Friday, March 16, 2007

North Stars eye scoreboard, visiting Diggers

Officially, there are three distinct divisions within a given hockey season: preseason, regular season, and postseason. But unofficially – for teams on the proverbial playoff bubble – there is another segment, wedged betwixt the regular season and the postseason: Scoreboard season. That’s when coaches and fans find themselves as interested in what’s going on in other NAHL arenas as their own.

‘Scoreboard season’ is also the time when a coach can be root for a team one night, and have to face them the next. And that’s exactly where Traverse City North Stars coach Scott Gardiner was on Thursday night, silently rooting for the Alpena IceDiggers as they took on Marquette, the club his North Stars trail for the fourth and final NAHL North playoff spot. The Diggers held up their end of the bargain on Thursday, blanking Marquette by a 3-0 margin, but will go from friend to foe again on Friday when Alpena visits Centre ICE arena for the front end of a home-and-home series.

“Yeah, when you’re in the situation we are – trailing Marquette – you do find yourself watching the scoreboard a little,” Gardiner admitted. “We were rooting for Alpena on Thursday and we have to turn around and face off against them on Friday and Saturday. It’s just that time of year – you cheer for a rival one night and try to take it to ’em the next.”

This weekend’s game could well amount to a do-or-die scenario with respect to the Stars’ slender playoff chances. Marquette – which has seven points and a game in hand for the fourth NAHL North postseason berth over Traverse City – has two games against Fargo-Moorhead on the docket for this weekend and a pair against the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 squad next weekend. Traverse City and Marquette play twice more this season in TC’s final contests of the regular season March 30-31. Marquette then hosts Alpena in a Sunday matinee on April 1 to end the 2006-07 campaign.

“The way we see it, there are six games left and 12 points on the table,” Gardiner explained. “We have the opportunity to take four (points) if we win both games up there to end the regular season. That means we have a few points to make up in the meantime. But if we don’t take care of business this weekend against a very good Alpena team, none of that will matter. We have to take ’em one game at a time, as the cliché goes.”

The high-octane Diggers (32-20-4) are led by Todd Rudasill (29 goals, 48 assists), Drew Pierson (29-37) and Nolan Craner (23-37). The trio has been among the NAHL scoring leaders all season, and have combined for 38 of Alpena’s league-best 83 power play goals. Nick Von Bokern leads all North Stars in scoring (46 pts.), while Patrick Nagorsen (12 G-29 A) and Aaron Pietila (11-20) are second and third, respectively. Zach Hitch and Matt Hughes are TC’s top goal-scorers with 14 each.

Friday’s game at Centre ICE arena and Saturday’s rematch at Northern Lights Arena in Alpena both face off at 7 p.m.

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