At this time last year, Traverse City North Stars head coach and general manager Anthony Palumbo was looking forward to a North American Hockey League (NAHL) season stocked with a veteran-laden roster.
The club remained at or near the top of the North Division throughout the year, rolled through a pair of playoff sweeps, and landed the organization’s first-ever berth to the Robertson Cup Championship Tournament.
This weekend at the team’s annual training camp, Palumbo will map a return trip to the Robertson Cup, selecting the 2010-11 roster from a group that includes returning vets, draft picks, tenders and the top talent from a summer of tryout camps. The yearly personnel turnover may well have been a bigger exodus than in previous summers, but Palumbo and his staff are optimistic about the new crop of players.
“We’ll be a younger team than last year,” he explained. “But we’re also looking for some of our current veterans to take on some added responsibility. We want to see guys work hard this weekend, we want to see them compete, because we do have some key roles to fill.”
The players will report to Centre ICE on Friday, split into three teams, and go head-to-head. Following Saturday morning’s game, Palumbo and his staff will trim the field to two teams, and a pair of all-star contests will ensue on Saturday evening and Sunday morning. The final roster will be announced following Sunday’s 11 a.m. game.
“We’re looking to see who has put in their work this summer, who is ready to earn a position,” Palumbo added. “We have spots in net, on defense and at forward.”
Veterans attending this weekend’s camp include captain Travis White, fellow defensemen Curtis Heinz and Trevor Campbell, and forwards Tim Opie, Ryan Amin, Alec Shields, Taylor Burden, Eric Rivard and Kelin Ainsworth.
Doug Clifford, the team’s leading scorer in 2009-10, will not participate due to an off-season medical procedure. Six of the Stars’ 10 tenders will be among the weekend hopefuls, as will six of seven draft choices.
With a re-tooled roster, Palumbo & Co. will have a stacked North Division to contend with this year. The group swelled to eight - including perennial power St. Louis - and only the top four clubs will advance to the playoffs.
“With a team of so many veteran players last year, I think we took a night off here and there, knowing we would probably be one of the four-out-of-five teams that made it (to the playoffs),” Palumbo said. “They were able to turn it on when needed, especially in the playoffs, but I don’t think this year’s team will be able to take any nights off and be able to score a 7-0 win in the playoffs like that group did.
“We’ll have to bring it every night if we even want to qualify.”