standings order from the just-completed season, the Futures Draft order is randomized and reverses every other round in a “snake” fashion.

If there was any benefit in finishing out of the Clark Cup playoffs this season, it was that the Muskegon hockey operations staff could turn a significant part of its attention to next season before most teams could afford to do the same.

“I’ve been out scouting a lot more this year,” said assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier. “We looked at the standings a couple months ago and we decided to put more of our focus on the future.”

The Lumberjacks will choose 10th in Tuesday’s first round, followed by picks at Nos. 21, 40, 51, 70 and 81. Every USHL member club except the National Team Development Program will take part, although some teams have forfeited either one or two picks by signing 1996-born players to tenders, agreements which require the player to skate in 55 percent of next season’s games. Muskegon elected to not use a tender this spring, meaning it will have all six of its allotted picks to restock its talent base.

For a team trying to rebound from a down season, each selection is a valuable commodity.

“Once those tenders are signed you know exactly which players are available and who you can grab,” Noel-Bernier said. “The biggest thing is to get out and scout. You want to build your list, but now we’re on the phone trying to recruit. You’ve got to do both because these players have choices.”

In addition to directing more energy toward scouting earlier in the year, the Lumberjacks have more manpower than last year with fellow assistant coach Steve Palmer also doing his best to deliver more top talent to Muskegon.

“Last year we only had two coaches so I had to be here every weekend for the games,” Noel-Bernier said. “We relied more on scouts last year. This time around, we’re relying on Steve and me to get out and see the guys. I feel it’s going to be more effective that way. Of course, the pressure is more on us now too, but we’ve done the work and we’re confident in what we’ve done.”

With the Futures Draft coming first, the ’96 draft class has the Lumberjacks’ full attention at the moment.

While the talent pool is relatively limited, identifying a future star at a younger age can be just as transformative for a franchise as landing an older contributor in the more expansive Entry Draft on May 22.

“You focus a big part of the year on [the Futures Draft],” Noel-Bernier said. “Steve started on the [1996-born players] early in the season and then we flip-flopped so we could cross-reference each other’s work.”

With their first pick in last spring’s Futures Draft, the Lumberjacks chose defenseman Alex Smith (pictured) from the renowned Honeybaked AAA program. The native of Brownstown went on to score 15 points in 47 games despite turning just 17 in late January. Muskegon also acquired Grand Rapids-area product Alex Talcott (second round), Corey Schueneman (fourth) and Riley Alferd (fifth) in the 2011 Futures Draft, all of whom made their USHL debuts in the 2011-12 season.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Carolina signs Plymouth captain Schmitz

The Carolina Hurricanes today announced that the team has signed free-agent defenseman Beau Schmitz to a three-year, entry-level contract. The deal will pay Schmitz $525,000 per year at the NHL level, or $50,000 per year at the minor-league level, as well as a $50,000 signing bonus.

“Beau had an exceptional overage season with Plymouth,” said Carolina assistant GM Jason Karmanos. “His game matured both offensively and defensively and we are excited to add a character individual like him to our organization.”

Schmitz, 21, completed his fourth season of major junior hockey in 2011-12, leading all Plymouth Whalers' defensemen in goals (14), assists (40) and points (54). He ranked tied for third among all Ontario Hockey League skaters with a plus-37 plus/minus rating, while playing in 62 of Plymouth’s 68 regular-season games.

The Howell native served as the Whalers’ captain from 2010-12.

He was named the OHL Player of the Week for Dec. 26-Jan. 1, when he posted four goals, one assist (5 points) and a plus-8 rating – including a hat trick on Dec. 31 at Windsor – in Plymouth’s three games.

In four seasons with Plymouth, Schmitz scored 35 goals, earned 116 assists (151 points) and accumulated 350 penalty minutes in 244 career OHL regular-season games. He played for the Hurricanes’ squads at the NHL Prospects’ Tournament in Traverse City in 2010 and 2011.  

Photo/CHL Images

Saginaw's Trocheck inks with Panthers

The Saginaw Spirit announced today that forward Vince Trocheck has become the second member of the team to ink an NHL entry level contract in the past week as the Pittsburgh native has come to terms on a three-year contract with the Florida Panthers, joining former Saginaw forward Josh Shalla (Nashville), as recently signed players with ties to the Spirit organization.

