Wednesday, February 20, 2008

North Stars rescued by Marquette bus

ALONG I-75 NORTH, NEAR MILE MARKER 169 – The three Traverse City North Stars all-stars were heading home from the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, drained after a weekend series in Mahoning Valley and three days of all-star games.

Somewhere near Kawkawlin – about 20 minutes north of Bay City – the SUV in which Harrison Niemann, Jameson Raymond and Nate Urbaniak were riding lost its transmission and ground to a halt near the Beaver Road on-ramp. AAA Road Service could not arrange for a 150-mile tow and accommodate all four travelers, and it seemed as if the players were headed for an unexpected stay at a local motel – if they could find one, and find a way to get there.

Just then, Niemann remembered that the Marquette all-stars were also on their way home, and in a bus that the league had chartered for use ferrying players about at the tournament. Urbaniak furnished the mobile phone number of Marquette’s Aaron Pietila – a former North Stars standout who was on the bus – and rivals became rescuers.

The Rangers bus had already passed the stranded Stars’ location, but turned around and picked up the trio, dropping them in Grayling where another party brought the players home.

“It was a funny way to end a long weekend,” said a road-weary Niemann. “We became teammates with guys we go out and battle against every night, and then to get picked up on the side of the interstate late at night by one of your biggest rivals – it sort of gives you a little perspective on things.”

Earlier on Tuesday, the North Division capped its three game run with a 2-1 setback to the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-18 squad. Alpena’s Jimmy McCusker had the North’s lone goal, while Robbie Czarnik registered the game-winner for the U-18s 5:29 into the third. Overall, the North and Team USA both finished with 2-1-0 records, followed by the Central (1-1-1) and South (1-2-0).

“It was good hockey with a crisp pace,” said Raymond. “It was fun to get a chance to play with the best players in our league.”

The trio combined for five points over the three-game span. Raymond had a goal and an assist, Niemann assisted on two North goals, while Urbaniak rang up a rare feat: the bottle-buster. The Stars’ all-time single-season scoring leader (51 pts.) broke in on Central Division netminder Robby Moss (North Iowa) early in the third period of Monday’s contest, and unleashed a blast that beat Moss - and shattered the Gatorade bottle sitting in the top netting.

“I think that’s a first for me,” Urbaniak quipped.

The North Stars get back to work this weekend with a home-and-home series with Alpena. Traverse City (15-19-11) will host the IceDiggers on Friday at Centre ICE arena (7 p.m.) before heading west for Saturday’s finale.

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