Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Traverse City acquires two defensemen

The Traverse City North Stars came into the season a little bit front-heavy, but have been getting defensive about it ever since.

With a bevy of slick-skating forwards dotting the roster – the Stars carried as many as 16 front-liners at one point– head coach Scott Gardiner had been looking to add size, toughness, and grit to the defense. With a pair of deals that were completed on Tuesday, the North Stars furthered the beefing process by acquiring imposing (6-3, 215 lbs.) blue-liner Ben Plocar from Springfield, as well as stalwart stay-at-home defenseman Alex Breeden from North Iowa.

The Stars dealt away defenseman Richie Zobak in a one-for-one swap with Springfield, while forwards Jared Mullen and Mario Mjelleli were sent to North Iowa for Breeden. Both Zobak and Mullen were charter members of the North Stars’ original roster.

“We’ve hit a bit of a bad streak here, but what are we supposed to do – stop trying?” asked Gardiner. “No, we’ve got a good team here and we just needed to add some parts to the machine. We got another player sort of in the (Nick) Von Bokern mold – big, strong and good with the puck in Plocar, and a seasoned meat-and-potatoes defenseman in Breeden. We think these guys can come in and make an impact.”

Plocar, a Howard Grove, Wis. product, played 19 games this season for the Junior Blues, collecting a pair of goals and 11 assists, including a power play goal, four power play assists and a pair of shorthanded helpers. In 2005-06, he led the Springfield defensemen with five goals and 19 assists in 45 contests. Breeden, a 5-11, 190-pounder from Ft. Collins, Co., had six assists through 20 games for the Outlaws after posting a goal and seven assists last year for North Iowa. Both players have 1987 birthdates.

“You just can’t play your defense as shorthanded as we’ve been playing them,” Gardiner explained. “We needed size, experience and that physical presence. You can’t just stand in front of our net anymore, you can’t just chase the puck into the corner anymore, or you’re going to pay the price physically. That’s something we’ve really been craving, and we think we have that.”

The acquisition also gives Traverse City a third member of the ‘treehouse gang,’ with recent acquisition Von Bokern (6-4) and Phil Partyka (6-3) already staffing the blue line. Harrison Niemann (6-2) is also a part-time member, but has seen extensive duty at forward of late.

The bigger North Stars will look to bring their bigger games to Centre ICE arena on Wednesday, when the first place Alpena IceDiggers bring a six-game winning streak into the annual Thanksgiving Eve clash. The Diggers survived for a pair of wins in the teams’ last series – a 6-5 overtime victory at Alpena on Nov. 10, and a thrilling 3-2 shootout win the following night at Centre ICE.

“They’re playing as well as anyone in the league,” admitted Gardiner. “But we can play with them. Our games are usually pretty tight, usually close, hard-fought games. I don’t see anything different on the horizon for Wednesday.”

The Stars-Diggers contest will face off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

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