As per NHL team rules, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Trocheck was selected by the Panthers in the third round, of the 2011 NHL Draft selected overall. This past season, Trocheck led the Spirit in points on the strength of 29 goals and 56 assists for 85 points in 65 games played. He added 11 points in 12 playoff games, and with 190 career points, he is now sixth on the Spirit's franchise all-time scoring list.

As far as the OHL rankings are concerned, Trocheck placed 12th in league scoring and was second in assists to Sarnia's Charlie Sarault.

Photo/CHL Images

Sunday, April 22, 2012

K-Zoo's MacLean commits to RIT

The Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings announced Sunday that goaltender Ken MacLean has committed to play college hockey with NCAA Division I Rochester Institute of Technology.

MacLean, a Concord, Mass., native, appeared in 32 games during the regular season, posting a record of 20-9-2. His goals against average was 2.76, and he complimented that with a save percentage of .911. MacLean also had two shutouts during the season.

The 19-year-old will join an RIT team that finished their season with a record of 20-13-6, while compiling a record of 14-7-6 within Atlantic Hockey.

“Ken is very deserving of this opportunity," said Kalamazoo coach Marc Fakler. "He has worked very hard and has played a key role in our success as a first-year program. We wish him continued success at the college level.”

MacLean now joins Austin Hervey (Western Michigan) as the only other college commitment still on Kalamazoo’s active roster.

Photo by Rachel Boland/Dragonrose Photography

Friday, April 20, 2012

Whalers conclude season with banquet

The Plymouth Whalers concluded the 2011-12 season with an annual awards banquet held Thursday at CJ’s Brewing Company at Compuware Arena.

The following players received awards:

LEADING SCORER and MOST VALUABLE PLAYER, REGULAR SEASON: For the second consecutive year, left wing Stefan Noesen, who scored a career-best 38 goals with 44 assists for 82 points in 63 games.

REGULAR SEASON LEADING SCORER: Noesen, who scored a career-best 38 goals with 44 assists for 82 points in 63 games.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER in the PLAYOFFS: Second-year forward Tom Wilson, who scored seven goals with six assists for 13 points and was +10 in 13 playoff games. Wilson is rated 15th overall for the 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft.

BEST DEFENSEMAN: For the second consecutive season, Whalers captain Beau Schmitz, who scored a career-high 14 goals with 40 assists for 54 points and was +37 over 62 games.

MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Veteran forward Alex Aleardi, who scored a career-high 36 goals with 29 assists for 65 points and was +28 in 65 games.

UNSUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Defenseman Dario Trutmann, who scored six goals with 18 assists for 24 points and was +10 in 62 games.

BLUE COLLAR, HARDEST WORKING PLAYER: Schmitz, who received votes as in the Most Underrated Player, Best Offensive Defenseman and Best Defensive Defenseman in the annual OHL Western Conference Coaches Poll.

ROOKIE of the YEAR: Rookies Danny Vanderwiel and Matt Mistele share the award. Vanderwiel scored six goals with three assists for nine points in 42 games; Mistele scored three goals with two assists for five points in 33 games.

HUMANITARIAN of the YEAR: Defenseman Colin MacDonald, who led the Whalers Community Relations efforts with over 30 appearances.

ACADEMIC PLAYERS OF THE YEAR: For the second consecutive year, goaltender Matt Mahalak and right wing Tom Wilson (pictured above with associate coach Joe Stefan).

ALICE IAFRATE AWARD (Off-Ice Officials Overage of the Year): Defenseman Beau Schmitz, who completes his Plymouth career as the third leading scoring defenseman in franchise history. Schmitz also signed a free-agent contract with the National Hockey League's Carolina Hurricanes.



SCHOLASTIC PLAYER of the YEAR: Goaltender Matt Mahalak and right wing Tom Wilson share the award.

GRINDER of the YEAR: Veteran center Michael Whaley

PLAYER OF THE MONTH: Goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

NEXT UP FOR THE WHALERS: Two Whalers – Tom Wilson and Cody Payne – are up for the National Hockey League Entry Draft, held June 22-23 in Pittsburgh. Before that, the Whalers will be holding their annual rookie orientation on May 19-20 at Compuware Arena.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Birmingham's Elliott commits to St. Mary's

When Jonathon Elliott moved on from the Metro Jets in 2010 to play for the Cumberland Grads of the Central Canada Hockey League, an opportunity to play college hockey was what Elliott hoped he could gain from playing in the Ottawa area.

