Monday, October 06, 2008

North Stars off to solid start, sweep Alpena

Slow out of the gates in recent years, the Traverse City North Stars are doing their best to buck that trend this season, jumping out to a 6-2 start thanks in part to a two-game sweep of the Alpena IceDiggers last weekend.

“Last season a slow start really hurt our ability to challenge for a playoff spot in March,” said North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo. “So those wins are big; it keeps us in a good position in our (North) division, which is again proving to be as tough as they come.”

Kyle Bonis and Marc Thompson (game-winner) struck for the North Stars’ goals and netminder C.J. Motte turned aside 21 shots as Traverse City downed Alpena on Friday, 2-1.

The next night, Bonis’ overtime tally lifted the North Stars to a 5-4 triumph. Chris Salomone rang up two goals for TC and Nate Urbaniak chipped in with three assists. Between the pipes, Brandon Stephenson stopped 18 shots.

“It was a pretty solid effort all weekend,” Palumbo said. “We got to play every single skater on our roster, and I’ve yet to find a weak link - that’s a good sign.”

Bonis, 19, named the team’s captain last week, has returned in top form. The second-year forward from Lindsay, Ont., has found an early knack for coming up big in critical moments.

“Kyle just finds a way to score goals,” said Palumbo. “They're important, timely goals, usually. He's obviously got the talent, but he's also an intense leader and the guys pick up on that and sort of feed off that.”

The third-year Urbaniak, a 20-year-old from Perrysburg, Ohio, is also starting to find his groove offensively.

“He and Kyle form a really good one-two punch,” said Palumbo.

Only 16-year-old, Motte, from Port Huron, has risen to the occasion, delivering a clutch performance on Friday to pick up his third win of the young season.

“He was definitely a key in that win,” said Palumbo. “He’s proven he can play at this level and make a huge impact. We knew he was good coming in, but C.J. has been even better than we expected even sooner than we expected.”

Second-year forwards Kyle Jean, a Lake Superior State recruit, and Eric O’Hearn are also establishing themselves as versatile contributors.

“They’ve really stepped up this year and taken on big roles with our team,” said Palumbo. “They’re logging minutes on the penalty kill and the power play and they’re also providing us another line with an ability to create offense at any time.”

Pleased with the North Stars’ start - particularly his team’s balanced attack up and down the lineup – Palumbo’s focus now is tightening the screws defensively.

“Timely goals and timely saves - that’s the formula we’re winning with right now,” said the coach. “It’s still early in the season, but we like the determination and grit we’ve been playing with.

“I think the big thing is that everyone has contributed. It seems that every night someone has stepped up for us.”

With a 2-0 record at home this season, the North Stars have a chance to improve on that mark over the next month. The team’s next eight games are slated for Traverse City’s Center ICE arena commencing this weekend against the U.S. Under-17 Team.

“You always want to take advantage of your home games and I think this upcoming stretch could provide us with a great opportunity,” said Palumbo.


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