Thursday, July 20, 2006

Plante back to Fury, signs three-year deal

Veteran defenseman Philippe Plante has signed a three-year contract with the Muskegon Fury, marking his return to the UHL team.

The six-foot, 200-pound Plante played in Muskegon in 2001-2002 (eight goals among 31 points) and started the 2002-2003 season with the Fury before being called up to the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins where he finished the season.

In 2003, Plante signed with the Montreal Canadiens and played two years in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs.

The 27-year-old from Greenfield Park, Quebec played last season with the Frankfort Lions in the German Elite League.

“I am really happy to be coming back to Muskegon," Plante said. "Looking back on my career to this stage, without a doubt, my favorite year was my full year here in 2001-02 when we won the Cup. I have found my experiences in Muskegon to be enjoyable and a lot of fun and I am looking forward to playing here a lot more for the next three years. This contract will certainly provide a lot more stability for my family; especially considering that we have been moving around a lot the last eight or nine years.

"The best part about coming back to the Fury is that we always have a legitimate chance to win the championship every year. It will be nice to have the opportunity to win a few more rings before my career is over."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Red Wings get journeyman defender Norton

The Detroit Red Wings have signed veteran defenseman Brad Norton.

While he'll be given a chance to crack Detroit's lineup, he's probably destined for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

"He adds some size and toughness," Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said in Booth Newspapers. "He's versatile. If we get injuries, he can play forward. We told him to come to camp, there's some spots open, and let the best man win the job."

Norton, a ninth-round pick by Edmonton in 1993, played 20 games in Finland last season before Ottawa signed him. He played 36 games in Binghamton (AHL), picking up four assists and 102 penalty minutes, and played seven games for the Senators. He's also played for Florida, Los Angeles and Washington and spent part of the 1997-98 season with the now-defunct Detroit Vipers of the IHL.

More from Booth Newspapers here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Flint names Sims GM, Kerr head coach

The Flint Generals announced at a press conference today that Al Sims (above left) has been named the club’s vice president of hockey operations/general manager for the upcoming 2006-07 season and former Generals player Kevin Kerr (above right) is now the head coach of the team.

"I am excited about this opportunity to be a part of an organization with a strong hockey history," stated Sims. "I have always been a goal setter, and it is my goal to turn this club in a positive direction. In the coming weeks and months, the fans in Flint will notice something different."

Sims had a successful 15-year professional playing career that included 476 games in the NHL. He was the 47th pick overall in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft by the Boston Bruins. The defenseman from Toronto, Ontario played parts of six seasons with Boston, including two as teammates with Hall of Fame defenseman Bobby Orr. He also played with the Hartford Whalers and Los Angeles Kings. Sims also had stints in the American Hockey League, International Hockey League and Europe.

Following his playing career, Sims became the head coach of the Fort Wayne Komets in the IHL. He led the team to the playoffs in four straight seasons, including a Turner Cup Championship in his final season with the club (1992-93). He spent the next three seasons as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks of the NHL (1993-96). Sims became the head coach of the San Jose Sharks during the 1996-97 season.

The next seven seasons were spent as the head coach for teams in the IHL, ECHL, and Central Hockey League. Most recently, he was an assistant with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins during the 2005-06 season.

Sims will oversee all aspects of the hockey operations for the Generals, in addition to the daily business of the organization.

"I have been involved with multiple areas of hockey at all levels of the game," said Sims. "My focus will now shift towards leading the Generals staff instead of coaching players. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty and will strive to bring a high level of professionalism to this organization. A big priority will be to have our players in the community. It is important to be visible and have the faces of the players around town. We plan to make a difference in Flint and let the fans know that we care about them."

Kerr is the eighth coach in the UHL history of the Generals. Last season, he led the North Bay Skyhawks of the North Ontario Junior Hockey League to a 30-18-0 record. The team also made a playoff run to the NOJHL Championship series in just the first season for Kerr as a head coach.

"This is a great opportunity for me to continue my coaching career," Kerr stated. "I feel like I had a great start in coaching last season in my hometown of North Bay, and now I get to come back to a city that I also consider to be my hometown. I want to be a part of a rebuilding process that will bring the Flint Generals back to the glory days we had in the 90's.