This week, Elliott officially committed to St. Mary’s University, a Division III school in Winona, Minn., that plays in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

“The opportunity to play for St. Mary's came up unexpectedly, actually,” said Elliott, a 21-year-old Birmingham native who was second in Jets’ scoring in 2009-10 with 15 goals and 26 points. “I had a friend who had spoken to them last winter and he spoke very highly of the school. I did some research and realized that I liked what the school had to offer academically and athletically, so I sent the coaching staff there an email expressing my interest and immediately, they responded in a positive way.”

Not only did the coaches return an email, they traveled to Ottawa over the holidays to see Elliott play in a CCHL showcase event.

“The coaching staff said they liked how I had played and I talked briefly with them,” Elliott explained. “We continued contact until the latter part of the season when the school had granted them money to make another trip to Ottawa. I had a chance to sit down one-on-one and talk to the head coach, Bill Moore, at this time. I recently returned from my visit with a great feeling, pushing me to be comfortable with my commitment to the university.

“Although it may seem small to many people (enrollment is only 1,200), as it did to me at first, there is so much opportunity for you to succeed at this school, especially academically. The small classes give you one-on-one time with teachers who truly care about your success in the real world.”

Elliott plans to pursue double major in sports management and marketing at St. Mary’s.

The past two seasons in Cumberland, Elliott skated in 124 games and scored 29 goals and 46 assists for 75 points. More than points and stats, though, was the experience Elliott went through north of the border.

”My time in Cumberland was amazing,” said Elliott, who played high school hockey at Brother Rice, graduating in 2009. “The amount of great people I met and the opportunity they gave me I will be forever thankful for. It was a different atmosphere playing way up there, but having family around the area, I knew what to expect somewhat. Hockey is the main thing up there and if you’re playing juniors, whether in the Ontario Hockey League or the CCHL all the way down to minor hockey, you live by the rink and are supported by everyone who loves the game.”

During his one season in Waterford, Elliott said he learned about what it took to be a junior hockey player and how to prepare to play the game at a high level.

“My season with the Jets helped me in maturing more than anything,” said Elliott. “It made me realize that you have to come to work at the rink everyday. There are no days off in juniors and especially not at the college level with the shortened schedule.”

Before he steps on the ice at the SMU Ice Arena next fall, Elliott knows there a few aspects to his game that need to be rounded-out this offseason.

“I need to continue to get bigger and stronger,” Elliott said. “The main thing from a hockey standpoint, though, would be my first three strides from standing still. My whole life I’ve had a little trouble with that, but then again, in the game of hockey you can always find something to improve on.

”Next season, I want to be a go-to guy. I don’t want to be seen as just a freshman on the team. I want to be seen as someone everyone can count on to get the job done.”

Photo by Andy Grossman/Detailed Images

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Muskegon to add Battle Creek's McDonald

The Muskegon Lumberjacks will acquire forward and Battle Creek native Chad McDonald from the Des Moines Buccaneers to complete a February trade.

McDonald’s addition will fulfill the “future considerations” portion of the deal that brought defenseman Michael Brodzinski to Muskegon in exchange for blueliner Nick Seeler.

In accordance with USHL rules, McDonald cannot be officially added to the roster until May 22, the day of the league’s Entry Draft.

McDonald started the 2011-12 season in Kalamazoo with the Jr. K-Wings of the North American Hockey League, lighting up the Tier II circuit with 10 goals and 15 total points in 12 games. Des Moines took notice and traded for him in late October, after which McDonald skated in 46 matches, posting 18 points (12 goals) in his first USHL season.

McDonald will return to West Michigan to continue his junior hockey career, and the 5-foot-9 19-year-old will play college hockey close to home as well as he committed last November to Ferris State University in nearby Big Rapids.

As part of the February trade, the Lumberjacks also picked up Des Moines’ first-round pick in the Entry Draft, giving them the second and third overall selections after Sioux Falls chooses first.

