Thursday, November 30, 2006

Marquette to face Traverse City, Alpena

The Marquette Rangers travel to Traverse City to play the North Stars in a two-game series this weekend and the trip may be just what the doctor ordered for the first-year Rangers.

When the Rangers (9-14-2) and North Stars (8-13-4) meet on Friday and Saturday an important four points will be at stake. The clubs are deadlocked at 20 points each and tied for third in the North Division, but trail frontrunners Alpena and Mahoning Valley who have both posted 18 wins and a division-best 37 points apiece.

The Rangers pushed past Traverse City for a pair of two-goal wins in late October and won their next game at Central Division leading Fargo-Moorhead, but have since lost nine consecutive times. Marquette's stellar defense - the Rangers have held teams to two or fewer goals nine times this year - has suffered a bit lately, giving up 5.11 goals per game during the dry spell. Goalie Stephen Ritter, who has stymied Traverse City this season, is ninth in the NAHL with a 2.85 goals-against average and 10th overall with a .910 save percentage.

"We have struggled defensively over the last several weeks," said Marquette head coach Leigh Mendelson. "We tend to play solid hockey for long stretches, but when we make a mistake and turn the puck over, the good teams we've played in our last 10 games have made us pay."

According to Scott Gardiner, head coach of the North Stars, the Rangers are no pushover.

"We need all four of these points and it won't be easy," Gardiner admitted. "They're going through some growing pains just like all new franchises do, but make no mistake - they have a good team. They sure came in and played well against us last month."

The Rangers hope to remedy its play of late with the recent addition of two players.

"As a new franchise, we continue the task of building a solid team," said Rangers' GM David Saint-Onge. "Earlier this week we consummated a deal with Alexandria as we traded forward Stephen Sperry for defenseman Derek Grogan (1 goal, 8 assists and 20 penalty minutes in 21 games). He has good size (6’-0”, 205 lbs.) and should be a solid addition to our blue line.

"We also added forward Chris Smith, (5’-11”, 205 lbs.) acquired from Surrey of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. Smith was in our final camp this past summer and made an impact. At the time he decided to play for his original team in the BCHL, but recently the opportunity presented itself to return to Marquette and we are excited to have him."

Fans will notice the ability of the new players immediately, as noted by Mendelson.

"We expect to be more reliable in our own zone and improve our offensive transition," Mendelson said. "But perhaps the biggest upside is the presence of Chris Smith. He plays with an edge that will be noticeable. He is a solid offensive player and adds an element of grit that we felt we were lacking.”

Nick Kosinski (8 G, 16 A) leads Marquette with 24 points, while Brodie Zuk (9, 13) has amassed 22 points. Neeco Belanger has a Rangers-best 10 goals and is third in the league with 108 penalty minutes. As a team, Marquette is second in the NAHL in box time with 787 minutes - or an average of 31.48 minutes per game.

Following the Friday-Saturday series with the North Stars, the Rangers return home for a Sunday matinee game against rival Alpena.

“Not only will the game pit us against a team we need to beat, it is billed as a ‘Soldier’s Christmas’ and will be an opportunity for the community to help the families of our service men and women stationed overseas,” noted Saint-Onge.

The Rangers organization will collect new toys, games and clothing to help the families of U.P. soldiers. Fans donating such items will receive one free kids (eight and under) admission, or $1.00 off each student or adult ticket purchased (maximum of four), and are entered in door prize drawings to be held during the game.

“This will be a special game and opportunity for our fans to show their support of our troops during this holiday season," added Saint-Onge. "So many young men and women serve our country, but must leave their families behind for long periods of time. We thought of no better way to extend a thank you to them by putting this event together.”

The Sunday game versus Alpena will start at 3 p.m. at Lakeview Arena.

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