Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Rangers host Phantoms this weekend

After taking five out of six possible points this past weekend, the Marquette Rangers host the Mahoning Valley Phantoms this Friday and Saturday at Lakeview Arena.

Mahoning Valley and St. Louis are currently tied for the top spot in the North Division with 36 points each while Marquette is alone in third place just five points back.

“Our division is all about opportunity this year,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “We’ve been fortunate enough to put some positive things together against teams beneath us in the standings, and with that create some separation between our team and those behind us. Mahoning presents a great challenge this weekend because not only are they a tremendous team, but this will be the first time in a while we’ve had a chance to head to head with a team in front of us in the standings.

“We’ll learn a lot about the kind of hockey team we are through these games this weekend. If the last three games are any indication, we’ve come quite a ways since the beginning of the season.”

The Rangers beat Traverse City last Thursday and split with the U.S. National Team Development Program Friday and Saturday. The game Saturday saw the Rangers climb back to win 5-4 after trailing 4-1 after two periods.

“Earlier this year who knows how Saturday would have turned out,” Enders said. “But as the season has gone along our older guys have really accepted their roles as leaders and have done a nice job of helping the younger players develop and grow. We’ll need more of that this weekend with Mahoning Valley in town.”

The challenge brought by the Phantoms has resonated in the Rangers locker room as well.

“They’re a good team,” said Rangers defenseman and assistant captain Derek Grogan. “We’re excited to play them because this will be a good measuring stick for where we are so far this season. It’s the kind of challenge you look forward to as a player, so I think we’ll be ready to play Friday and Saturday.”

The Rangers continue to be led in scoring by Aaron Pietila, who had a six-point weekend (three goals, three assists) and now has 30 points on the year with 17 goals and 13 assists.

Goaltender Matt Brooker, who was named North Division Player of The Week for his play against Traverse City and the USNTDP, continues to produce solid numbers for the Rangers this year. He sports a record of 11-2-0 with a goals-against average of 2.83 and a save percentage of .921.

One battle to keep an eye on this weekend may very well be in net, as Brooker and Mahoning Valley goaltender Garrett Bartus are in a statistical dead-heat so far this season featuring near identical numbers going into this weekend.

The Phantoms feature a balanced attack offensively this season with seven players scoring 20 or more points on the year. Mahoning Valley brings with them one of the NAHL’s top scoring threats in Schoolcraft native and Ferris State recruit Derek Graham, who leads the potent attack with 38 points (20 goals, 18 assists,). As a team, Mahoning Valley averages nearly four goals a game on offense.

“They’re as good a team as there is in this league” added Enders. “This will be a great test for our guys, and a terrific weekend of hockey for our fans.

Both games begin at 7:30 at Lakeview Arena.

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