TRAVERSE CITY - Dallas Drake has hoisted plenty of hockey hardware. He's lifted an NCAA championship trophy at Northern Michigan University, a British Columbia Junior Hockey League crown and Mowat Cup with the Vernon Lakers, and most recently raised the sport's ultimate prize: the Stanley Cup.
Little more than a year removed from his triumphant career-capping Cup quest with the Detroit Red Wings, Drake has set his sights on yet another icy goblet - the NAHL's Robertson Cup - as a member of the North Stars new ownership consortium.
"The thing that jumped out at me right away when this opportunity came along was that it was a chance to make sure local kids had a place to play at this level," said Drake, who spent 15 seasons in the National Hockey League. "It's a great brand of hockey, and a great stepping stone for the college game and beyond. We all want to see junior hockey remain viable right here in Traverse City, and we'll do anything we can to promote the team and the game."
Drake joins founding owners Steve and Susan Fournier, along with area businessmen Peter Jones and Blaine Vadeboncoeur, Jim Jalovec, and majority owners Raj and Rick Wiener, in assuming the reins of the fifth-year Traverse City franchise. Head coach/GM Anthony Palumbo and his coaching staff will also return.
"I think what we all saw was an opportunity to come together to help build on what Steve and Sue had started," said Raj Wiener, a governmental affairs attorney and longtime Traverse City homeowner. "The North Stars could have been sold but we waned to make sure it stayed here. Now there's a new energy to an already great, affordable, family-friendly product. From right here in Traverse City we can create opportunities for young players and business owners as we move our players on to colleges and the professional hockey ranks."
Wiener and husband/law partner Richard Weiner, have served the state of Michigan in a variety of regulatory and governmental capacities.
"Raj brings a ton of leadership experience and her work ethic is legendary," said Fournier, who helped found the club with wife Susan back in 2004. "All these people are in it (ownership) for the right reasons. We're very excited about it - excited to have some assistance - and we'd like to be able to devote more time to the construction business (Grand Traverse Construction), and spend more time with our grandkids, while still remaining a part of the team."
Jones, owner of Great Lakes Forge, Inc. - a Traverse City concern that provides raw materials to aerospace, oil and gas, and other heavy manufacturing industries - says the chance to reciprocate drew him to the group.
"Hockey has been such a special and important part of my own kids' lives these past 10-12 years," explained Jones, a Binghamton, N.Y. native. "And it's been guys like Anthony, Steve, and Chad (Fournier) that have given so much, it just seemed like a natural way to give something back. I think having the team here is an important influence on the development of our local players. It gives them exposure to that next level of the game, something to shoot for."
Vadeboncoeur, a longtime North Stars housing parent, is owner of Top Line Electric, LLC, in Traverse City. His wife Christy serves as the team's academic advisor.
"First of all, I think it's a tribute to how hard Steve and Sue have worked for four years that you have a group who was interested in joining in," said Vadeboncoeur, a Manistee native. "It's only because of what they built and the foundation they laid that the product was so attractive. The opportunity was presented for us to be a part of something special here, and help keep the shine on Hockeytown North."
Jalovec, friend of hockey and of the Wieners, currently residing in Florida added, "I just wish I lived closer to be part of all the fun."
The reorganization has already yielded additional personnel, including Marketing and Advertising Manager Wendy Nienhouse, and husband Todd Nienhouse, who will serve as volunteer group services outreach coordinator. Ted Price will return as head of the North Stars housing program, and Dave Glazier as head of gamenight operations.
While each member of the new ownership association brings a wealth of commerce-savvy perspective to the proverbial table, Drake wields a comprehensive hockey pedigree. He first garnered acclaim at age 15 with Rossland of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League where he secured three consecutive league MVP awards. After a season with the BCJHL's Vernon Lakers, Drake headed to Northern Michigan University where he powered the Wildcats to the 1991 NCAA title.
"I had great experiences at the junior level, and even played in a place that was a lot like Traverse City when I was with Vernon," Drake explained. "It's a time of great development on and off the ice, and we think it's an important resource that the area should retain."
While at NMU, Drake logged 108 goals and 123 assists over four years. Following his senior season, Drake skated onto the Red Wings roster right out of training camp, forgoing the minors on his way to an 18-goal, 26-assist rookie campaign.
Drake's professional hockey career took him to the Winnipeg Jets in 1993, with whom he would spend the next seven years (the Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996), and to St. Louis, where he served as captain for three of the six subsequent seasons with the Blues, setting up his championship Motown reprisal.
"Dallas is a guy with an impressive hockey resume, to say the least," Palumbo offered. "And our players are in a pretty unique position to be able to draw upon the experiences of a guy like that. We're very fortunate as an organization to add the caliber of people to the fold that we have. We're all very much looking forward to a great season and beyond."
Wiener has already begun to spearhead enhancements to the North Stars gamenight experience, from a family ticket option to pre-game buffets and charitable tie-ins - such as a pink-ice Breast Cancer Awareness Month series in October. Additionally, Wiener says she's looking forward to a hockey dad barbeque to open the NHL Prospects Tournament on Sept. 6 to benefit children's hospitals in Michigan.
"We see a lot of wonderful opportunities to come together as hockey fans and civic-minded members of our community," she explained. "The whole organization, from the players to the front office, get better and stronger every year and the 2009 season promises great fun for everyone."
The North Stars open their three-day training camp on Friday at Centre ICE arena, with the top players from each of the previous camps vying for 25 available roster spots. The camp, which is open to the public, will culminate on Sunday with the Blue & White all-star game, featuring the weekend's top performers.
"There's real momentum here," Drake added. "The team was right there last year, both in the regular season and throughout a tough playoff series. As an ownership group, I know we'll do everything we can to support the coaching staff and build a team in Traverse City that can compete for a championship."
(Nathan also is a writer for Maineiacs Post to Post and the Maine Hockey Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)