Brodzinski, a University of Minnesota recruit, played three games for the Lumberjacks this season, recording an assist and five shots on goal.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

OHL playoffs - Whalers & Spirit - Round 2

Series E (West)
(London wins series 4-2)
Game 1 - London 5, Saginaw 2
Game 2 - Saginaw 5, London 2
Game 3 - Saginaw 5, London 2
Game 4 - London 5, Saginaw 2
Game 5 - London 2, Saginaw 1 (OT)
Game 6 - London 5, Saginaw 3

Series F (West)
(Kitchener wins series 4-3)
Game 1 - Kitchener 2, Plymouth 0
Game 2 - Plymouth 2, Kitchener 0
Game 3 - Plymouth 4, Kitchener 3
Game 4 - Kitchener 5, Plymouth 1
Game 5 - Plymouth 3, Kitchener 0
Game 6 - Kitchener 4, Plymouth 2
Game 7 - Kitchener 6, Plymouth 3

Spirit veteran Shalla signs with Nashville

Less than a week after closing the door on a successful career in the junior ranks, former Saginaw Spirit forward Josh Shalla has put pen to paper on his first National Hockey League contract as the Nashville Predators announced today that they have signed the Whitby, Ont., native to a three-year, entry-level contract.

As per team rules, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

This past season with the Spirit, Shalla recorded a team-high 40 goals to go along with 36 assists for 76 points. He is slated to begin his professional career on Friday with the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals, who open a first-round AHL playoff series with the Abbotsford Heat, the primary affiliate of the Calgary Flames.

Earlier this year, Shalla became the Spirit’s all-time regular-season goal leader when he recorded his 119th tally in a game against the Windsor Spitfires on March 16. Shalla, who was selected by Nashville in the fourth round of last year’s NHL Draft, also established the franchise’s single season goal scoring mark with 47 in the 2010-11 OHL season.

Along with his 119 career regular-season goals with the Spirit, Shalla added 94 assists for 213 points, which is third on the all-time list. In the playoffs, he added 12 goals and 18 assists in 30 games.

Photo/CHL Images

Saginaw's Gilbert named top OHL coach

The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Saginaw Spirit head coach Greg Gilbert is the 2011-12 recipient of the Matt Leyden Trophy for OHL Coach of the Year.

Gilbert joined the Spirit midway through the 2011-12 campaign and in 36 games behind the bench earned a 20-10-1-5 record for 46 points helping the Spirit climb from ninth place in the OHL’s Western Conference standings with 28 points to a fifth place finish with 74 points. The sixth coach in club history, Gilbert becomes the first Matt Leyden Trophy winner in the Spirit’s 10-year history in Saginaw.

Gilbert coached his first game behind the Spirit bench on December 14. His presence helped spark a turnaround both offensively and defensively with the club shifting from an average of 3.4 goals-per-game and 4.3 goals-against in the first 32 games, to 4.1 goals-per-game while allowing just 3.4 goals-against in the final 36 games. The Spirit also improved on special teams jumping from 15th to the fourth best power play unit and the 16th to the eighth best penalty kill percentage under Gilbert.

"On behalf of Dick Garber, we are proud of Greg Gilbert and his accomplishments behind our bench this season,” said Spirit managing partner, president and governor Craig Goslin. “Gibby expects and gets the best from the players that wear the Spirit sweater and in return he treats them with a great deal of respect. He makes everyone around him better. He makes the players, coaches and the hockey and business staffs all feel that they are a significant part of his direction. Maybe the greatest intangible of his coaching style is trust. He is much more than our player’s coach; he is their mentor, teacher, trainer and leader. It's no accident that he played 16 years in the NHL and won three Stanley Cups."

A 50-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., Gilbert returned to the OHL this season after working five seasons as a head coach in the AHL between the Toronto Marlies and Adirondack Phantoms, building on a professional coaching resume of 12 years. His career also included parts of three seasons at the helm of the Calgary Flames between 2000-03 and began in 1996-97 with the Worcester IceCats where he earned AHL Coach of the Year honors. His OHL coaching career previously included three seasons with the Mississauga IceDogs from 2003-06 earning a pair of 80-point seasons and a berth in the OHL Finals in 2004.

