Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Rangers return home for three games

Fresh off a weekend sweep of the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, the Marquette Rangers return to Lakeview Arena for a rematch with the USNTDP Friday and Saturday, as well as a Challenge Cup series match-up Thursday evening with Traverse City.

Marquette currently sits alone in third place in the North American Hockey League’s North Division with 26 points while the USNTDP is in fourth place just two points back. Traverse City is currently in sixth place in the North Division with 22 points.

“It’s another big weekend for us,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “The fact that it is so close proves what we’ve been saying is true: our division is going to be tight all year. Every game is going to count and we need to be mentally and physically ready to go at all times. We took a big step last weekend in Ann Arbor, now we have to take the next step in developing as a team this weekend and give our fans a good weekend of hockey here at Lakeview.”

Thursday’s game with Traverse City will be the first opportunity for Rangers’ fans to see the Smith Barney Challenge Cup this season. The Challenge Cup is sponsored by Smith Barney offices in both Marquette and Traverse City and is awarded at the end of the year to the team who wins the season series between the two rivals. The North Stars lead the series two games to none with a pair of wins at Centre Ice in Traverse City in early October. A total of 12 regular season games between the two teams are scheduled this year.

Marquette’s Aaron Pietila has scored goals in three out of the Rangers’ last four games, including a four-point weekend at Ann Arbor in the sweep of the USNTDP (2g, 2a.) Pietila has now taken the lead in overall scoring for the Rangers with 24 points on the season. Josh Bussell heads a group of nine other Rangers scoring in double digits so far this season.

Two Rangers defensemen are currently among the top players in NAHL scoring this year. Derek Grogan is second among blueliners in goals this season with seven, while Nick Condon is fourth in the league for point production for a defenseman with 19 (1g, 18a).

Matt Brooker continues his strong play in goal for Marquette, improving to 9-2 on the season with a 2.70 goals-against average and a save percentage of .922.

Eight of the next nine games for the Rangers will be played on home ice leading up to the NAHL holiday break in late December.

“We wanted to be on solid footing by the time this homestand rolled around,” Enders added. “As a coach, you’re never satisfied with third place, but with the North Division being as tough as it is, we’re certainly not unhappy about where we are and with the opportunity to hopefully do well during this stretch of home games.”

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