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NAHL Top Prospects jersey auction opens today

FRISCO, TEXAS – The North American Hockey League (NAHL) is auctioning off all game-worn player jerseys from the upcoming NAHL Top Prospects Tournament through eBay.

The auction, which includes all player jerseys from Team Central, Team North, Team South and Team West, opened today (Wednesday, Feb. 16) and closes on Saturday, Feb. 26, with the bid for each jersey starting at $100.

Bids can be placed at NAHL.com/Auction.

The jerseys were designed by the NAHL and manufactured by OT Sports.

The NAHL Top Prospects Tournament will be held from Feb. 20-22 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich. For more information on the event, visit NAHLTopProspects.com. 

Jr Blues Polar Bear Party Feb 5th!

Come join us for a balcony party on Feb 5th before the Jr Blues take on the Chicago Hitmen….Live Music and Free Souvenir Mugs!

The party will be from 5 – 7 pm and will feature live music from Closing Time, central Illinois' premier 90's tribute band. Free souvenir beer mugs with admission while supplies last.

National anthem that night will be performed by local musician Rachel Rambach.

Sponsored by THR & Associates.

Former Jr Blues and SoCal defenseman winds up on the East Coast

Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

As a five-year-old growing up in Southern California, Darren Rowe had no idea he would wind up across the country playing defense for the Massachusetts hockey team.

Tired from practice, Rowe emerged from the practice rink’s locker room clearly drained. But there’s never a time when Rowe refuses to play, or even talk about hockey.

Rowe hails from Simi Valley, about 40 minutes northeast of Los Angeles and 20 minutes from the Ventura County beach. It’s not your typical hockey area, but Rowe’s interest in the sport flourished nonetheless, and he credits his father and great uncle for introducing him to the sport.

“My dad’s uncle got my dad into hockey, and my dad got me into hockey when I was really small,” Rowe said. “My dad took me to the rink every day and he’d always push me to get better and better.”

Like most serious hockey players know, the sport has a tendency to envelop nearly all aspects of a player’s life. From an early age, Rowe and those around him accepted hockey and its relentless commitment.

“I was five or six years old waking up at 5 a.m. to get to practice, getting half-dressed in the car,” Rowe said. “My dad would take off work early to get me to practice. He sacrificed a lot so that I could do what I love.”

Rowe’s great love for the game parallels his talent. When he was 18, Rowe joined the Springfield Jr. Blues of the North American Hockey League (NAHL). It didn’t take long for him to establish himself as the team’s best offensive defenseman. In 57 games, Rowe tallied 36 points (nine goals, 27 assists).

The following year, Rowe jumped up to the United States Hockey League (USHL), playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders. Rowe registered seven goals and 16 assists in 52 games, contributing to the team’s 38-17 record.

His successful two years on the junior circuit opened up the eyes of various schools. Ultimately, Rowe chose UMass.

“I loved the school and the opportunity I was going to have to play here,” Rowe said. “I loved [the fact we] play in Hockey East, which is the best conference in the country. The coaches were great, and they made me feel like I was really wanted. It was a perfect fit. There were other schools I was considering, but UMass kind of clicked and it felt right.”

Rowe’s rookie year was overshadowed by the presence of fellow defensemen Matt Irwin and Justin Braun, who signed with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks following the end of their careers and are currently playing for its affiliate, the Worcester Sharks. Their departure left a huge void along UMass’ blue line – one Rowe is filling effectively on both ends of the ice.

UMass coach Don Cahoon expressed his concern with his current players’ ability to deliver the puck to the net. Rowe has certainly emerged as a leading candidate to rectify that problem, but he can’t do it alone. In eight games this season, Rowe is tied with rookie Michael Pereira as the team leader in goals, with five. Three of Rowe’s six points have come via the power play, which remains ineffective.

“I [play well] on the power play,” Rowe said. “4-on-4 situations would be a spot I also like to be in because the extra space is always good and it gives me more time to make plays.”

Despite UMass’ poor start (0-6-3, 0-3-3 Hockey East), which can be attributed to an abundance of freshmen and inexperience, Rowe relishes his frequent opportunities to play against some of the nation’s best teams.

“[Hockey East] is great because we’re playing the best teams every night in [Boston College], BU, Maine and [New Hampshire]. It’s fun playing those games, but the schedule can get pretty tough with schoolwork and stuff. We’re practicing for three or four hours a day and we have workouts [in between]. The toughest part has been managing my time well.”

While balancing academics with hockey, Rowe finds the much-needed time for extracurricular activities as well. He lives with teammates Eddie Olczyk, Anthony Raiola and Rocco Carzo, all of whom share common interests.

“I enjoy playing any kind of sports, and I like going out and doing stuff with my friends and hanging out with my roommates,” Rowe said. “We play a lot of Xbox [especially] NHL ‘11. We play it all day, every day.”

Despite playing in a relatively small arena, Rowe’s eyes light up every time you mention the Mullins Center.

“It’s great; It’s probably one of the best rinks in Hockey East,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun; every home game is just a great night.”

Regarding the various controversial chants which fill the arena throughout home games, Rowe is all for it.

