By DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY —
After losing 14 players off last season’s 23-man roster, the Traverse City North Stars begin the reloading process today at Centre ICE.
Some 50 players have been invited to this weekend’s main camp, which runs through Sunday.
“We’ll cut it down to 25 on Sunday and that will be our pre-season roster,” first-year coach Chad Fournier said.
The North Stars finished second in the North American Hockey League’s North Division last winter, but lost several players to the college ranks and to the United States Hockey League, the only Tier 1 league in the country.
Those leaving for the USHL were forwards Michael Szmatula and Sean Murphy and defensemen Connor Schmidt, Chris Dienes and Zack Dorer.
“We expected to lose three or four, but five was a little bit of a surprise,” Fournier said. “That comes with the success of our program. We’re in a very good league and we’ve been a successful team. So they look at us. And that’s OK because we’re about moving kids on to the next level. That’s what we want to do.”
Among those leaving for the college ranks was two-year captain Travis White, who will be playing at Ferris State in the CCHA.
“It means we’ve done our job,” general manager Anthony Palumbo said. “Now we just have to do it again.”
That process begins today.
“We’re very excited about the players coming in,” Palumbo said. “We’ve worked hard in the off-season to identify these kids.”
Palumbo said the team’s past success made it easier to recruit players here.
“It’s been easier to get kids to listen, very much so,” he said. “By the same token, it’s been tougher to hold a kid for two or three years. Connor Schmidt, Chris Dienes and Zack Dorer were 93s (born in 1993). They could play three more years of junior. But we lost them (to USHL).
“The year we went to the national championship (2010), we had some kids who were around here for a couple years. Now, with the exposure our team is getting, it’s harder to hold on to those kids. We’re probably going to have to do every year like we did last year — find 10 to 12 new faces.”
That’s not to say, despite the departures, the cupboard is bare.
“We have some high-end forwards returning,” Fournier said. “We have Alec Shields, our second leading scorer, coming back. Eric Rivard, who was fourth in scoring, is back, too.
“We’ll be very young on defense. We have two returning, and one (Chris Leibinger) is just turning 17.
“But we had to replace a lot of players last year and we ended up winning the most games in our franchise’s history (40-17-1).”
The North Stars made a trade this month to acquire Cadillac’s Will Badner, who had 12 goals and 10 assists for the league rival Motor City Metal Jackets.
“Will is going to be a big part of our team,” Fournier said. “He’s going to add a lot to our offense.”