Wednesday, February 01, 2006

North Stars visit Lone Star State

They say that things are bigger in Texas, so the Traverse City North Stars’ four-game swing through the Lone Star State must be the team’s biggest road trip of the year.

The mission? Go head-up with the two-time defending North American Hockey League champion Texas Tornado and the Texarkana Bandits, a team that North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner calls the “heir to the throne.”

“We knew what we were getting when we put these teams on the schedule,” Gardiner explained. “We wanted to play the best of the best and see right away as a first year team exactly how we measure up with them. It’s a big challenge to go on the road against two of the tops teams in two of the toughest buildings in junior hockey. We’ll find out a lot about ourselves.”

The champion Tornado sit atop the NAHL’s South Division with a 29-9-3 record, followed closely by the Bandits at 27-10-2. While Texarkana swept a two-game series at Centre ICE arena in November, most of the Stars will get their first peek at the Dallas area-based Texas club. One Traverse City player who has seen his share of Texas hockey is Josh Sorenson, who helped the team with the 2004-05 Robertson Cup before being dealt to the Stars early this season. TC defenseman-turned-forward Eric Elmblad also spent 2004-05 with the Dallas area-based Tornado.

“It’s like a totally professional atmosphere – you’re treated like royalty,” said Sorenson. “And it’s the best junior hockey building I’ve ever been in. It’s like another home away from home, and I loved every minute I was there.”

Texas leads the NAHL in attendance, averaging more than 3,200 fans per contest at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter – or better than 1,300 more than the next team on the list, Fairbanks. Texarkana is fifth in the NAHL at 1,484 per game.

“It’s a big deal down here, and it’s going to be a different kind of hockey – more physical than what we’re probably used to,” Gardiner added. “Frankly, I’m kind of curious myself to see what it’s all about.”

A trio of North Stars did not make the flight to Dallas, including Ryan Bond (concussion), Joe Schweiger (shoulder) and Mike Sand (illness). The players that did make the trip are in for quite an experience, Sorenson says.

“It’s an amazing place to play hockey. It’s different than anywhere else. It would be nice to come down here and get a win, and I hope we can pull it off.”

The North Stars (13-22-5) face off against the Bandits on Wednesday and Friday in Texarkana, and take on the Tornado in Thursday and Saturday contests. The team returns to Centre ICE arena Feb. 10-11 for a rematch against Mahoning Valley, who split with the Stars last weekend in Traverse City.

“We’re coming off one of our biggest wins of the year,” said Gardiner, referring to the club’s 4-3 shootout victory against the Phantoms on Saturday. “It would be nice if we could turn that into a good showing this week.”

WHO: Traverse City North Stars (13-22-5) vs. Texarkana Bandits (27-10-2) and Texas Tornado (29-9-3)
WHEN: Stars at Texarkana on Wed./Fri.; Stars at Texas Thu./Sat.
WHERE: Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Frisco, Tex. and Four States Entertainment Center in Texarkana
WHEN: Wed.: 8 p.m.; Thu./Sat.: 8:30 p.m.; Fri.: 8:05 p.m.; All times Eastern
WEBCAST: Links to audio/video feeds at

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