“For sure we hear [the chants],” he said. “The start of the game with lineups is pretty funny, especially when we have a huge crowd. It’s definitely like a sixth man out there, so it’s really good to see that.”

On top of playing inside the Mullins Center, Rowe appreciates the leadership which pours down from various members of the team, including captain Paul Dainton and co-captains T.J. Syner, Michael Marcou and Danny Hobbs.

“They’re great; they’re really experienced guys who take it really seriously,” Rowe said. “They all have a really good work ethic, and we can really follow how they’re working, and they lead by example. It’s really great to have leaders like that, and they make you want to work harder every day.”

“The coaches are really great and they want you to be your best all the time,” he added. “You can’t take a play off in practice or in a game. They do everything for us to help us win, and it’s really great to have coaches that care that much about winning. It’s a lot of fun playing for them.”

Although he’s a native of the West Coast, Rowe is certainly not out of place in the Northeast, as he’s been an important contributor for the Minutemen. The trend seems to be continuing, as more hockey players continue to emerge from traditional non-hockey areas like California.

 Growing up a big Los Angeles Kings fan, Rowe pointed to Wayne Gretzky’s arrival to the Kings in 1998 as a major reason for the growth of hockey in not only California, but the entire United States.

“My dad was a Kings fan forever, and when the Kings got Gretzky it was a really big deal,” Rowe said. “It was great for hockey in L.A., and a lot of players came from that because a lot of kids starting playing because of Gretzky.”

Rowe has come a long way from his youth league days in California. After dedicating himself to hockey shortly after entering elementary school, Rowe has not looked back. He continues to succeed at every level at which he plays, and it’s impossible to tell if that trend will stop or continue.

“The ultimate goal is obviously to go as far as I can with hockey,” Rowe said. “If that doesn’t work out, then I want to do something [involving] hockey, whether it’s coaching, scouting, or anything with hockey, because I love the game and it never gets old.”

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

Former Jr Blues McKenna gets the start for Devils

John MacLean saw an opportunity to give his team an emotional lift.

So the Devils coach took the bold step of naming St. Louis native Mike McKenna his starting goalie in Saturday night's game against the Blues.

"Mike is going to play tonight," MacLean said. "Mike's from here. I've seen him play some big games and we'll give him an opportunity tonight and see if he can give us a spark."

Junior Blues Win Again

        The Jr. Blues concluded their weekend defeating the Janesville Jets 4-1 Saturday night. The game started off with seeing two fights in the first 4 seconds. Gavin Tufte got the best of Brandon Boelter and Clay Blankenship squared off against Pijus Rulevicius. All of the players were assessed a five minute major, for fighting. Just minutes later, Stewart Bell opened up the scoring, as the shot bounced past Jet’s goaltender David Jacobson. The shot came in as a dump as the Blues were a line change.

         The second period barely got underway, when Ethan Nauman sent the Jr. Blues up by two goals. Finding themselves in penalty trouble, the Blues killed off all three of the Janesville power plays. Shortly after being shorthanded, Alex Brooks of Janesville scored the Jets’ only goal of the game. The period finished physical and fast, as the Blues played with a new sense of urgency and toughness.

        As the third period got underway, Janesville stepped up their game, out shooting Springfield 9-7. Blue’s forward Ross Andersen was penalized for a questionable tripping call, and the Jets were unable to convert on the power play again. Seven minutes later, Andersen went on the attack. After receiving a pass from Taylor Wolte, Andersen came across the slot and slid in a goal past the Jet’s netminder. Chris Sitler closed out the scoring with a minute left on an empty net. When the horn went off the Springfield crowd cheered loudly for a great weekend of hockey. Come on Springfield, let’s get behind our team!

*3 Stars of the Game*
1.Andrew Martin
2. Stewart Bell
3. Ethan Nauman

Third Period Rally Lifts Blues!

        The Junior Blues shocked the Janesville Jets Saturday in game two of the three game weekend series. Both teams found themselves scoreless in the first period, as the Blues outshot the jets 7-6. Big hits and fast play, was the game plan for both teams. Although the Blues did not manage to convert on the Janesville penalty, Springfield’s physical presence was opening the ice for their offense.

        Janesville controlled the scoring end of the second period, with goals from Larkin Jacobson and Connor McBride. The Blues’ penalty kill was their huge accomplishment. Killing off three penalties, Springfield frustrated the visiting Jets, and won defensive battles.

        Fans got twenty minutes of excitement, when the Jr. Blues started a scoring spree. With their offense set on overdrive, Shayne McLaughlin was the spark that lit the goal-scoring fuse. Ross Andersen netted another goal just six minutes later, thanks to a pass from Ethan Nauman. Springfield converted on a Jet’s penalty, when TJ Poganski blasted a shot past Jet’s goaltender David Jacobson. Exciting the crowd even more, Taylor Wolte and Mike Fallon each tallied goals as the Blues crushed the Jets. Springfield goaltender Andrew Martin made 21 saves, as the Blues took game 2.

*3 Stars of the Game*
1. Andrew Martin
2. Ethan Nauman
3. TJ Poganski