Friday, November 02, 2007

North Stars face Team USA this weekend

Anthony Palumbo is hoping for a big letdown this weekend when his team visits the Ann Arbor Ice Cube – just not from his own team.

The Traverse City North Stars’ head coach-GM is counting on the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad looking past their NAHL North Division rivals. The U-18s are coming off a weekend against two of the top NCAA Div. I programs in the country, and acquitted themselves nicely, falling to No. 8 Minnesota 3-1 and battling No. 19 St. Cloud State to a 1-1 draw.

“And now here we come, the little Traverse City North Stars, tucked in between the University of Minnesota and Harvard on their schedule,” Palumbo quipped. “I don’t think we’re necessarily one of the dates they’ve circled on their calendar. They're stacked, but we don’t mind playing the role of David.”

The Stars gained a split with Mahoning Valley last weekend, and are 6-4-3 – two points behind the USNTDP for fifth place in the North Division standings with four games in hand. The U-17s dropped a 6-5 decision in Alpena on Thursday night.

If Traverse City hopes to gain any ground, they’ll have to do it with five defenders, as Jameson Raymond’s lower body injury will likely keep him out of action in Ann Arbor. Alex Breeden, Tyler Stephens, Phil Wendecker, Chris Heineman and Jonathan Sheridan will get yoked early and often over the course of the two-game set.

“Sometimes, that’s actually a positive,” pointed out Stars associate head coach Mike Matteucci, a defenseman by trade for 11 years in the minor pro ranks. “I think when you’re getting more ice time out there you get into a rhythm that you might not otherwise achieve. You’re cognizant of taking shorter shifts, and you just kind of go into the game knowing you have a little extra responsibility.”

The Under-18s are led by David Warsofsky (3 G – 4 A), Patrick Gaul (2 G – 4 A), and Robbie Czarnik (3 G – 2 A) in the scoring department, while Nick Maricic has allowed just four goals in four games and boasts a .960 save percentage.

“Let’s face it, a lot of these guys are NHL draft picks,” said Palumbo, referring to the USNTDP-to-NHL pipeline that saw 17 USA alums selected in the 2007 NHL Draft. “This is probably the most scouted rink in the league, and they’ll (college and pro scouts) be there this weekend. We have every reason to play our best, to go after it hard. It’s exciting and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

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