"I am also very fortunate to be able to work with Al Sims and will turn to him for his experience and knowledge. As a young coach, he will be a great asset to me and someone that I look forward to having as a mentor. I want to bring professionalism to this locker room and a strong work ethic. The team will be geared towards speed, working hard, and playing the game the way it is supposed to be played."

"Kevin has passion and emotion for the game of hockey," added Sims. "He played with his heart first. Some players don’t always bring it each night, but Kevin always brought all he had every game. He could change a game in his favor when he was on the ice. Fans will see that style of play this season with the Flint Generals. Kevin Kerr is the perfect guy for what we are trying to accomplish here in Flint."

Kerr played professionally for 18 years. He was a member of the Fort Wayne Komets in the IHL during the 1989-90 and 1990-91 seasons when the club was coached by Sims. He first played in the UHL for the Flint Generals during the 1993-94 season when he tallied 112 points (57g, 55a) and earned UHL Most Valuable Player honors. He would spend parts of eight seasons in Flint and was a member of the Flint Generals 1996 Colonial Cup campionship team. In the 1998-99 season, Kerr was a member of the Quad City Mallards when he scored his 500th career goal becoming only the tenth player in minor hockey league history to reach that mark.

His biggest moment came on Jan. 7, 2005, when, as a member of the Generals, he scored his 664th career goal and moved ahead of Scott Gruhl as the all-time leading goal scorer in minor league professional hockey history. He finished his career with 677 goals.

Kerr suited up for five UHL teams during his career; Flint (1993-98, 2000-01, 2003-2005), Quad City Mallards (1998-2000), Elmira Jackals (2002-03), Rockford IceHogs (2003), and Kalamazoo Wings (2005). He was selected to the postseason UHL All-Star Team on multiple occasions, including five times on the First Team (1993-94, 1995-96, 1996-97, 1997-98, 1999-2000) and once on the Second Team (1994-95). Kerr also played professionally in the AHL, ECHL, and West Coast Hockey League.

Kerr photo courtesy Rich Schultz

Hildenbrand signs on with Flags

With the addition of Steve Hildenbrand to the lineup, the Port Huron Flags look to have a very effective front line for the 2006-07 season.

New to the United Hockey League, the recently-signed Hildenbrand is ready to give his all in Port Huron.

"Obviously, every year that you play, you want to win a championship," said Hildenbrand. "Hopefully, we have a good season and play hard every night. You can't really predict things, but if a team works hard, good things usually happen."

Hildenbrand comes to the Blue Water Area from the ECHL’s San Diego Gulls, where he recorded 29 goals and 40 assists in 70 games. At 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, he still spent 90 minutes in the penalty box last season.

"Steve does everything," Port Huron head coach Stan Drulia said. "He can take advantage of the power play and also kill penalties. He's not afraid to scrap, and is an all-around, legitimate, No. 1 center."

Hildenbrand signed with the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires in 2000. Previously, he had played a year at Miami University in Ohio. Coming to Port Huron was a bit of a surprise for Hildenbrand. The San Diego Gulls were forced to suspend operations for 2006-07, and the Belle River, Ontario native was looking to play closer to home.

"I’ve known B.J. Adams for seven years and I heard about the opportunity from him," said Hildenbrand. “I don't know a great deal about Port Huron, but I've got faith in the organization."

The Flags now have nine players bound to contract for the upcoming season - Ryan Gillis, Paul Snell, Shayne Tomlinson, Trevor Edwards, B.J. Adams, Josh Elzinga, Ryan Markham, Colt King and now Hildenbrand.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Kopecky re-signs with Red Wings

Tomas Kopecky signed a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Monday.

The 24-year-old center from Slovakia was drafted 38th overall by Detroit in 2000 and has played for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League the past four years.

He played in his first and only NHL game last season on Feb. 28.

Kopecky had career highs in goals (32), points (72) and games (77) last season for the Griffins.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Detroit signs three more for '06-07

The Detroit Red Wings re-signed forwards Jiri Hudler and Darryl Bootland on Friday.

