Friday, March 31, 2006

North Stars take Game 1 with Team USA

Not bad, for openers.

Richie Zobak and Jonathan Juliano scored stand-alone goals in the first and second periods, respectively, on Thursday at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube, as the Traverse City North Stars knocked off the top-seeded U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad 2-1 in the opening game of the Robertson Cup playoffs. The teams face off again on Friday in the second game of the best-of-five North Division semifinal series.

“You want to come in and win both games here, but you’d take a split,” said Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “So to come in here and take the first one in their building is a big step for us.”

Zobak got things going with the only marker of the opening period, sending a shot from the point past Team USA goalie Brad Philips. Jared Mullen and captain Steven Oleksy were credited with assists on the power play effort. Juliano netted the only goal of the second on a pretty top-shelf backhander. Matt Larke and Steve Hackman set up the near end-to-end rush.

Team USA finally got on the board with 10:17 to play, as Brennan Vargas cut the host’s deficit in half, making for some anxious final minutes for the visiting North Stars.

“We got off on the right foot,” Oleksy explained. “It’s been an up and down year, but you go into the playoffs hoping that you can peak at the right time, and I think we are. It was a pretty tough defensive battle, and both goaltenders played well – ours just played a little bit better.”

Stars goalkeep Jeremy Kaleniecki (pictured) was nearly impenetrable on Thursday, steering aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced. Philips faced 23 shots, claiming 21 of them.

“It was a grueling game,” Gardiner added. “We’re not focusing on anything except the period we’re playing, the shift we’re skating – we don’t want our guys looking any farther ahead than their next shift, and we were able to maintain that focus tonight. We hope we can carry it right on through to tomorrow.”

The contest was played about as quickly, cleanly, and efficiently as possible. The clubs combined for just 18 penalty minutes, completing the contest in a mere 2:09. Gardiner says it’s a showdown between two evenly-matched teams.

“We’re a skating team and so are they,” he said. “We’re had so many close games, I think it’s just a matter of us playing similar styles.”

Game 2 is set for Friday at 7 p.m. The game can be heard via the Internet at The series shifts back to Centre ICE arena for Games 3-4, set for Friday, April 7 and Saturday, April 8 if a fourth game is necessary.

Photo by John L. Russell/Great Lakes Images.

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