Saturday, March 18, 2006

North Stars take 8-1 drubbing to USA Under-18s

It was no sweat for the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad on Friday night at Centre ICE arena, but a whole lot of Sweatt for the host Traverse City North Stars.

Bill Sweatt closed the first period and opened the second with shorthanded and powerplay goals, respectively, as the U-18s skated to an 8-1 victory over the Stars. Ten USA players registered at least a point, led by Sweatt’s pair of tallies. Rhett Rakhshani had four points, including a trio of assists, while leading scorer Patrick Kane dumped in a goal and two assists.

“They’re that good,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “I mean, they have six of the top 60 NHL prospects on that team. They’re always good, but this is a special USA team even by their standards.”

The NHL’s Central Scouting service estimates that those six prospects will each be selected in the first two rounds of the NHL entry draft later this year.

“It’s always a learning experience when we play these guys, and believe it or not, it will make us a better team as we come down the stretch here this year," added Gardiner. "You have to stay out of the box against them and have every bounce go your way, and those things didn’t happen for us tonight.”

Traverse City lost no ground in its drive for the fourth and final playoff berth in the NAHL’s North Division, as Alpena was routed at Mahoning Valley, 5-1. The teams meet three times next weekend, with Friday and Saturday games at Centre ICE arena, and Sunday’s regular season finale at Alpena’s Northern Lights Arena. If the IceDiggers lose to Mahoning Valley tonight, the Stars will have officially clinched.

“No matter what, we have to go into next weekend firing on all cylinders,” Gardiner explained. “We have to go into the playoffs on a roll, and the only way to do that – whether we’ve clinched by then or not – is to go at them like it’s all on the line.”

Brett Englebright made sure the North Stars weren’t blanked on Friday, registering his fifth marker of the 2005-06 campaign at the 9:04 mark of the third stanza. Jon Madden and Richie Zobak drew assists on the play.

TC netkeep Jeremy Kaleniecki was busy, making 40 saves on 48 shots, while his USA counterpart Joseph Palmer permitted just one goal on the 13 shots he saw.

The Stars are off for the rest of the weekend, and will gear up for next weekend’s trio of matchups with the Diggers.

“We have two weeks to fine-tune our game,” Gardiner said. “No matter what else happens, that starts next Friday against Alpena.”

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