Hudler's deal is for one year, but no details on Bootland's contract as of yet.

The Wings also signed Krystofer Kolanos, a 2000 first-round pick of Phoenix who's had concussion problems. Kolanos (6-foot-3, 206 pounds) played for four different organizations last season. He ended up playing 15 games (two goals, one assist) and has 17 goals and 35 points in 115 career NHL games.

Kolanos, whose overtime goal won the NCAA championship for Boston College in 2001, played for Phoenix and Edmonton last year as well as in the AHL with San Antonio, Lowell and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bouchard inks two-year pact with Fury

Muskegon Fury right wing Robin Bouchard has signed a two-year deal to stay in Muskegon through the 2007-2008 season.

The UHL's all-time leading goal scorer, Bouchard scored 59 goals last year among 116 points. This fall will start his 11th season with the Fury. The 32-year-old ranks at or near the top in virtually every major offensive category in UHL history. His 490 goals, 202 power-play goals and 70 game-winners all rank No. 1. His 483 assists, 973 points and 732 games all rank him as third best in those three categories while his 1,730 penalty minutes are fourth-best.

A year-round resident of the Lakeshore community, Bouchard is both excited and determined as he eagerly gets ready for the new Fury season.

"I'm very excited to be coming back for two more years," he said. "Last season ended with a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth from not having the opportunity to win another championship for Muskegon and all of our tremendous fans. The goal this year is to get back on that winning track and bring the championship home, again.

"The records are fine, but they are over and done with. We have more important matters at hand and that’s the championship. In the past season, our team did amazingly well, especially considering the many injuries that we suffered through. Now we are getting set for the new season and it’s great to be a part of it again. It sure would be nice to finish my career with more championships attached to the Fury name."

Muskegon head coach Todd Nelson is also thrilled to have his top sniper back.

"We’re really excited to have Robin back in the fold for the next two years," said Nelson. "He's a player who is a proven winner and the type of player that you just cannot find everyday. Great goal-scorers are quite hard to find and we feel fortunate to have one of the best ones ever. It goes without saying that Robin is a most important part of our team and of our great community. He is an essential member of our top core players who we want to bring back in our bid to win another championship."

As far as his complete 12-year pro career is concerned, Bouchard will broach the next new season needing only four more points for career 1,100. His all-time pro career numbers read 547 goals, 549 points and 1,096 points in 837 games.

Bouchard also absolutely dominates the UHL’s Colonial Cup playoffs’ record book, holding seven career marks. He is No. 1 all-time in most playoff games played (128), most goals (71), most GWG (15), most PPG (28), most shots on goal (471), most playoffs participated in (11) and most Colonial Cups (5 - four with Muskegon, one with the Flint Generals). His Fury career playoff numbers stand at 63-63--126 in 113 games, 287 PIMs, 25 PPG and 15 GWG.

Red Wings ink two prospects

Center Matt Hussey and defenseman Dan Smith signed with the Detroit Red Wings today and are most likely headed for the Grand Rapids Griffins.

Hussey, 27, had a career-high 21 goals and 30 assists last season for the AHL's Wilkes-Barre Penguins and played 13 games with Pittsburgh.

Smith, 29, tallied 16 assists for the Hamilton Bulldogs and appeared in seven NHL games for Edmonton.

The Grand Rapids Press has more here.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Lebda signs with Wings through 2010

The Detroit Red Wings have re-signed defenseman Brett Lebda to a four-year contract.

Terms of the deal are not available.

"Brett was impressive in the time he spent with us last season," said Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. "He possesses the skills I think will help contribute to the success of this organization in the long-term."

Lebda, 24, split time between the Red Wings and its American Hockey League affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2005-06 season, scoring 12 points (including his first NHL goal on opening night against St. Louis) with a plus-9 rating in 46 games with the Red Wings. Lebda was steady on the blueline during the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs. He played in all six of Detroit's playoff games and averaged 13:08 per game along with a plus-three rating.

