Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Rangers off to Ann Arbor this weekend

Following their final off week of the season, the Marquette Rangers return to North American Hockey League North Division action this Friday and Saturday in Ann Arbor battling the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-17 Team.

The puck drops at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7:00 p.m. Saturday.

Marquette is currently in fourth place in the North Division with 46 points (23-20-3) and leads the NTDP (21-18-2) by five points heading into the weekend.

There is, however, an added sense of urgency for Marquette as the NTDP has played five fewer games this season due to international competitions in Canada and Europe. Achieving some separation before those games-in-hand come into play is at the top of the Rangers’ agenda this weekend.

“Back in the fall we talked about how tight the division was going to be this year,” Rangers head coach Randy Enders said. “Every game is important through the course of the season, so obviously keeping our lead over those guys at this stage of the game is going to be crucial. These four points this weekend could be the difference at the end of the season, so we need to do the things we do best, take advantage of the off week and come out ready to go.

“I like our team right now - we’ve got an exciting balance of veterans and younger guys who can deliver a lot of firepower. The key for us is getting that on a consistent basis and it looks more and more like that’s happening, which is exciting at this time of year.”

Although the team enjoyed some time away, two Rangers’ players were busy participating in the recent North American Hockey League Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor.

Forward Aaron Pietila and defenseman Derek Grogan represented the Rangers and the North Division in the round-robin event that featured teams from all three NAHL divisions and a team representing the NTDP.

The showcase was designed as an opportunity for scouts and coaches to watch the top players in the NAHL for future recruiting opportunities.

Pietila finished the three games with an assist and a plus-minus rating of plus-2, while Grogan ended the tournament with an assist and a plus-3 rating. Both players are expected back in the Rangers’ lineup for the two games this weekend.

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