By JAMES COOK
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Traverse City Hounds could turn out to be a class reunion for Traverse City West.
With the signing of goalie John Posler, the Hounds now have four Titans from the 2009-10 squad that advanced to the Division state semifinals.
Posler left not long into the season to play Midget AAA in Lansing, but spent the preseason and first several games of the season in a Titans jersey.
The Hounds also recently signed forward Jake Gillis, who was already on that team, and could have ex-Titans Tyler Thirlby and Alex Grizzel back from last year’s squad, when the team was based in Hartland and played in the national championships in Las Vegas.
“The hometown atmosphere of Traverse City — it’s all hockey,” Posler said. “Some of the other places I played, it was like nobody was really that into hockey. You know in Traverse City, you’ll get all hockey. You’ve got the (Detroit) Red Wings coming in, now we’re getting a Junior team and you’ve got all the high-level high school teams.”
And the list of other places he’s played is a long one.
He started out in New Mexico until age 13, then moved to Phoenix for a year to play Bantam AAA and then to Traverse City at age 15. It was then that he played for West briefly before moving on to Lansing and then returning to Traverse City for two years in a Bay Reps uniform.
Posler played for five different teams last year — including three in the Midwest Junior Hockey League, where two teams traded for his services for playoff runs.
“After moving so much last year, I think it would be awesome to just stay home a play Junior hockey,” Posler said. “I know (Hounds owner) Scott Gardiner moved their goalie on last year to play NCAA D-3, and that’s where I want to play. ... I trust in him that he can do that with me this year if I work hard.”
One of those games last year was a MWJHL exhibition where he started in goal for the Soo Firehawks at Centre ICE against the Hartland before the Hounds moved to Traverse City.
“It was eye-opening, really, to see how many people came out and supported (us),” Posler said. “Not just how many adults that came out, but how many kids came out that played hockey and supported their friends. I was the only TC kid on the Soo (team), but a lot of TC West people came out and supported Thirlby and Grizzel and (Scott) Luca.”
While in Phoenix, Posler said he played alongside several players who were NHL draft picks the last two years — Phoenix’s 2012 first-round pick Henrik Samuelsson and Coyotes’ 2013 sixth-round pick Brendan Burke. He was also teammates with No. 4 overall pick Seth Jones on Rocky Mountain Development squad in 2008.
“I look back at that and see they’re playing the NHL and I’m still playing in Juniors,” Posler said. “That really makes me want to push myself to get better to play at that higher level.”
“John Posler had a great season last year, splitting his time between Holland and the Soo,” Gardiner said. “He working his tail off this summer to improve and I expect him to challenge for the No. 1 spot, for sure.”
Gillis, meanwhile, is back from playing the last three seasons at Lawrence Academy in Massachusetts, where he helped the team win the New England championship as a junior.
“I didn’t make the USHL and I knew Scotty (Gardiner) really well,” Gillis said. “I wanted to start working towards a degree, and I figured the easiest way to do that would be staying at home, playing for coach Gardiner. It all kind of worked out for me.
“Scott has always liked my physical play. I think I just fit well for the team.”
In Gillis’ only year at Traverse City West, the Titans made a playoff run to the semifinals before being stopped 2-0 by a Howell team that featured Gardiner as an assistant coach.
“Jake is a high-end player — speed, skating, strength,” Gardiner said. “He can do a lot of everything. We expect him to step in and be one of our leaders.”
Gillis — who also previously played on a summer league team with Posler — said some of the players who have already committed have started getting together for skates and workouts.
The team that won the New England title had 15 seniors on it. Gillis centered the third line, but was relied upon for more of a leadership role the following season as a senior.
“It was me and two other guys that got about 90 percent of our points,” Gillis said. “Our senior year was a crash course, basically. I had a good season.”
He missed about half his senior year with the first concussion of his hockey career. Grizzel could miss an extended part of the season recovering from a shoulder injury.
Other area links continue to grow in the league, where former TC North Stars player Brett Englebright was named head coach of the Michigan Ice Dogs.