Wednesday, January 23, 2008

North Stars trifecta named All-Stars

One all-star game isn’t enough for the North American Hockey League. So, from Feb.17-19, the league will have six.

Star-studded rosters hewn from each of the NAHL’s three divisions, along with the U.S. National Team Development Program, will play a three-day round-robin at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. The Traverse City North Stars will be represented by forwards Harrison Niemann and Nate Urbaniak and defenseman Jameson Raymond, who will all play for the North Division.

The North Division all-stars will face off against the Central Division on Feb. 17, then take on the South Division on Feb. 18, and close out the event against the USA Under-17 Team the following day.

“It’s a good way of having an all-star kind of event,” surmised Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “Instead of just one game, scouts can see the kids over the course of three days, which would seem to give everyone more opportunities to showcase their skills.”

Niemann and Urbaniak are tied atop the North Stars stat sheet with 35 points each, while Raymond leads all TC blue-liners with 16 points.

“Harrison is a guy we had some pretty high hopes for at the beginning of the year and he’s lived up to it,” Palumbo said. “He’s been our most consistent forward, and leads us in a lot of ways.

Niemann, who has 13 goals and 22 assists, is tied for 15th in the NAHL with a +16 plus-minus rating, is 17th among league skaters with 118 shots on net and has 10 multiple-point outings this season. Urbaniak is tied for 21st in the league in shooting percentage (.192), leads the team in goals (14) and recorded just the second home hat trick in Stars annals back on Nov. 21 against Alpena. That outburst commenced a run of 11 points in five games.

“That was an amazing stretch Nate had, a pace no one could keep up,” Palumbo said. “He’s really become an important part of our attack, and this is a nice honor for him – for all three guys.”

Raymond, who rarely gets to come off the ice, is 11th among NAHL defensemen with 15 assists and is widely considered one of the top do-it-all rearguards in the league. He has just 32 minutes of penalty time in 37 games despite a regular shift and duty on all special teams units.

“'Reg' is our anchor, our rock back there,” Palumbo said. “He’s on the ice in pretty much every situation, and he’s just as smart and smooth as you’re going to find.”

The event, the first of its kind in the NAHL’s 32-year run, is expected to draw a gaggle of scouts, especially given the USNTDP’s presence, and the NAHL Midget Showcase series that is being held at the same time.

“This is shaping up to be an exciting event that can’t help but draw a significant number of college and professional scouts,” said NAHL commissioner Mark Frankenfeld.

Between now and the Top Prospects Tourney, the Stars have eight contests that could go a long way in determining their playoff posture. That run starts on Thursday when TC visits Marquette. The USA Under-17 Team comes to Centre ICE this weekend for a Friday-Saturday series. Both games are set to face off at 7:00 p.m.

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