Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Overtime work pays off for Marquette

Courtesy NAHL.com

The Marquette Rangers couldn’t have picked a better weekend to pocket their first sweep of the season, knocking off the North Division-leading Traverse City North Stars twice in dramatic overtime fashion.

“We knew going in we would have our hands full,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller, whose team improved to 8-10-3 on the season. “That’s a good Traverse City team, so for us to come out and play with that kind of emotion was good to see as a coach.”

On Friday, Michael Thompson’s goal in the extra session lifted the Rangers to a 3-2 victory.

Kyle Heck and Dustin Partacz (pictured) scored in regulation for Marquette and goaltender Dan Sullivan turned aside 34 shots.

James Gallagher struck in overtime the next night as the Rangers bested the North Stars, 2-1.

Reed Rushing rang up the other Marquette marker and Sullivan made 22 saves between the pipes.

“We played hard, competed for loose pucks, won the 1-on-1 battles and we got solid play in our own end,” said Miller.

And Sullivan took care of the rest, allowing only three goals the entire weekend. Since being acquired recently from the Omaha Lancers of the USHL, the 19-year-old from York, Pa., is carrying a stingy 1.78 goals-against average along with a .928 save percentage in five appearances.

“Dan has been outstanding back there,” said Miller. “He gives us a chance to win every night and when your goaltenders do that, good things usually happen for your hockey club.”

Gallagher, who recently committed to the University of Connecticut for next season, has led the Rangers’ offensive charge in the early goings. The 20-year-old Marquette product has 17 points on six goals, including his sweep-clinching tally on Saturday.

“When Jimmy is going and playing hard and doing all the little things to help this team win, he’s a guy who can turn a game around,” said Miller. “He worked hard for his OT goal and I’m happy for him.”

Miller is also ecstatic with the early returns of Rushing, a defenseman whom the Rangers acquired in a trade for forward Josh Bussell earlier this month. In his first five games with Marquette, the 20-year-old NAHL veteran from Seattle has pitched in a goal and two helpers.

“He’s starting to take on a leadership role on the blue line and you can tell by his play,” said Miller. “He’s very poised back there.”

With a fourth-place position in the North Division standings, Miller, in his first season behind the Rangers’ bench, was hoping for a better start to the season, but is confident last weekend’s wins over the North Stars will inject some newfound energy into his locker room.

“We had a slow start, but we feel we’re starting to turn the corner and we also understand that we have to play each and every night with the kind of passion we played with this past weekend,” said the coach. “We like our team’s makeup, so it should be interesting to see how we do on this road trip we have coming up.”

That road swing entails the Rangers playing nine of their next 12 games away from Lakeview Arena, starting with a two-game set in Ann Arbor against the U.S. Under-17 Team this weekend. Marquette has only won one game on the road this season (1-7-3).

“We haven’t had much success on the road so far, but I think if we play hard and do all the little things we do when we play here at Lakeview, then good thing are bound to happen for us,” said Miller.

And that means a repeat performance of last weekend, in which the Rangers has command of all three zones of the ice for a majority of play.

“We have to compete like that every night in order to be successful,” said Miller.

Despite the sub-par start, that hasn’t stopped the Rangers from making headlines on the college front with the recent commitments of Gallagher and Kevin Gravel (St. Cloud State University). Miller has little doubt more good news will follow in that department.

“This team, in my opinion, has several players that can play at the collegiate level and there are several schools showing interest in these guys,” he said. “I’m excited about the prospects we have and we hope we can add to our list of committed players in the near future.”

Photo by RJ Meyer/NAHL

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