Friday, February 23, 2007

Three for the show

Even though the calendar still says ‘February,’ this weekend’s three-game showdown between the Traverse City North Stars and U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad is essentially a playoff series.

With just eight games remaining after the weekend, and the Stars and U-17s in a tight race for the fourth and final NAHL North Division postseason berth – the clubs are separated by just three points in the standings – each of the weekend contests at Centre ICE arena is almost a do-or-die proposition.

Even though Traverse City is looking down in the standings at Team USA, the Ann Arbor-based program has played an astounding seven fewer games to date than the Stars. Three of those will be made up this weekend when the U-18s play host to Marquette and Alpena, but TC head coach Scott Gardiner isn’t counting on any help from anyone else. In fact, with Marquette just five points up on the North Stars for third in the NAHL North, the two Rangers-U-18 contests this weekend constitute a veritable no-win rooting interest for Traverse City.

“These are must-win games for them and us,” Gardiner told the Traverse City Record-Eagle’s James Cook in a Wednesday story. “Our head-to-head matchups with USA and Marquette will be critical, and hopefully we’ll pick up others.”

The U-17s are led by forwards Danny Kristo (8 G, 15 pts.), David Wohlberg (7 G, 14 pts.), and Justin Florek (7 G, 13 pts.), while Michael Clemente (4-11-1, 4.49 GAA) and Nick Maricic (3-10-2, .898 SV%) have shared goalkeeping duties.

For Traverse City, rearguard Nick Von Bokern – the NAHL’s top-scoring defenseman – paces the club with 45 pts. (10 goals), while Patrick Nagorsen (11 G, 39 pts.) and Aaron Pietila (11 G, 28 pts.) are the hosts’ leading forwards. Kyle Jendra, who engineered TC’s dominant 4-1 win in the clubs’ last meeting on Jan. 27, sports a 3.71 GAA.

Friday and Saturday’s games face off at 7 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee is set for a 1 p.m. start.

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