The Red Wings originally signed Lebda as a free agent on July 21, 2004, after he played four years for the University of Notre Dame.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Red Wings re-sign Cleary to two-year deal

The Detroit Red Wings announced Monday that the team has re-signed forward Dan Cleary to a $1.325-million, two-year contract.

"Dan's a gritty player and we value what he brings to the team," said Detroit GM Ken Holland. "I'm glad he will be in a Red Wings jersey for the next two seasons."

Cleary, 27, played 77 games and posted 15 points in 2005-06 with the Red Wings.

Cleary was originally signed as a free agent by Detroit on October 4, 2005. Prior to joining Detroit last season, the eight-year veteran made stops in Chicago, Edmonton and Phoenix.

He has skated in 406 NHL games and collected 127 points.

Shanahan the latest to depart Hockeytown

NEW YORK (CP) - It came down to a feeling for Brendan Shanahan.

Given the opportunity to stay in Detroit for a 10th season with the Red Wings or start anew elsewhere, he felt it was time for change and chose to sign a $4-million US, one-year contract with the New York Rangers.

"It really came down to an instinct I had," Shanahan said Sunday. "Detroit has a great past and a great future ahead of them as well, but I guess I just felt that maybe I was identified with the past a little bit more than the future."

He's the second big time player to say goodbye to the Wings this off-season, joining longtime captain Steve Yzerman who announced his retirement last week.

Shanahan joins a Rangers team that made the playoffs last season for the first time since 1997. The three-time Stanley Cup winner will be counted on to try and help put them over the top.

"To take on a new challenge was a little scary and exciting at the same time," said Shanahan, who scored 41 goals last season.

The Rangers, notorious for overspending on top-name players often past their prime, had been relatively quiet in the first week of free agency. They added forward Matt Cullen and defenceman Aaron Ward (a former Red Wing) from the Stanley Cup champion Carolina Hurricanes while other clubs quickly filled up space on the $44 million salary cap by handing out big-ticket deals.

With room to spend, the Rangers targeted Shanahan, who has 598 goals - 15th on the NHL career list - and 634 assists with New Jersey, St. Louis, Hartford, and Detroit. He turned down equal or higher-valued deals from the Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens.

Both Rangers general manager Glen Sather and Shanahan sought to complete a one-year contract. Each cited the pressure to perform and extra motivation as factors in making a short-term commitment.

"I like the feeling of having to go out and proving your worth every year," said Shanahan.

He decided to join the Rangers after taking a tour this week of the team's practice facility in Westchester County, viewing residential areas, and spending time in Manhattan.

Shanahan isn't sure how long he wants to play, but if the fit is right he wouldn't mind spending a few years in the Big Apple.

Sather is plenty glad to have him, noting that Shanahan is a player the team had at the top of its wish list. The original thought was that Shanahan was likely to remain with the Red Wings, but once it became known that New York was an option, Sather moved quickly to get a deal done.

"I said to Glen that I wasn't trying to bust the door to get out of Detroit," Shanahan said.

The Rangers have shifted course in recent years in an attempt to rebuild the team with youth. New York snapped a seven-season playoff drought this year but were swept in the first round by New Jersey.

"I saw them as a team that made tremendous strides last year," said Shanahan. "I was really impressed with their desire to improve on that."

Shanahan earned $2.28 million in Detroit last season when, while working on a one-year deal, he recorded the sixth 40-goal season of his career and first since the 1999-2000 campaign.

One of the last true power forwards in the game, the seven-time all-star will be a good complement to Jaromir Jagr - who will not have to bear the full offensive burden next season.

"We were really looking for someone that could share a leadership role on our team," Sather said. "Someone that could play on the power play, someone who was going to be able to move people around in front of the net and someone with a great shot. And Brendan certainly has all of those."

Shanahan, the strongest advocate for rules changes during the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, took advantage once the game returned with less clutching and grabbing in front of the net. That is where the six-foot-three, 220-pound left winger is most effective, especially with the man advantage.

He scored 14 goals on the power play, a unit in New York that should be even more potent than last season when Jagr netted 24 of his club-record 54 goals with the extra man.

