Monday, January 16, 2006

North Stars finally win in Alpena

In a season of firsts, the Traverse City North Stars put another inaugural milestone behind them on Sunday, winning for the first time at cross-state rival Alpena. After three unsuccessful tries at Northern Lights Arena, the Stars pulled out a thrilling 3-2 triumph in a shootout.

Ryan Bond’s shootout tally and the stalwart netkeeping of Jeremy Kaleniecki (pictured) proved to be the difference after 65 minutes of play could not decide the issue. Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner conceded a lack of artistry in the victory, but can find too much fault in a weekend that saw his team collect five of a possible six points in three road contests.

“Hey, a win is a win and we hadn’t won over here, so we’ll take it,” Gardiner assessed. “It’s just another one of those baby steps I keep talking about. Right now, we’re playing 5-on-5 in our own zone so much better.”

On Sunday, Steven Oleksy got things started for the visiting North Stars, scoring a powerplay goal 11:44 into the affair. Bond assisted. The IceDiggers evened things up a mere 1:34 later on Todd Rudasill’s even-strength tally, and took a 2-1 edge 2:22 into the third stanza when Zach Barron scored. Matt Larke knotted the outing at 2-all 1:30 later on assists from Joe St. John and Adam Sponseller, and the teams trading unsuccessful scoring chances for the rest of the final regulation period.

Alpena (6-25-4) put 60 shots on Kaleniecki, including an astonishing 27 in the second period alone.

“We faced back-to-back 5-on-3 situations and they had a lot of shots during that period,” Gardiner explained. “I was very pleased with our penalty kill tonight.”

After a five-minute overtime session that saw only five combined shots on goal, Oleksy and Bond – the first two North Stars shooters – bested Diggers goalkeep Peter O’Hara, and Kaleniecki slammed the door on the hosts in each of their attempts.

The win moves Traverse City to 12-17-5 and gives the team some much-needed momentum heading into this week’s North American Hockey League North Division Showcase in greater Youngstown, Ohio.

“To get five out of six on this road trip really helps, and we’re going to need it,” Gardiner admitted. “We’ll see the USA-18s twice and Cleveland twice at the Showcase.”

The NAHL Northern Showcase kicks off on Thursday and runs through Sunday at the home rink of the Mahoning Valley Phantoms.

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