Sunday, January 29, 2006

North Stars seize thrilling shootout win

Immediately following Friday’s night’s 8-2 loss to Mahoning Valley, the Traverse City North Stars coaches and players held an impromptu closed-door meeting to discuss the performance, the psychology of the game, and the team’s recent slide in general.

Early in Saturday’s rematch at Centre ICE, it seemed as though the lessons learned on Friday had not taken root, as the Phantoms sprinted to a 2-0 lead a mere 3:54 into the first period. However, a three-goal outburst in a span of 2:40 early in the second stanza – and subsequent 4-3 shootout victory – proved otherwise.

“That’s exactly what we were talking about (in Friday’s meeting),” North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner said. “We talked about being mentally tough and not losing confidence when you get behind. We got behind tonight but we stayed mentally tough, we stayed focused. I’m very proud of how our guys responded tonight.”

Stars forward Travis Paeth and goalie Ryan Donovan (pictured) helped key the thrilling five-session triumph, which snapped a five-game losing streak for Traverse City (13-22-5). Paeth had a pair of goals just 52 seconds apart to open the second period and delivered the game-cinching tally in the shootout session, while Donovan had the finest outing of his junior career, making 41 saves that included several spectacular efforts.

“Ryan Donovan was mentally tough tonight, too,” Gardiner added. “He had kind of a strange goal get by him, and then we’re down 2-0, but he battled back and just played an excellent game for us. He’s such a technically sound goalie. He just puts himself in a position where the puck will hit him.”

Donovan has yet to see extensive regular action as the team’s goalkeep, having worked just 546 of a possible 2,372 minutes this season.

“I try to stay prepared, to be ready when the call comes,” Donovan explained. “You have to be able to go out there and ‘be the guy’ when you get the chance. We haven’t been getting a lot of bounces our way recently, but we got some tonight.”

The North Stars fell into the early hole on Saturday when Matt Atsoff’s shot was deflected high into the air, over Donovan’s shoulder and into the net just 2:43 into the contest. Drew Satterly cleaned up a loose puck in a body-strewn Stars crease a little more than a minute later, and the stage was set for the host’s u-turn.

Paeth got things cranked up a mere 1:03 into the second period, scoring a powerplay goal as arranged by Patrick Nagorsen and Steven Oleksy. Paeth repeated the feat at even strength at 1:55, and Jake Erway converted the North Stars trifecta at 3:43. Richie Zobak assisted on Paeth’s second tally, while Joe St. John and Josh Sorenson were credited with setting up Erway.

Marc Menzione evened things up for Mahoning Valley (23-13-4) at 9:19 with the only goal of the third period when he strolled from behind the North Stars goal into the crease, and backhanded the puck into the top corner of the net. The teams then traded possessions for the remainder of the third and through the overtime session, setting up the shootout heroics.

After Donovan rebuked Phantoms forward Jacob Roadhouse to open the shootout, Oleksy ignited the raucous Centre ICE contingent with a conversion for the hosts. Mike Maltese answered for Mahoning Valley, but the recently-inked Jon Madden put the Stars ahead 2-1 in the shootout with a lamplighter of his own. Donovan stopped Matt Quigley, followed by Ryan Zapolski’s denial of TC’s Brett Englebright, and it was Paeth who could deliver the victory with his next shot – and he did.

“I don’t know, I just had a good feeling all day, and all game long,” explained Paeth, who now has 12 goals on the season. “I just felt … confident today, and that’s how I felt as I was taking the (game-winning) shot.”

Paeth beat Zapolski clean on the game-winner, wristing the puck just under the crossbar and sending nearly 1,000 fans home happy.

The Phantoms outshot the host North Stars by a 44-23 margin. Bryce Merriam started the game in goal for Mahoning Valley, but was shaken up in a scrum near the goal mouth and left after Erway’s goal.

Despite the much-needed victory, things don’t get any easier for the North Stars. The team will fly to Texas this week four a four-game swing that includes dates against the 27-10-2 Texarkana Bandits and the two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado. The Stars face Texarkana on Wednesday and Friday and the Dallas area-based Tornado on Thursday and Saturday.

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