Wednesday, January 18, 2006

North Stars gear up for Showcase

The Traverse City North Stars are looking to build on the momentum accrued after taking five out of a possible six points during last weekend’s three-game road swing, but they’ll have to do it against the best of the best in the North American Hockey League’s North Division.

The first-place Cleveland Barons and the second-place Team USA Under-18 squad will each face the Stars twice at the six-team North Division Showcase event near Youngstown, Ohio which begins on Thursday and runs through Sunday.

“We have our work cut out for us, and we won’t use points as a goal for the weekend,” explained Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “We have to continue to work on our own game and continue to work on playing in our own zone.

“When we went on that (nine-game losing) skid we were giving up way too many quality scoring chances. Now that we’ve started to turn it around, we’re still giving up shots, but nowhere near the quantity of shots from in close that we were. We need to continue that trend.”

Since the NAHL instituted a balanced intradivisional schedule – meaning that each team in the division plays every other team an equal number of times – the Stars’ tough Showcase schedule was merely the luck of the draw. The only quirk arising from the event is that the Barons won’t have to make the trip to Traverse City for a two-game series later in the season.

“They get away with not coming up here, but that’s just the way the schedule worked out,” Gardiner added.

The North Stars have won two of their last three contests and lost the third in overtime against the Team USA Under-17 team last Friday. Stars defenseman Arthur Bidwell thinks he and his teammates can build on the momentum of that run.

“We have to play two very tough teams, probably among the best in the league,” Bidwell said. “But I think we have a good shot with the way we’re playing right now. Almost all the guys they’re going to be putting out there have Division I (college) scholarships, but we can’t let that intimidate us. We just have to be of the mindset to play our game and leave everything out there on the ice.”

Traverse City (12-17-5) has won three of eight meetings with Cleveland (23-13-4), including a sweep at Centre ICE on Nov. 4-5. The Team USA U-18s won the only meeting with the North Stars, a 5-1 victory on Nov. 23.

“Cleveland is a very solid team and they’ve even made some recent additions to improve their team even more,” Gardiner said. “And while we’ve had some success against the Under-17s, the U-18s play a little bit different game. There’s a big difference in the speed and the skill and how they move the puck. They really know how to attack.”

The event also affords players a chance to be scouted by representatives of college and professional teams. Gardiner says the added exposure shouldn’t be a factor in how his team plays.

“There will be lots of scouts, but in that atmosphere, I don’t think it adds too much pressure.”

The Stars will face the Team USA U-18s (22-8-4) on Thursday and Friday before a Saturday-Sunday two-game set against the Barons. The team will return to Centre ICE arena next weekend for a Jan. 27-28 set against Mahoning Valley.

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