Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Rangers come to Traverse City for two

The Traverse City North Stars are on the other side of a prolonged winless streak, so Scott Gardiner and his team can sympathize with the Marquette Rangers as they come into this weekend’s two-game series at Centre ICE arena in the throes of a nine-game losing skid.

However, don’t expect the Stars to do anything but try to add to the misery quotient of the first-year franchise, as both clubs battle to stay on the leeward side of a growing chasm in the North American Hockey League’s North Division.

When the Rangers (9-14-2) and North Stars (8-13-4) meet on Friday and Saturday, an important four points will be on the proverbial table. The clubs are deadlocked at 20 points each tied for third in the North, but Alpena and Mahoning Valley have put some distance between themselves and the pack, galloping to 18 wins each and a division-best 37 points apiece.

“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 pushed past Traverse City for a pair of two-goal wins Oct. 27-28 at Centre ICE, and won their next game at Fargo-Moorhead, but have since tasted defeat 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 of late, giving up 5.11 goals per game during the dry spell.

Goalie Stephen Ritter, who has stymied TC on two different occasions this year, is ninth in the NAHL with a 2.85 goals-against average and 10th overall with a .910 save percentage.

“He has been great against us, and he has the ability to step up at any time,” Gardiner admitted.

Nick Kosinski (8 G, 16 A) leads Marquette with 24 points, while Brodie Zuk (9, 13) has amassed 22. 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.

Patrick Nagorsen leads the hosts with 19 points on seven goals and 12 helpers, and the Stars’ captain has six points in his past five outings. Defensemen Kent Detlefsen has also had a hot hand lately, dumping in six goals and assisting on four others in just eight games in a TC sweater. Detlefsen had the first natural hat trick in North Stars history on Sunday in a 5-4 overtime loss at Team USA.

Friday’s game is sponsored by AT&T Yellow Pages and, while Traverse City State Bank night is slated for Saturday. Both contests face off at 7 p.m.

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