BAY CITY, MI -- Making sure you’re developing hockey players the best way possible is a year-round job in Bay City, Mich., home to the Tri-City IceHawks, members of the United States Premier Hockey League.
Owner and general manager Colleen Dore works constantly with head coach Matt Summers and assistant coaches Chase Dore and Rick Turner to create a richly layered development program and overall hockey experience.
“The organization is looking forward to working hard in the off-season to better prepare our returning players, and looking for some more pieces to the puzzle,” said Summers, of the IceHawks, who celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2017. “Bay City is a great hockey town, and the IceHawks are a great organization where a junior hockey player can make a name for himself. The Bay City Civic Arena is a great rink to go to every day.”
IceHawks players are on the ice for practice a minimum of four hours per week, and there are more than one option for dry-land training.
“Players have a choice of workout facilities. We have a gym in the rink, and players also had an off-site gym that they were able to attend this year,” Colleen Dore added. “The Old Town Gym has modern equipment, a pool and a sauna. Most players do prefer the rink facility – it is just easier for most players.”
There is also an emphasis on player comfort and in-game experience – the latter for both players and their fans.
“We have an entry tunnel for the players to enter the ice. We incorporated this to make the players feel professional. Entering on to the ice through the tunnel tends to make the players feel special, and proud to be an IceHawk, which was our intention,” Colleen Dore added. “We also waited for season to end to give our bus an update. We are having it wrapped and we hope to have the bus upgrade completed this summer.
“We also have a Mascot, Harry the Hawk,” she added. “Kids love to see the mascot!”
Michigan, being one of the hockey mecca states of the U.S., certainly has a lot of options for the prospective player. The IceHawks work constantly to keep themselves in the best company for Michigan hockey organizations, while maintaining their commitment to the player pool in their immediate area.
“We try very hard as a staff to bring a good experience to junior and college-bound players,” added Colleen Dore. “There is a lot of hockey in the state of Michigan, so our focus has always been to sign local players. It doesn’t always work out that way, but our intentions when creating the team was to give players a junior hockey experience close to home, so they could live at home and still play competitive hockey.”
Though they may stay close to Bay City, players have the chance to travel to even more scouting-rich areas, like Chicago and New England, through their membership in the nationally-renown USPHL.
“The USPHL Premier league is outstanding,” said Colleen Dore. “We have to recruit harder as a coaching staff to find high-quality junior players that can compete at this level.
“We are a developmental hockey program, dedicated to training great hockey skills along with life skills,” added Chase Dore. “We, the coaches, are dedicated to helping the kids achieve their dreams.”
Players that do sign on will get a chance to play in front of, in some cases, well over 200 NCAA and ACHA college scouts each year. That doesn’t even include the higher-level USPHL teams in the tuition-free National Collegiate Development Conference that are looking for players for the future.
The Showcases were some of the brightest moments this year from Summer’s perspective.
“My highlights this year were seeing players talking to college scouts after a few showcase games, and seeing them excited on the bus after getting a scout’s business card,” Summers said. “That gives them motivation, and more to play for.”
Success stories of former IceHawks players moving on are plentiful. There are six players currently playing at the NCAA Division 3 level this season, including Sam Wilbur (2011-12 IceHawks). He is clicking at more than a point-per-game pace for his career at SUNY-Fredonia, where he is an alternate captain. He had 79 points in 76 collegiate games.
Ryan Murray (Trine), Caleb O’Brien (Plymouth State), Eric Tien (Milwaukee School of Engineering) and goalies Cody Foster (Becker) and Landon Trutt (Bryn Athyn) round out the alumni currently playing NCAA Division 3 hockey.
Three more alumni are playing in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and nearly 20 are currently with ACHA teams at various levels.
Former IceHawk A.J. Martinelli (2015-16) is in his second year with the heavily scouted Compuware 18U program, and his former IceHawks teammate Benito Posa is currently with the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks. That 2015-16 team won what was then the USPHL Midwest league’s regular season championship, which GM Colleen Dore refers to as the on-ice high point for the IceHawks.
Prior to this season, some of the alumni included Cam Ashley, who played 19 games in the USHL and was drafted by the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. Former IceHawks captain Joe Hawkins (2013-14) played for NCAA Division 3 Daniel Webster College, and Josh Ybarra played D-3 with UMass-Dartmouth.
Former IceHawk Maxim Plyuiko went back to his homeland of Russia and played in that country’s top junior league, the MHL, and the second-highest pro league, the VHL.
Other alumni have hung up their playing blades, but stayed in hockey.
Russian import Max Plyuiko moved on from the IceHawks to play in his home country's top junior league, the MHL, and also the second-tier pro league, the VHL.
From way back in the second year of the IceHawks, Mitch MacLeod is currently Asst. Equipment Manager for the AHL’s Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames’ top farm team. Bay City’s own Jared Martlock joined the OHL Saginaw Spirit’s staff as its Promotions Coordinator.
Former IceHawks who have coached local high school teams include Chris Fair (Mid-Michigan Storm), Zac MacLeod (Mona Shores) and Justin Lacy (Heritage).
With so much successful advancement to various college and higher junior levels, the IceHawks model is proven, and the on-ice product is expected to be even better next year.
“I'm very excited because we had a young team. It's the players’ jobs to put in the work in the off-season to make sure they gain a step,” said Summers.
The IceHawks are putting together a team with some returning players and prospective recruits for the Pre-Draft Tournament in Canton, Mich., to be held May 4-6. Tryouts will also be announced on the www.tricityicehawks.com website.
“That will be a great opportunity for new players to get their feet wet and have a review of what we expect a few months later for training camp and long season,” Summers added.
Summers joined the IceHawks staff last year, just after retiring from a 10-year pro career. He moved his wife and son to Michigan from Mississippi to take on this first-ever coaching job.
“I think next season is going to be much better,” said GM Colleen Dore. “Matt is a hands-on coach and works well with players on and off the ice.”
He is joined by Chase Dore, who came off a five-year junior career to begin coaching. He was head coach of the 2016-17 season after the original coach left due to a promotion in another job.
This season, Chase wanted to stay on but as assistant coach, as he got married and welcomed his first child, and Colleen’s granddaughter, Charlotte.
Assistant coach Rick Turner, who “brings a lot of skill to the team,” played junior hockey, college hockey (with Liberty University of the ACHA) and European pro hockey before joining the IceHawks staff.
With this staff, a strong developmental model and advancement record, and an exciting in-game experience, the Tri-City IceHawks are set to rise throughout their future.