Saturday, December 20, 2008

North Stars skate into Motown Sunday

Santa Claus may be comin’ to town, but the Traverse City North Stars are heading to the Motor City in the interim.

Sunday’s matinee features teams currently at opposite ends of the NAHL North Division standings, but North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo isn’t expecting anything resembling a gift-wrapped victory under the tree at Wyandotte’s Yack Arena.

“Motor City is a much better team than what their record says,” Palumbo assessed. “They’ve made moves that have improved their club, they beat (NAHL champion) St. Louis a few weeks ago and have plenty of talented players on that roster. By no means should anyone in this division take them lightly and I don’t think they do.”

Among the recent personnel maneuvers by the Machine was the acquisition of former North Stars forward Adam Sponseller, most recently of the Wichita Falls Wildcats. Sponseller, who appeared in 57 games with the North Stars over parts of two seasons, has three points in his first three games with Motor City following the deal.

While the Machine (5-22-1) will look for home holiday cookin’ on Sunday, Marquette (15-13-4) knocked off host Mahoning Valley on Friday to pull within a single point of Traverse City in the North standings. Mahoning (16-7-2) is also just a point back and both the Phantoms and Stars each have a full seven games in hand on Marquette. Team USA (15-10-2) and Alpena (15-9-2) are just three points back of the top spot.

“You look at the standings and it’s amazing how tight everything is already,” lamented Palumbo. “We’re just 25 games into a 56-game schedule and we’re already into the playoff race. Three points separate the top five teams and there are just four teams that make it (the playoffs). That makes every single game that much more important.”

Ryan Misiak leads the Machine scoring attack with 21 points that include a team-best 16 assists. Jared Williams’ six goals pace Motor City, although recent acquisition Josh Bussell has 11 tallies between his former Marquette and Motown.

TC captain Kyle Bonis (11 goals, 11 assists) powers the Stars’ offense, while Nate Urbaniak has four points in his last three outings and Marc Thompson has already equaled his 57-game totals (16 points) from a season ago.

“We need to make this (road) trip count,” Palumbo added. “Two points are on the table in their building. We have to come down there ready to play 60 minutes worth of hockey.”

Sunday’s game faces off at 5:10 p.m.

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