As a player, Gilbert was selected in the fourth round of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders and played in the OHL for three seasons with the Toronto Marlboros scoring 108 points in 1982 before joining the Islanders for parts of their championship run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that season. He also won a Stanley Cup with the Islanders in 1983 and with the New York Rangers in 1994 playing a total of 837 regular season NHL games recording 378 points between the Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, Rangers, and St. Louis Blues, where he finished his career in 1995-96.

"He is the best coach that I’ve ever had,” said Spirit defenseman and alternate captain Brad Walch. “He motivated us and taught us to play the right way and treated us like NHLers. He taught me to be a better player and a better teammate. All of the guys will be really glad to hear that he received this honor as OHL Coach of the Year. He's a great coach."

The Matt Leyden Trophy is voted on by the member teams of the OHL. In a first round of balloting, teams vote for the top coaches, within their own conference. The top three nominees from both the Eastern and Western conferences are declared as finalists. A second round of voting is then conducted on a league wide basis where teams vote for any of the six finalists. At no time during the voting can a team vote for their own candidate. Coaches receive five points for a first place vote, three points for a second place vote and one point for a third place vote.

Gilbert finished with 45 points in the voting process ahead of Steve Spott of the Kitchener Rangers who received 39 voting points, and Stan Butler of the Brampton Battalion who finished in third place with 34 voting points.

The Matt Leyden Trophy has been awarded annually since 1972 in recognition of the contributions of Matt Leyden, past president of the Ontario Hockey Association from 1965-1967. The Oshawa native was honored as a lifetime member of the OHA in 1972.

Previous award winners include Hockey Hall of Fame member Brian Kilrea of the Ottawa 67’s who has won the award a record five times Dale Hunter has won the award three times behind the London Knights’ bench including back-to-back honours in 2004-05 and most recently in 2010. Bert Templeton (Hamilton and North Bay), Terry Crisp (Sault Ste. Marie), George Burnett (Niagara Falls), Gary Agnew (London), Craig Hartsburg (Guelph and Sault Ste. Marie), Peter DeBoer (Plymouth) and Bob Boughner (Windsor) have also each won the award twice.

Current Ottawa Senators’ assistant coach Mark Reeds won the award last season behind the bench of the OHL champion Owen Sound Attack.

Gilbert will be formally presented with the award at the 2011-12 OHL awards ceremony taking place Tuesday, June 5 at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, and will also be the OHL’s nominee for the Canadian Hockey League Coach of the Year.

Photo/CHL Images

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jets' goalie Kelley gets call to USHL

Metro Jets’ goalie Dillon Kelley traveled to Iowa last weekend to be an emergency backup with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League, but wound up being the third Jets’ player all-time to see action in a USHL game.

Kelley played the third period of Dubuque’s game against the Chicago Steel on Friday night and though he was shackled with the loss, the experience of playing for the country’s top Junior A league was immeasurable.

“Playing in the USHL has always been a dream of mine,” said Kelley, a 17-year-old Petoskey native. “After coming into the season and working with and talking with (Metro coach) Jason Cirone throughout the course of the year, it became more of a goal than just a dream.”

Aaron McCloy (Danville Wings) and Eric Ehn (Green Bay Gamblers) are the other ex-Jets to climb the ladder to the USHL. Ehn went on to a four-year career at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2008.

This past season with the Jets, Kelley went 18-8-1 with three shutouts, a 3.62 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage.

Coming into the game against Chicago was when it hit Kelley that all the hard work during the course of the season in Waterford had paid off.

“The biggest thing I noticed was the atmosphere; it was a lot different than a Metro Jets hockey game,” Kelley said. “There were around 2,000 or so people there and when I came onto the ice for the third period, the place erupted. It was just great to be playing in front of so many people.”

One of Kelley’s Dubuque teammates, Zemgus Girgensons, is touted as a potential first-round NHL draft pick this June. Being around him had Kelley a smidge awe-struck.

”'Z' was a very nice guy,” said Kelley. “He is the captain of the team and I understood why after the very first practice. He is the hardest worker on the team and everyone in the room looks up to him. When I found out about him possibly going in the first round of the NHL draft this summer, I was not surprised. He thinks the game very well and definitely sticks out when out there on the ice.”

The USHL entry draft is slated for May 22, while the NAHL draft goes May 31. Kelley could get drafted in one or both drafts, but after sniffing the USHL, that league is tops on his “want” list.

