Monday, October 30, 2006

Rangers complete sweep of North Stars

For the second straight night, the Traverse City North Stars were flummoxed by the Hooveresque goaltending of Stephen Ritter, and for the second straight night the Marquette Rangers walked out of Centre ICE arena with a victory, this time a 4-2 triumph that sent the host Stars to a fifth straight defeat.

"The goalie stole one from us tonight and this time we outplayed them, outskated them, beat them to pucks, and should have won it," assessed North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. "It was a better effort than Friday, but we're too good on paper not to be winning more than we are."

The loss dropped the Stars from a four-way tie for second place in the NAHL's North Division and into a tie with Team USA for fourth at 15 points. Alpena was swept at home by Mahoning Valley this weekend, so the IceDiggers' lead is down to four points over the Phantoms and Rangers.

"As the only new team in the NAHL this year, we have steadfastly stayed the course, building team chemistry and patiently waiting for our players to learn to play together," said Marquette general manager David Saint-Onge. "Although the season still has a long way to go, we're coming together as a team and expect to be in the hunt as the season progresses."

On Saturday, Kory Kaunisto got the North Stars on the board first, opening the scoring at 8:24 of the first period on an assist from Richie Zobak, before Neeco Belanger tied the contest less than five minutes later. Belanger was able to shake the cobwebs off following a game-opening bludgeoning at the hands of TC's Joe Greener.

Just over two minutes later, Nate Urbaniak converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Travis Hamway and the Stars took a one-goal bulge into the first intermission. Sabastion Kimmel was also credited with an assist on the play.

Marquette got goals from Matt Tinordi (power play) and the eventual game-winner from Nic Weight in the second period, and Luke Bennett closed the scoring with an empty-netter in the final half-minute of play.

"That second goal in the second period was a weak one," Gardiner said. "We gave it up on a turnover that should have never happened. Other than those two mistakes, I thought we kept the pressure on them all night. We just couldn't put the puck in the net. But there are changes coming."

"Saturday was a character win with our bench being short because of an injury and a suspension," Rangers' head coach Leigh Mendelson said. "I am very pleased with our progress, though. Our forwards are starting to click and our team defense is continuing to make progress. We've been getting contributions from all four lines and our special teams have continued to be effective."

Ritter snuffed 25 of the 27 shots he faced, while his TC counterpart, Kyle Jendra, collected 24 attempted shots in his 58-plus minutes of action in net.

The North Stars travel to Mahoning Valley next weekend for a two-game series with the Phantoms before a home-and-home set with Alpena on Nov. 11-12.

Marquette continues their month-long road trip with two games this weekend against Fargo and then a trip to Mahoning Valley for a three-game series. The Rangers finally return to Lakeview Arena to take on Alpena Nov. 17-18.

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