Friday, April 07, 2006

Traverse City wins pivotal Game 3 in OT

There have been two constants so far in the North American Hockey League’s North Division semifinal series between the Traverse City North Stars and the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 squad: Close games and a red-hot Jonathan Juliano.

Defenseman Eric Elmblad poked home a rebound off a Jon Madden blast from the point at the 15:44 mark of overtime on Friday at Centre ICE arena, to put the North Stars on the precipice of advancing to the North Division Finals if they can repeat the feat on Saturday.

Traverse City grabbed a 2-1 series edge in the best-of-five affair with the one-goal victory, making it seven times in nine meetings that the clubs have played to a one-goal disparity. Juliano continued his stellar performance in the postseason, driving home a pair of rebounds for his fourth and fifth lamplighters of the playoffs. He also assisted on two others.

“He was just Johnny on the spot again, no pun intended,” quipped Stars head coach/GM Scott Gardiner. “He was in the right place at the right time again tonight, and it’s not an accident.”

Juliano got the hosts on the scoreboard first in the opening period, collecting a rebound and putting the puck past USA netkeep Brad Phillips. The other two-thirds of the Juliano line – Matt Larke and Jared Mullen – drew assists at 14:31.

Ryan Schnell answered for the U-17s just 2:07 into the second period, but Larke gave TC back its one-goal bulge just over a minute later. Mullen and Juliano, naturally, were credited with assists.

The North Stars assumed a two-goal advantage at 12:46 when Juliano knocked in his second of the game for his second straight two-goal outing.

The teams battled through a scoreless final stanza until Team USA came alive with less than five minutes to play. Tony Mosey made it 3-2 at 15:38 with a power-play tally, and then assisted on Brennan Vargas’ game-tying effort with just :40.4 to play in regulation. Unlike regular season overtime sessions, playoff games that go into an extra frame require a resurfacing. Elmblad says that was a key factor in the hosts’ triumph.

“That (game-tying) goal totally deflated us,” admitted Elmblad. “If we didn’t get a chance to go off to the locker room and kind of regroup, who knows what would’ve happened. I just can’t believe it. I’m still on cloud nine.”

Gardiner echoed those sentiments, however fleeting.

“I’m relieved, but only temporarily,” he said. “It’ll wear off because we have to come right back tomorrow, and I know Ron (Rolston) will have those guys ready.”

The teams meet up again on Saturday night at Centre ICE in a critical Game 4 matchup. Face-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Traverse City fans are once again asked to wear white garb to show support for their Stars.

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