”After the experience last weekend, it has not only given me more confidence, but has opened my eyes to the notion that I can play in the USHL next year with hard work and if given the opportunity,” said Kelley. “Jason has taught me a lot about preparation and taking care of my body.

“Without experiencing the junior hockey life with the Jets, I don't think this opportunity would have been possible.”


Saginaw's Walch signs with CHL's Mavs

Just days after seeing his career in the Ontario Hockey League draw to a close, former Saginaw Spirit defenseman Brad Walch is about to embark on his first days in the professional ranks.

The Saginaw native will make his debut with the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League when they resume their Turner Conference Final against the Fort Wayne Komets on Wednesday. The Mavericks currently lead the series 2-0 with the next three games being on home ice.

Walch graduates from the Spirit having played the second most regular season games in franchise history with 265, and if you factor in his 38 playoff appearances, no player has suited up for more games. Walch is coming off a very solid playoff performance, recording a goal and adding nine assists to go along with a plus-four rating in 12 games.

Overall in his career in Saginaw in regular season play, Walch recorded 10 goals to go along with 56 assists for 66 points.

Photo/CHL Images

Saturday, April 14, 2012

NAHL playoffs - Michigan quartet present

(1) Port Huron Fighting Falcons vs. (4) Michigan Warriors
(Port Huron wins series 3-1)
Game 1 - MIC 5 at PHN 2
Game 2 - MIC 1 at PHN 5
Game 3 - PHN 3 at MIC 1
Game 4 - PHN 5 at MIC 2

(2) Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings vs. (3) Traverse City North Stars
(Kalamazoo wins series 3-1)
Game 1 - TVC 0 at KZO 4
Game 2 - TVC 3 at KZO 7
Game 3 - KZO 2 at TVC 6
Game 4 - KZO 3 at TVC 2 (OT)

* if necessary

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Saad named OHL's most sportsmanlike

The Ontario Hockey League today announced that Brandon Saad of the Saginaw Spirit is the 2011-12 recipient of the William Hanley Trophy awarded to the OHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player.

Saad, a 19-year-old from Gibsonia, Pa., scored 34 goals and 42 assists for 76 points in just 44 games while recording just 38 penalty minutes in his second OHL season with the Spirit. He becomes the second member of the Spirit to win the award following current Tampa Bay Lightning forward Tom Pyatt who received the honour in 2006-07.

“It’s an honor to win any award and be recognized by the league,” commented Saad. “I’m excited about the news and happy to win the award and accept this award on behalf of the Saginaw Spirit and my teammates.”

The Spirit captain led all OHL players with 1.73 points-per-game after beginning the season with the Chicago Blackhawks, who selected him in the second round of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Upon his return to Saginaw, he immediately produced an eight-game point streak and received OHL Player of the Week honours following his second week in action ending October 23. That week included his first career five-point game where he scored a career-high four goals October 20 as first star of a 5-2 win over the Brampton Battalion.

A member of the U.S National Junior Team at the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship, Saad recorded 21 multi-point games this season and had the fourth longest point-streak in the league at 16 games between January 15 and February 24. He also finished with the sixth-best plus-minus rating in the OHL with a mark of plus-35.

“Brandon has been an outstanding player for the Spirit organization,” said Saginaw head coach Greg Gilbert. “His commitment both on and off the ice exemplifies the type of player and person he is. His passion for the game and his leadership for our club have been second to none. He plays each game with determination and respect, not only for the game itself, but for his team and opponents. He is a true leader.”

The William Hanley Trophy is awarded each year based on a selection by the 20 general managers of the OHL. Teams are not permitted to vote for their own candidate with players receiving five points for a first place vote, three points for a second place vote, and one point for a third place vote. The trophy is presented by the OHL to commemorate William Hanley, former secretary-manager of the Ontario Hockey Association for over 25 years.

“Since his first day in Saginaw, Brandon Saad has displayed an extraordinary commitment to doing things right, both on and off the ice,” said Spirit managing partner, president and governor Craig Goslin. “Whether communicating with his teammates or visiting sick kids in a local hospital or doing a community appearance, his approach is consistently conducted with class and respect for others. Our franchise has certainly been the recipient of an outstanding future NHL hockey player and an outstanding person as well.”