"He's big and he's strong and he's a great team guy," Sather said. "As we got closer to the end of the season, we found that maybe we needed a little some more size up front, and his experience in the playoffs would be a huge help for us."

Friday, July 07, 2006

Muskegon gets Collins for another year

Former Wayne State forward Billy Collins has re-signed with the Muskegon Fury for the upcoming season.

Last year, Collins scored 18 goals in 73 games in his second full season with the Fury.

"We are excited to have Billy ready and signed for the next season," Fury head coach Todd Nelson said. "Through his first two full years here, he has demonstrated the capacity to be a top two-way centerman. Based on the promise and potential that he has shown us over those first two seasons, we anticipate that Billy will become a bigger part of our lineup.

"We look forward to having him become more involved in our special teams play on both the power play and penalty-killing units. With his expected increased ice time, we look for bigger offensive numbers from him; numbers similar to those which he has achieved in the playoffs the past two years. When you add the size and grit that he offers our club down the middle at the center position, we think that Billy is due to have a real breakout season."

Collins played at WSU from 2001-2004, leaving a year early to sign with Muskegon.

"I’m really looking forward to another highly-successful season," Collins said. "Our ultimate plan is to bring the championship back home here to Muskegon and I’m excited about being a part of that team goal. With a lot of our top guns coming back, it looks like we will have another outstanding team for the upcoming season."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Flags re-sign Markham, add two others

With three players added to the 2006-07 roster, the Port Huron Flags are building a concrete lineup for the upcoming season.

Center Ryan Markham returns for his second season as a Flag, happy to be back and ready to see the team improve.

"I’m really looking forward to the team this year, because everybody on staff was so great last year," said Markham. "Since the league is much smaller now, and the team situation is improving, I have great expectations for us making it to the playoffs. Obviously, we want to go as far as possible and win a championship."

Markham will marry his fiancé, Karmen Peterson, in August. The newlyweds will return from the honeymoon by Sept. 11 to gear up for the season.

Paul Snell played four years at Salem State College, an NCAA Division III school in Salem, Mass. A forward from Pine Falls, Manitoba, he capped his college career with nine goals and 12 assists during his senior season.

Rookies are typically a high-risk venture for a hockey club, but former general manager Herb Hammond believes that Snell, at 6-feet-1 and 205 pounds, is worth the chance.

"Paul had a great college coach in Bill O’Neil and he has a great work ethic," Hammond said. "He is a hungry-spirited player in good physical shape and I think he can fill the rookie role well if given a chance."

Josh Elzinga has been a Kalamazoo Wings' defender for the last two seasons, where he recorded five goals and 13 assists collectively. He is a native of Burbank, Ill., and stands 5-feet-11, and weighs 175 pounds.

"Josh is going to be a steady player that contributes offensively and is very responsible defensively," Port Huron head coach Stan Drulia said. "We will rely on him to contribute in every facet of game."

These contracts mark the seventh, eighth, and ninth Flags players for the upcoming season.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Captain calls it quits

Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings' longtime captain who played his entire 22-year NHL career with Detroit, is retiring.

The 41-year-old Yzerman, who was 18 when he joined the Red Wings in 1983, ended months of speculation about his future when he announced his retirement at a news conference Monday.

Red Wings great Gordie Howe was in attendance.

"My intention throughout the season was to retire, play one last year," Yzerman said. "I really enjoyed my final season here with the Red Wings. I thought about it a lot, about coming back and playing this season. This is the right decision for me at this time. I really have no doubt about that."

Yzerman led Detroit to three Stanley Cups and playoff appearances in each of the last 15 years of his career. Only Gordie Howe holds as many franchise records. He has been Detroit's captain since 1986, making him the longest-serving captain in league history.

A 10-time All-Star, Yzerman was a member of the NHL's All-Rookie team in 1984, won the Lester B. Pearson Award honoring the league's outstanding player in 1989, the Conn Smythe Trophy honoring the playoff MVP in 1998 and helped Canada win gold at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

After leading the Red Wings back from years of mediocrity to the top rank of the NHL, Yzerman's individual achievements were tempered with disappointing team results late in his career. After winning back-to-back Cups in 1997-98, Detroit lost in the first or second round in six of seven years, interrupted only by the 2002 Cup.

