Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Rangers finish season against North Stars

Despite the fact that neither the Marquette Rangers or the Traverse City North Stars qualified for the North American Hockey League playoffs this year, you’ll be hard pressed to convince members of either team that there’s nothing left to play for this season.

The two NAHL North Division rivals will square-off this Friday and Saturday at Lakeview Arena to decide the champion of the inaugural Smith-Barney Challenge Cup between the two clubs.

The Challenge Cup was formed as a way to promote the rivalry between the two teams and is sponsored by Smith-Barney offices in both Marquette and Traverse City.

“Of course we’re disappointed in not making the playoffs this year,” said Rangers head coach Randy Enders. “It’s the goal of every team to make the post-season, so coming up short does leave a bad taste in our mouths.

“The goal of having this Challenge Cup though was to ensure that both teams, regardless of playoff status, would have an extra something to play for every year. I know our guys don’t want to lose this thing this weekend, so I expect them to really fight to keep it in our offices during the offseason.”

Enders also pointed out that weekends like this one will go a long way in defining the character of his young players.

“We may not be a playoff team, but we still have the challenge of these two games in front of us," said Enders. "I’ll be looking for these guys to give it their all and really show their true character this weekend. Some guys may just go through the motions and those guys will be easy to spot. It’s the players who come to play this weekend that can, and will, make a difference.”

The Smith-Barney Challenge Cup race is as close as the regular-season series between the two teams. Going into this weekend, Marquette is in fifth place in the NAHL North at 26-27-3 while the North Stars are one point back with a record of 21-23-12.

The Rangers lead the Challenge Cup race by two points after 10 games, and must win one of the two games this weekend to claim the Cup as their own. Currently, Marquette has 12 points in the series and Traverse City has 10.

Traverse City, meanwhile, needs to sweep Marquette in regulation both nights to win the Cup outright.

Should the North Stars win both nights in an overtime or shoot-out situation, the Rangers will earn one point each night to go with the two points for a Traverse City win, thus forcing a tie at 14 points apiece for the Challenge Cup series title.

“Given the history between these teams over the past two seasons anything’s possible,” Enders added. “Who knows how we’ll determine things if that happens, but we’ll find a way to settle it. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”

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