Wednesday, February 13, 2008

North Stars battling injuries right now

There are three letters that Traverse City North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo doesn’t want to hear right now: M-C-L.

With medial collateral ligament injuries to a pair of Stars regulars, the club will be a little lighter heading into a two-game weekend series at Mahoning Valley on Friday and Saturday.

Winger Joe Greener tore his MCL and possibly his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) during a freak practice mishap on Wednesday at Centre ICE and is likely to miss the remainder of his final junior season, while goalie Brandon Stephenson is still recovering from an MCL injury suffered during a sweep of Alpena back on Feb. 1-2 and will not be in uniform this weekend.

“Those are some key losses, no question,” Palumbo opined. “But we have no choice but to saddle up and go forward.”

Chris Paliafito will see all the action between the TC pipes until Stephenson returns, with backup netkeep Dallas Kniss available only if Paliafito suffers an injury.

The North Stars (14-19-10) are still chasing fourth-place Marquette for the final playoff berth in the NAHL North Division, and will try to close the 11-point gap some this weekend against second-place Mahoning Valley (26-13-4). Traverse City has not won at the Phantoms’ home rink in 15 tries over three seasons.

“They’re a darn good team, and when they get it going in their own building, they’re a handful,” Palumbo explained. “We have to take care of the puck when we play them, because like we showed in our last series down there, you can’t give them easy chances off turnovers or they’ll burn you.”

Derek Graham (Schoolcraft) paces the Phantoms with 26 goals and 32 assists through 43 games, and has found some success against the Stars this season, registering 13 points in the teams’ nine meetings, while Miles Winter has matched that output versu TC, including seven goals. Netkeep Garrett Bartus has been tough against Traverse City as well, with a 6-0-0 record and .912 save percentage in seven outings.

Nate Urbaniak leads the North Stars with four goals and four assists in nine games against the Phantoms this season, while Harrison Niemann and Tyler Stephens have seven points each over that span.

Urbaniak, Niemann and defenseman Jameson Raymond will stop off in Ann Arbor on the way home for the three-day NAHL Top Prospects all-star event, where they’ll join forces with the other top players in the North Division to face the Central Division and South Division all-stars, as well as the U.S. National Team Development Program, during the competition.

Traverse City returns to the friendly confines of Centre ICE arena on Feb. 22, when Alpena visits town.

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