Thursday, November 09, 2006

North Stars, IceDiggers set for two

A year ago, the Alpena IceDiggers won a North American Hockey League-low 13 games in 58 tries.

Through just 18 contests in 2006-07, the Diggers have scored a dozen wins, lead the North Division by a full four points, and have built a 10-point cushion between themselves and this weekend’s opponent, the Traverse City North Stars.

When the regional rivals square off on Friday in Alpena before returning to Centre ICE arena on Saturday, the North Stars will look to end a seven-game skid against a team that has lost three of its last five.

“Every game between us is a battle – they know it and we know it,” said Traverse City head coach Scott Gardiner. “And certainly, I don’t think they’ll count us out because we’re 10 points behind them, but at the same time we can’t let the spread get two big or it’ll be too hard to catch them.”

The North Stars, having reshuffled the deck last week in terms of personnel movement, were not as cohesive a unit last Friday as they were on Saturday in a 3-2 loss at Mahoning Valley.

Newly-acquired defenseman Nick Von Bokern paid immediate dividends soon after his arrival from Fairbanks last week, scoring a power play goal and assisting on two others versus the Phantoms, while TC native Mike Glaesmer – another new pickup – also registered a goal and a pair of assists in Boardman.

“We’re close to coming out of this and it seems like we’re starting to jell a little bit after throwing so many new guys into the mix all at once,” Gardiner said. “You go into every weekend looking for four points, so we’re going to have to go into their building with a lot of effort and get after them as quickly as possible.”

Alpena’s dynamic duo of Nolan Craner (13 G/19 A) and Todd Rudasill (12 G – 19 A) – the NAHL’s top two leading scorers – has become a tremendous trio, as fellow forward Drew Pierson (9 G/13 A) has climbed the league’s scoring chart, coming into the weekend eighth among all NAHL skaters. The threesome is most exacting on the power play, combining for 22 extra-man markers, while powering the Diggers’ PP unit to a 21.74 percent efficiency – far and away tops in the league.

Both weekend games face-off at 7 p.m., with Friday night’s contest at Northern Lights Arena in Alpena, and Saturday’s back-ender at Centre ICE arena.

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