Saturday, April 08, 2006

TC blanked by USA; deciding Game 5 Sunday

It’s hard to win without scoring a goal.

That much was proven true again on Saturday at Centre ICE arena, as the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad knocked off Traverse City by a 2-0 margin in Game 4 of the NAHL North Division semifinals.

The team returns to the Ann Arbor Ice Cube for an all-or-nothing Game 5 showdown that will decide which club advances to the North Division championship round to play for a trip to the Robertson Cup finals.

“The final game – that’s what playoff hockey is all about,” said North Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “(USA head coach) Ronnie (Rolston) made the call early on, saying that this one could go the distance and here we are. It’s been good, clean, up-and-down hockey, and we’re likely to see more of that on Sunday.”

Matt Rust broke a scoreless deadlock with 5:20 to play in the second period. USA-17 leading playoff scorer Brennan Vargas assisted. It was the only even-up tally of the evening, as Vargas added an empty-netter with 46 seconds remaining to make it a two-goal disparity on the scoreboard.

Josh Unice posted the shutout for the U-17s, his first of 2005-06, making 24 stops. Jeremy Kaleniecki was nearly a perfect as well, snuffing out 22 of 23 USA attempts.

“To not have a goal and to be in the game with a minute to go says a lot about how Jeremy played for us,” explained TC center Patrick Nagorsen. “He’s been awesome.”

The contest was played in a brief 2:12 span, as the teams combined for just 20 penalty minutes before 867 fans at Centre ICE. Sunday’s all-important showdown will mark the 11th meeting of the season between the clubs, and just three have featured a final margin of more than one goal – and two of those, including Saturday’s game, were two-goal finals that included an empty-netter.

“Every game has been close,” Nagorsen added. “We feel good about being able to go down there and beat them in their building because we’ve done it before. We have to go as hard as we know we can, and it might just come down to who has more of a will to win it.”

Game 5 is Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

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