Tuesday, September 12, 2006

North Stars ready for Showcase

There’s nothing wrong with practices and scrimmages, but the Traverse City North Stars are growing a little tired of both.

After more than two weeks of tuning and tweaking, the Stars will finally get a chance to line up across from a genuine North American Hockey League foe on Wednesday, when the puck drops on the NAHL Showcase tournament in suburban Minneapolis.

“We’re ready to jump right in, to hit the ground running,” said North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. “Guys are ready for something different than practices. You can only do so much before you really need a real game situation to make some evaluations and adjustments, and we’re climbing the walls. Guys are ready for a real game, and so am I.”

The Showcase, which is being played to open the NAHL slate for the first time in the history of the event, will pit Traverse City against four unknown quantities: Fargo-Moorhead, Bismarck, Santa Fe, and Wichita Falls (Tx.). Of the four, only Santa Fe missed out on the 2005-06 postseason.

“By all accounts, these are good teams we drew,” Gardiner added. “We don’t now much about them, but that’s actually a positive. You can truly focus on what you own team needs to do, and not get as caught up in trying to react to their tendencies like you might with more familiar teams.”

The club named centerman Patrick Nagorsen as its captain for 2006-07 on Monday, placing the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s product in a leadership role. Nagorsen says the extra lettering on his sweater is symbolic but important.

“It means a lot to be able to try to lead this group of guys,” said Nagorsen, who led the North Stars in scoring last year with 17 goals and 25 assists over 57 contests. “It doesn’t really change a whole lot – you may have a little bit of a bull’s-eye on your back or guys might look to you for something – but you still go out there every day and work hard whether you’re the captain or on the far end of the bench, and that’s what I’ll still strive toward.”

Jameson Raymond, a rugged defenseman who came over from Bozeman when the Ice Dogs franchise suspended operations this off-season, was named as the Stars’ associate captain.

“He’s a leader,” said Gardiner of Raymond, who helped lead Bozeman to an amazing 48-9-1 mark and spot in the NAHL Robertson Cup championship game in 2005-06. “We could see that right away. He’s rock-solid on defense, and sets an example on and off the ice.”

The Stars will also publicly unveil a host of other additions at forward from the rosters of inactive NAHL clubs on Wednesday, including Travis Hamway, who led Billings in scoring last year with 17 goals and 35 helpers in 51 outings, Aaron Pietila and Joe Greener from the Cleveland Barons, and Matt Hughes, who played alongside Raymond last season in Bozeman.

“We’re excited to get going,” Nagorsen said. “Sure, we don’t know a lot about these teams we’re playing other than they play a style of hockey that might be a little more gritty and grindy. But you go into every game you play from the time you’re a pee wee with the same mindset: you’re out there to win a hockey game, and it doesn’t really matter what the other jersey says.

“We can get tough when we have to play that way, but we can also beat teams with finesse as well.”

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