Thursday, January 19, 2006

USA Under-18's beat North Stars, Alpena falls

The U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad is among the top junior teams on the continent, and they proved it again on Thursday, handing the Traverse City North Stars a 7-3 setback in the opening contest of the North American Hockey League’s North Division Showcase near Youngstown, Ohio.

The U-18s were fresh off a one-goal loss at the University of Michigan varsity team in an exhibition contest, and a 10-1 drubbing of North Division rival Alpena last week.

On Thursday, Chris Atkinson churned out a goal and a pair of assists for Team USA, including a score during a four-goal explosion in the third period. Team USA improved to 23-8-4 in NAHL play, while the Stars fell to 12-18-5.

The teams combined for 19 penalties for 46 minutes. TC was 0-for-8 on powerplay chances, while USA converted four of their eight opportunities into scores.

“We need to avoid giving them all these power play chances,” said Stars coach Scott Gardiner. “And we gave up some soft goals – I’m not afraid to say it. Five-on-five, we played ‘em pretty even-up, but they capitalized on power play chances and we didn’t.”

Bill Sweatt and Patrick Kane gave the U-18s a 2-0 edge in the first period with powerplay goals at 4:47 and 13:41, respectively. Jared Mullen answered at 14:27 on assists from Jonathan Juliano and Steve Hackman. Patrick Nagorsen registered the equalizer just 1:03 into the second period, but Team USA would issue rejoinders on six of the next seven lamplighters, including singular entries from Blake Geoffrion, Rhett Rakhshani, James O’Brien and Erik Johnson, plus Atkinson’s game-sealer with 5:31 to play. Eric Elmblad and Brett Englebright assisted on Nagorsen’s goal.

Adam Sponseller wedged an unassisted third stanza goal between those from O’Brien and Atkinson, but 5-3 was as close at Traverse City would get the rest of the way.

Ryan Donovan (pictured) started in net for the Stars, stopping 29 of the 37 shots he saw, while Joseph Palmer grabbed the win for Team USA on 29-for-32 netkeeping.

The teams meet up again on Friday at 4 p.m. in the second of four weekend outings for each of the North Division’s five teams, plus Springfield (Ill.) of the South Division. Traverse City will square off against Cleveland in morning contests on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday’s game is scheduled for an 11 a.m. face-off, while Sunday’s affair gets underway at 10 a.m.

“We have to stay out of the box, that’s the first thing,” Gardiner said. “But we have to capitalize when we have our (powerplay) chances.”

Also at the Showcase Thursday, the hometown Mahoning Valley Phantoms blanked Alpena, 3-0. IceDiggers' goalie Johnny Morrow stopped 44 shots. Alpena plays the Phantoms again tonight at 7:30 p.m.

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