Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rangers host North Stars this weekend

The Marquette Rangers resume action at Lakeview Arena this Friday and Saturday taking on the Traverse City North Stars - the team with the second-best record in the entire North American Hockey League.

This weekend’s series will also feature two games towards the winner of the Smith Barney Challenge Cup for 2008-09. The teams are tied in this years’ race towards the Cup, donated by Smith Barney offices in both Marquette and Traverse City, having split a weekend back in late September. Marquette won 4-3 at Lakeview Arena on September 26, while the North Stars won 3-2 the following evening at Centre Ice Arena in T.C.

“There’s no question we’ll have our hands full,” said Rangers head coach Kenny Miller. “They’re one of the top teams in our entire league, so we certainly need to be ready to play. There are obviously a few things from this past weekend with Alpena we need to work on and fix this week, but overall, even though we only picked up the one win, I thought our level of play and our intensity were pretty good last weekend.

“It’s all about scoring chances and being able to finish them off at this level. We’re getting better defensively and that will help us a lot in the offensive end as we go along. We’re excited to have them in our building this weekend.”

Traverse City (13-3-0, 26 pts.) has, so far, taken the North Division by storm. They lead Mahoning Valley by six points and are seven points ahead of the U.S. National Team Development Program heading into this weekend. Their three losses have come at the hands of the Rangers, the Alaska Avalanche at the NAHL Showcase, and Mahoning Valley.

For the North Stars, it’s been a balanced attack up front, backed by solid defense and goaltending. Kyle Bonis leads the offense so far (14 pts) with Eric O’Hearn, Nathan Urbaniak and Mark Thompson each adding 11 points so far on the season.

In net, Brandon Stephenson and C.J. Motte have shared the duty effectively for head coach Anthony Palumbo’s squad.

Stephenson is 7-1 on the season with a 2.24 goals-against average and a save percentage of .907. Motte has been equally as strong sporting a record of 6-2, a GAA of 2.50 and a .910 save percentage.

Dan Sullivan, recently acquired in a trade with Omaha of the United States Hockey League, will most likely get the nod in goal for Marquette this weekend. Sullivan put up solid numbers in his Rangers debut against Alpena - a GAA of 2.01 and a .910 save percentage while going 1-2 on the weekend.

Marquette is led in scoring by James Gallagher. The recent University of Connecticut recruit has five goals and 11 assists for 16 points after 19 games. Chad Pietila, who scored twice against the North Stars on September 26, has 15 points while his cousin, Aaron Pietila, is third in scoring with 14 points (7g 7a.)

Faceoff each night is at 7:30 p.m.

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