Saad received 45 points in the voting process ahead of Tobias Rieder of the Kitchener Rangers who received 38 voting points, and Freddie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs, who finished in third place with 31 voting points.

Photo/CHL Images

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Saturday, April 07, 2012

NTDP announces seven more for U-17s

Forwards Ryan Hitchcock (Manhasset, N.Y.), Sonny Milano (Massapequa, N.Y.), Alex Tuch (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) and Chris Wilkie (Omaha, Neb.), along with defensemen Louis Belpedio (Skokie, Ill.), Nathan Billitier (Spencerport, N.Y.) and Joshua Wesley (Raleigh, N.C.) have committed to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program for the 2012-13 season, it was announced today.

The players, all from the 1996 birth year, will compete as members of the U.S. National Under-17 Team.

“This is a dynamic group of players to add to an already exciting roster,” said Peter Ward, director of player personnel for the NTDP. “The scouting staff has been working tirelessly to assemble the best talent in the country and it shows with these commitments.”

Hitchcock competed for the New Jersey Rockets Junior B team of the Metropolitan Junior Hockey League. In 35 games he scored 33 goals and added 42 assists, which was fourth most in the league. Hitchcock also skated in eight playoff games for the Rockets, recording 16 points (5-11), including one game-winning tally. He was named most valuable player in the MJHL for his performance during the 2011-12 season.

During the 2011-12 season, Milano skated for the Cleveland Barons Midget Minor team of the Tier One Elite League. He tallied 44 goals and collected 43 assists in 40 games. His 87 points placed him first in the league.

Tuch played for the Syracuse Stars Junior B team of the Empire Junior Hockey League where he amassed 101 points (44-57) in 40 games, which ranked at the top of the league. He also notched one goal and recorded three assists in four playoff games for the Stars.

Wilkie comes from the Omaha Lancers Midget Minor team of the North American Prospects Hockey League, where he accumulated 48 points (22-26) in 18 games. He led the NAPHL in points and power-play goals (10). He also skated in four playoff games with the Lancers, netting three goals and adding 10 assists.

Belpedio skated for Culver (Ind.) Academy. He recorded nine goals and 11 assists in 34 games.

During the 2011-12 campaign, Billitier played for the Rochester (N.Y.) Stars Junior A team of the Eastern Junior Hockey League and collected two assists in 34 games.

Wesley comes from the Carolina Junior Hurricanes of the North American Prospects Hockey League, where he totaled 13 points (7-6) in 18 games, ranking eighth among defensemen. He also notched one goal and registered six assists in five playoff games.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Blonde North Stars ready for Kalamazoo

The traditional playoff beard has given way to dazzling domes this time of year with junior hockey players opting to bleach their hair in postseason solidarity.

The Traverse City North Stars are participants in the follicle frivolity, and hope to be sporting the platinum look long after their roots show. The Stars travel to Kalamazoo to open the 2012 edition of the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs today, and are looking to extend their run in their final go-round in Traverse City.

“Yeah, the bleach-blond thing is a relatively new tradition, I'm not exactly sure why they do that,” said Stars head coach Chad Fournier. “I’m not sure if White (former Stars defenseman Travis White) started it or brought it back here. It may be out of necessity, as not every kid can grow a full beard anyway. Seriously though, I think it’s just a way for the guys to express their solidarity at a crucial juncture on the calendar. If it promotes team unity and isn’t a distraction, why not?”

On the ice, Traverse City and Kalamazoo didn’t just split their regular season series – they set up as evenly-matched as possible after each club won six of the 12 meetings, scored 39 total goals, and played in eight games that were decided by two goals or less. The clubs were separated by just four points in the final NAHL North Division standings; The Wings scored 13 more goals than the Stars, but gave up 13 more as well. Both teams were .500 in shootouts, and won seven of their final 10 games of the regular season.

“We’re very similar teams,” Fournier said. “They are extremely deep up front, and they know how to put the puck in the net. They skate well and really get up and down the ice. If we aren’t sound in our own end, they’ll score a lot of goals on us.”

