Thursday, October 12, 2006

Phantoms to descend on TC

According to Traverse City North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner, the North American Hockey League’s North Division is ‘arguably the toughest division in the league.’

While Alpena has what amounts to a sizable lead in the early stages of the 2006-07 campaign, the rest of the North is separated by just three points.

That makes this weekend’s three-game series at Centre ICE arena between the second-place North Stars and fifth-place Mahoning Valley Phantoms an important one. With six points on the table, either club could make a serious move in the standings by the final whistle of Sunday’s matinee.

“It makes for a long weekend,” Gardiner admitted. “But we try to treat it like a mini-tournament, like it’s a playoff weekend. It sort of gives us an idea of what it’s like when you have those playoff weekends in April. There’s some stamina involved.”

While the visiting Phantoms might be on the bottom of the North standings at the moment, Gardiner says they’re as good as any team in the division.

“Oh geez, there’s no way that’s a last-place club, I don’t care what the standings say. They’re big and physical and throw a lot of skill at you, too. Plus they have both their goaltenders back from last year. This is a good hockey club coming in here.”

While the NAHL’s most dynamic scoring trio of 2005-06 – Anthony Ciraulo, Marc Menzione, and Drew Satterly – are off to NCAA Div. I schools this fall, the 4-5-0 Phantoms have gotten solid production from holdovers Matt Quigley (team-leading six goals, 11 points) and Chris Fairbanks (five goals, nine points).

The netminding tandem to which Gardiner refers includes Ryan Zapolski and Bryce Merriam, both of whom scored victories against Traverse City last season. So far in 2006-07, Zapolski has worked twice as much as Merriam, logging three wins while surrendering an average of 4.33 goals per games with an .883 save percentage.

With his two-goal outburst last Saturday against Marquette, Jared Mullen now has a Stars-best six markers, while captain Patrick Nagorsen leads the club with nine points.

The Phantoms, who captured 11 of the 12 meetings between the teams last year, were riding a three-game win streak before falling to interdivisional foe Springfield last Saturday.

The Friday and Saturday installments of the three-day weekend series face off at 7 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee commences at 12:40 p.m.

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