The Red Wings had the best record in the league last season but lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs.

"I really enjoyed the season," Yzerman said. "It ended in disappointment, but that's the one great thing about sports in general. There's no predicting what's the outcome."

Major knee surgery limited Yzerman to 16 games in 2002-03, but he came back the following season to score 18 goals and 33 assists in 75 games. He managed 14 goals and 20 assists in 61 games last season despite tearing muscles three times.

One of Detroit's most popular pro athletes, the soft-spoken player long known simply as "The Captain" is the Red Wings' all-time leader in playoff scoring. He ranks first in assists and second only to Howe in games played, goals and points in the regular season. Yzerman also finished last season with more career regular-season and playoff points than any active NHL player.

Statements regarding the retirement of Yzerman:

"With his leadership and determination, with his devotion to the team concept, with his refusal to accept anything less than the best, Steve Yzerman became the symbol of the Detroit Red Wings’ standard of excellence in the modern era. The National Hockey League is grateful for Steve’s many contributions to the sport, nationally and internationally, and wishes him only good things in the future." -- NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

"Steve Yzerman was a tremendous hockey player who epitomized everything good about our game. He loved the game and played with passion every night. He was a winner who led Detroit to three Stanley Cups and was always there for his country to represent Canada on the international stage. He was the face of the Detroit Red Wings for the past 20 years and will be remembered as one of the best players and leaders that ever played the game of hockey. It was a pleasure to have worked with him." -- Wayne Gretzky

"Steve was a great ambassador for the game of hockey and will be sorely missed by everyone associated with the Nation Hockey League. Steve was a great leader, a great teammate and most importantly is a great person. I was fortunate to play at the 2002 Olympics with Steve and we won a gold medal together. It was a memorable experience and something I'll always cherish. I wish Steve the best of luck." -- Mario Lemieux

Monday, July 03, 2006

Lidstrom and Osgood re-sign with Detroit

Four-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on Friday.

Financial terms weren't disclosed.

"Nick has been the best defenseman in the game for several years," general manager Ken Holland said Friday. "He's a big part of our franchise not only because (of) his elite level of play and the number of minutes he logs, but also for his professionalism, experience and leadership."

Lidstrom led all NHL defensemen last season with a career-high 80 points. He has spent his entire 14-year career with Detroit. Only Hall of Famers Bobby Orr (eight), Doug Harvey (seven) and Ray Bourque (five) have won the Norris more times than the 36-year-old Swede.


Saturday, the Wings signed goaltender Chris Osgood to a two-year contract.

In keeping with club policy, additional terms of the contract are not available.

Osgood will enter his 14th NHL season and 10th with the Red Wings, following last season's return to Detroit in which he posted a 20-6-5 record with two shutouts, a 2.76 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage.

Osgood was Detroit's 3rd round selection (54th overall) in the 1991 NHL Entry Draft. He followed with one season in the WHL and one with Adirondack of the AHL before joining the Wings for the 1993-94 season. His first eight seasons in Detroit were highlighted by serving as the starting goaltender for the Wings' 1998 Stanley Cup championship and as backup to Mike Vernon for the 1997 title in a season that Osgood led the NHL in wins (39). He also teamed with Vernon to win the 1996 Jennings Trophy for lowest team GAA and made three appearances in the NHL All-Star Game (1996, 1997 and 1998).

Osgood was claimed by the New York Islanders in the 2001 Waiver Draft and traded to St. Louis at the March 2003 trade deadline. In his one full season with St. Louis and the last NHL season, he posted a 31-25-8 record and a 2.24 GAA - his lowest since winning the Cup in 1998 (2.21).

For his NHL career, Osgood boasts 600 NHL games played, a record of 325-188-66, 43 shutouts, a 2.45 GAA, and a .907 save percentage. In Stanley Cup playoff action, Osgood has a 45-37 record with a 2.24 GAA and .910 save percentage with 10 shutouts.