Wednesday, September 20, 2006

North Stars set for home opener

The U.S. National Team Development Program actually fields two teams in the North American Hockey League: an Under-17 entry and an Under-18 squad. Between them, they play the requisite 62-game NAHL schedule in addition to their many international tournaments and collegiate exhibitions.

The players themselves typically progress from the U-17s to the U-18 club at the end of their first season in the program, meaning that when the Traverse City North Stars open their 2006-07 home schedule on Friday night at Centre ICE arena, they won’t be facing the same U-17 squad they took to the brink of playoff elimination last year.

“It might actually be a rematch of sorts when we play the U-18s later in the year, but this is a new team we get this weekend,” explained North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. “We do know this: They’re every bit as big, strong, fast and skilled as the last edition of the U-17s – that much we are well aware of.”

Hand-picked from the best junior talent in the land, Team USA brings a unique and highly-proficient dynamic to the NAHL’s North Division.

“They’re all about the skill,” assessed North Stars forward Jonathan Juliano. “They’re always competitive, and of course you always want to go out there and beat the organization that’s considered the best junior team in the country.”

Juliano, who accrued five goals in last year’s postseason classic versus the U-17s, leads the Stars in scoring through four games this season with a quintet of assists – all five to different goal-scorers. He says that the NAHL’s ramped-up effort to call the games so tightly means he and his mates must endeavor to play it straight.

“We have to stay out of the (penalty) box, and do a way better job than we did last week at the Showcase,” said Juliano, whose Stars were whistled for an average of 25 minutes in minor penalties over the first four outings – against competition averaging only slightly fewer (23.5 min.). “We know we can score goals, but we have to be skating with five if we want to keep from giving them up.”

Center and captain Patrick Nagorsen is tops among TC goal-scorers with three – including the overtime game-cincher last Saturday against Wichita Falls – while Matt Hughes and Richie Zobak have a pair each. Zobak, who scored five goals in 62 games last season, also has a pair of assists.

Above all else, Gardiner, Juliano and the Stars players say they’re excited to get back to the friendly confines of Centre ICE arena for this weekend’s series.

“That always gets the boys fired up to come home to the best fans in the league,” Gardiner added. “They want to come out and give ‘em a good show, especially for the home opener.”
With the exception of two Sunday contests, the North Stars home games start a half-hour earlier this season, facing off at 7:05 p.m. Warm-ups begin at 6:35 p.m. and doors open 15 minutes before warm-ups.

No comments: