Friday, March 23, 2007

St. Louis visits Traverse City for home finale

The St. Louis Bandits need just two points this weekend to clinch the NAHL South Division regular season crown. The Traverse City North Stars would like nothing more than to put the Bandits’ celebration on hold.

“We don’t mind playing the role of spoiler,” said North Stars head coach Scott Gardiner, whose team plays host to St. Louis in a Friday-Saturday weekend series at Centre ICE arena. “We’re not going out and mailing this (season) in. This is one of the best teams in the league – if not the best – and they’ll have a lot of fans in our building. We played them tough for two periods two straight nights down there, we just have to put three periods of hockey together.”

The Bandits (42-13-3) hold a nine-point bulge on second-place Santa Fe, and trail only Mahoning Valley for the North American Hockey League’s best record. They’ve done it with a stout defense and one of junior hockey’s premiere netminders in Pat Nagle. The Bloomfield native owns a 24-7-3 mark with a .922 save percentage and 2.21 goals-against average.

“He was tough when we saw him down there last month,” said Gardiner, referring to a 6-2 setback in St. Louis on Feb. 17. “He’s definitely one of the best in the league, but they play very good defense in front of him, too. They’re just a solid, well-coached hockey club.”

St. Louis also boasts the league’s top scorer in rugged power forward Pat Maroon, who has registered 37 goals and 57 assists over 54 contests this season. The hometown product was held off the scoresheet in his only game vs. TC in February.

The North Stars are paced by the NAHL’s highest-scoring defenseman, Nick Von Bokern, who has 11 goals and 35 assists in his 59 contests between Fairbanks and Traverse City. Patrick Nagorsen is second on the club with 12 goals and assists on 29 others. Matt Hughes leads TC in lamplighters with 15, while Zach Hitch has 14.

While Traverse City has been officially eliminated from postseason contention, Gardiner says that final home series is a milestone of sorts for his veteran players.

“This is it for some of the guys,” he explained. “Their last home series, and their last few games in juniors. While we can’t get caught up in the moment – we have some hockey left to play – it’s still something to take note of for these guys as they progress in hockey, school and life.”

Friday’s game will feature the return to Centre ICE arena for at least one former North Stars player, Steven Oleksy, who will drop the ceremonial first puck. The original Stars blue-liner and former captain, who had 11 goals and 20 assists over 57 outings last year, completed his first season with the CCHA’s Lake Superior State University hockey team. The Chesterfield Township native finished his season strong for the Lakers, scoring a pair of goals and assisting on a third against Michigan State in the CCHA consolation game at Joe Louis Arena last weekend.

The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. for both Friday’s opener and Saturday’s lid-lifter.


MDA event an icy success

Thursday’s ‘Spaghetti on Ice’ event saw over 200 people served an Olive Garden pasta dinner by the skating North Stars wait staff, and raised over $5,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The first event of its kind in Northern Michigan, MDA event chairperson Shannon Gowan called the event a ‘success.’

“We started doing this in Flint and the first year we had very similar numbers to what we did tonight (Thursday),” Gowan explained. “That event has grown to over a thousand people, so we think we’re right on track to make this an annual event with some real growth potential.”

The event was sponsored by Olive Garden, Pepsi, TV 7&4, and Classic Rock The Bear.

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