TC winger Sean Murphy has been especially potent versus Kalamazoo, scoring seven goals and assisting on as many in 11 games. Jared Van Wormer, Mitchell Snider and Eric Rivard have a combined 15 goals in those meetings, while Michal Toman has levied four of his six goals this season against the K-Wings. Kyle Laslo has worked 11 of the 12 contests, going 6-2-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

On the other side, Kyle Gattalaro is the only Wing with double-digit points (10), but Andrew Graves also has seven goals over nine games. Kalamazoo goalie Kenneth MacLean (5-2-0) has fared slightly better in net than counterpart Alex Okicki (1-3-1) in the clubs’ meetings.

“They have their share of top-flight scorers, but there’s a lot of depth there, too,” Fournier added. “We’ll have to be able to meet and exceed their intensity right from the opening puck drop. That’ll be one of the key components to this series.”

Fournier also offered some rare good news on the personnel front as well.

“We’re still minus one (forward Kyle Loridon), but 100 percent beyond that. For the first time in three or four weeks, we’ll be able to dress the 20 players we’re allowed to dress. We haven’t been able to say that in a while.”

Following Friday’s opener, the series continues with a Saturday matinee (2 p.m.) before the series shift to Centre ICE Arena the following weekend, April 13-14. If a decisive fifth game is required, it will take place in K-Zoo on Monday, April 16.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Muskegon's Keeney commits to UAF

The Muskegon Lumberjacks have announced that goaltender John Keeney has committed to play for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks beginning this fall.

Keeney arrived in Muskegon via a trade with Omaha in late October and quickly grabbed the reins as the Lumberjacks’ No. 1 netminder. The 19-year-old from Lake Arrowhead, Calif., made the decision to play for the Nanooks after a campus visit this week.

“I got to spend a long day with the coaching staff and enjoyed everything about it,” said Keeney. “I walked around campus and liked what I saw. It seems like a really good fit.”

The third-year USHL veteran has played in 38 games this season and has been entrusted with eight straight starts on two separate occasions. He has relished the opportunity to man the crease regularly and plans on staying busy upon his arrival in Fairbanks.

“I wanted to go to a school where I would get a chance to play,” Keeney said. “It’s a solid program in a good league (CCHA).”

Keeney has the Lumberjacks’ only two shutouts of the season and has presided over eight of Muskegon’s 17 victories. With four games to go this season, he has played in 81 USHL games, posting a 32-31-11 record with four shutouts and a .907 save percentage.

“I’ve enjoyed this year in Muskegon and I’ve learned a lot here,” Keeney said. “My time in the USHL has prepared me well to move on to the next level.”

The 6-foot-1, 187-pound goalie plays a calm style between the pipes, but he has been busy this season as the Lumberjacks have allowed 34.1 shots against per game, third-most in the USHL. Keeney has made 40 or more saves in a game six times, including his signature performance, a 44-save shutout of Youngstown Dec. 2.

“John has been a stabilizing force for us this year,” said Lumberjacks' head coach Jim McKenzie. “We wish him the best at Fairbanks and we know he’ll do very well.”

Saginaw moves up in CHL Import Draft

The Saginaw Spirit announced today the team has acquired the Guelph Storm’s first-round pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft (18th overall) in exchange for Saginaw’s first round pick in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, their 11th-round pick in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection and their fourth-round pick in the 2013 OHL Priority Selection.

The 2012 OHL Priority Selection will be held on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

OHL playoffs - Whalers & Spirit - Round 1

Series B (West)
(Plymouth wins series 4-2)
Game 1 - Fri Mar 23 Guelph 4, Plymouth 2
Game 2 - Sun Mar 25 Guelph 5, Plymouth 3
Game 3 - Tue Mar 27 Plymouth 7, Guelph 1
Game 4 - Thu Mar 29 Plymouth 5, Guelph 2
Game 5 - Sat Mar 31 Plymouth 9, Guelph 3
Game 6 - Sun Apr 1 Plymouth 2, Guelph 1 (OT)

Series D (West)
(Saginaw wins series 4-2)
Game 1 - Fri Mar 23 Saginaw 5, Sarnia 1
Game 2 - Sat Mar 24 Sarnia 4, Saginaw 3 (OT)
Game 3 - Mon Mar 26 Sarnia 6, Saginaw 5 (OT)
Game 4 - Wed Mar 28 Saginaw 4, Sarnia 3 (OT)
Game 5 - Fri Mar 30 Saginaw 5, Sarnia 2
Game 6 - Sat Mar 31 Saginaw 3, Sarnia 1

* if necessary