Sunday, February 26, 2006

Traverse City folds in third, loses to U-17's

For the second straight game, the Traverse City North Stars took a reasonably comfortable lead into the third period, and for the second straight game an opponent came from behind to claim victory at Centre ICE arena.

On Sunday afternoon, it was the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, scoring thrice in less than seven minutes to knock off the hosts by a 4-3 count. The loss comes on the heels of Saturday’s shootout setback against Texas, after TC had constructed a 2-0 advantage.

“It was still a great weekend from an effort standpoint,” assessed Traverse City head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “And that’s a good sign heading into this stage of the season. We played nine hard periods plus an overtime this weekend, and I’m excited to see us play that way.”

Stars defenseman Steven Oleksy scored his second goal in as many nights to open the scoring on Sunday at the 15:21 mark of the third period. Adam Sponseller and Jared Mullen assisted. Joe Schweiger pushed the Stars bulge to 2-0 a mere 2:33 later, as Sponseller drew another assist. Mike Cieslak cut the U-17 deficit in half 2:38 into the second stanza, but Travis Paeth lit the lamp at 15:27 to help Traverse City regain a two-goal cushion. Patrick Nagorsen assisted.

A pivotal sequence near the halfway point of the final period saw Brett Englebright take a pass from Jake Erway and roof a shot that hit the inside top of the net, and bounced back into play. The goal judge hit the red light, the players celebrated, and the celebratory horns echoed throughout Centre ICE arena before referee Mike McCreary waved off the goal despite repeated objections from the goal judge, linesman, and nearly 800 fans in attendance.

“I’m not the kind of guy who will blame the officials for anything,” Gardiner said. “But that showed poor judgment on the referee’s part. They’re not supposed to help determine the outcome of the game, and that would have put us ahead 4-1 with 10 minutes or so to play. But we’re supposed to be able to overcome those kinds of things, the things we have no control over.”

Given new life, Team USA-17 (31-9-4) seized control of the affair, as A.J. Sturges (10:09), Colby Cohen (11:43), and Cade Fairchild (16:36) scored a trio of unrequited markers down the stretch to give the visitors two points.

Jeremy Kaleniecki got the start in net for TC, turning aside 27 of the 31 shots he faced. Josh Unice worked the pipes for Team USA, making 21 stops.

By virtue of Team USA’s 11-3 undressing of Alpena on Saturday night, the North Stars (15-30-6) retain a 13-point lead on the IceDiggers for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NAHL’s North Division. TC has seven games left, while Alpena will play 11 times, including four versus the North Stars. Mahoning Valley comes to town next weekend for a Friday-Saturday series at Centre ICE.

“They’re a very good team,” said Gardiner. “They’re big and they play with skill. We have to figure out a way to beat them, since we’ve only done it once.”

Both games next weekend face-off at 7:30 p.m.

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