Friday, January 05, 2007

North Stars host Rangers this weekend

From the Traverse City perspective:

When Marquette visited Traverse City for an Oct. 27-28 series at Centre ICE arena, the first-year Rangers were riding high, sitting within striking distance of the top of the North American Hockey League’s North Division, and swept a pair from the struggling North Stars.

Since then, life hasn’t been quite as rosy for the neophyte franchise, as the Rangers have dropped 14 of their last 17 since the sweep in TC, including a pair of losses at Centre ICE arena Dec. 1-2. Just before the calendar changed to 2007, Marquette released head coach Leigh Mendelson, retaining former assistant coach Randy Enders as interim front man. Enders will make his head coaching debut this weekend in Traverse City, as the Rangers and North Stars clash in a Friday-Saturday series at Centre ICE.

“Every first-year club is going to have growing pains, plain and simple,” said Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. “And it just so happens, the North Division is the deepest, toughest division in the NAHL.

“They have some very good talent, one of the best goalies in the league, and they’re a tough, physical bunch. No one around here is fooled into thinking this weekend is going to be some kind of a walk-over or anything like that. You can’t take a single night off in this division.”

The teams have split their six games so far this year, with Traverse City splitting with the Rangers at Lakefront Arena in early October and the teams taking turns sweeping the past two series south of the straits. Presently, Marquette (11-19-2) and the U.S. National Team Development Program are deadlocked for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division with 24 points each. Traverse City (12-18-5) is five points ahead of those teams, but Marquette has played three fewer games to date.

“It’s an important four points for a lot of reasons,” Gardiner explained. “We want to maintain our standing in the pecking order, and start to creep on (second place) Alpena. They (Marquette) are one of the teams we’re battling for eventual playoff position with.”

Nick Kosinski (10 goals, 19 assists), Brodie Zuk (12 G-15 A), and Neeco Belanger (11 G-12 A) lead the Rangers in scoring, but the tandem of Luke Bennett and Jake Hauswirth have done the most damage in the team’s six meetings with the North Stars. The duo has combined for five goals and seven assists in those contests.

On the other bench, Patrick Nagorsen and Aaron Pietlla lead the Stars with five points each in the six games versus Marquette, while Eriks Ozollapa registered a trio of goals in the Dec. 1-2 sweep of the Rangers.

Both the Friday and Saturday showdowns face-off at 7 p.m. at Centre ICE arena. The games can also be heard via live webcast at

From the Marquette perspective:

The Marquette Rangers travel to Traverse City to play the North Stars in a two game North American Hockey League series tonight and Saturday and the trip may be just what the first-year Rangers are in need of.

The last time the Rangers and North Stars met, the teams were tied for third in the North Division; now the Rangers are in competition for a play-off position. The Rangers and North Stars have paired off six times so far this season, with each team winning three times.

“There have been a number of players changes over the last few weeks, but our team is coming off a well-earned week of rest and we’re ready to compete for playoff positioning in the extremely tight Division. The team is excited about the second half of the season,” says Rangers head coach Randy Enders.

Traverse City is currently five points ahead of the Rangers in the standings, but the Rangers have three games in hand on the North Stars. The Rangers’ last two series, first against the U.S. National Development Team and the following weekend against Mahoning Valley, were weekend splits. The weekend split against Mahoning Valley just before Christmas ended the Phantoms 19-game unbeaten streak, showing fans the affects of recent roster changes and continued team chemistry.

Scott Gardiner, head coach of the North Stars previously said the Rangers are no pushover.

"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."

“Despite being the only expansion team in the league this year, we’ve done a good job competing,” said Enders. “Being in the thick of a playoff race with a ton of home games over the next three months is exciting for the players and fans.”

Nick Kosinski leads Marquette with 29 points, while Brodie Zuk has amassed 27 points. Neeco Belanger has 23 points.

Area fans can follow game action this weekend at

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