Tuesday, October 23, 2007

North Stars get back to work

The Traverse City North Stars’ idle weekend was a case of ‘good news, bad news’ as the club heads into a weekend homestand against Mahoning Valley on Friday and Saturday at Centre ICE arena.

The good news? The Stars got a chance to heal up physically, enjoy a respite from the requisite intensity of junior hockey and visit family and friends. The bad news? The rest of the North American Hockey League’s North Division was busy leapfrogging Traverse City in the standings. Still more good news? The North Stars, presently in the sixth slot are just four points out of second place.

“It was a great help to us at this point in the season to get a week off,” said TC head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “We had some guys banged up who got a chance to heal, guys got to go home, and for some of the kids who are new to junior hockey, a break from the intense strain that it can be both physically and mentally.”

The North Stars (5-3-3) will have to hit the ground running to regain positioning in the North Division, as Marquette – by virtue of a two-game sweep of Alexandria – jumped from sixth to third, and the Mahoning-Alpena split earned both teams a pair of points. Mahoning Valley comes into Centre ICE with two of the league’s top scoring forwards in Derek Graham and Chad Boeckman. Graham has seven goals and assists on 10 others through 12 games, while Boeckman has dished out a team-high 12 helpers. Phantoms netkeep Garrett Bartus owns the second-best goals-against average (2.16) and save percentage (.939) in the NAHL.

“Mahoning has a very talented team again, with one of the better offenses in the league,” Palumbo assessed. “We’re going to have to play a very strong defensive game in order to compete. We’d like to play the game in their end as much as possible.”

Through 11 games, Matt Hughes and Harrison Niemann lead Traverse City with 10 points, while Nate Urbaniak has nine and Joe Greener and defenseman Ben Plocar have seven each. Hughes has a team-best six goals, while Niemann’s eight assists are tops in TC. Brandon Stephenson is eighth in the NAHL in goals-against average (2.36) and tied for seventh with a .920 save percentage.

“We’re ready to get back to work,” Palumbo said. “It’s good to get some time away, but we need to be able to re-focus and jump right back in the mix.”

The Stars welcome Mahoning in for games on Friday and Saturday. Both contests face-off at 7:05 p.m.

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