Thursday, June 18, 2009

North Stars to play more weekday games

Saturday is still reserved for ‘Hockey Night in Traverse City,' but the Traverse City North Stars will be packing a few more icy battles into the middle of the week this season.

The North Stars, who released the 2009-10 regular season schedule on Tuesday, will drop the puck 13 times between Monday and Thursday this year, including seven home weekeday contests at Centre ICE arena.

North American Hockey League runner-up Wenatchee (Wa.) will visit Traverse City for a pair of early-season Monday-Tuesday contests while on a Midwest road trip, Marquette comes to town for two early-week affairs on Dec. 28-29 as part of the Traverse City Central holiday high school tournament, and the Thanksgiving eve showdown (Nov. 25) with Alpena has been reprised.

Back-to-back Wednesday showdowns with Alpena and Motor City are slated for mid-March.

While the Stars found themselves bus-bound for much of the final two months of 2008-09, the new slate affords plenty of late-season home ice. The club will play 14 of its final 21 games at Centre ICE, including six of the last eight.

“Overall, it’s a very balanced schedule, with a little bit of a downhill slope toward the end,” Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo said. “It’ll be nice not to have to spend a whole month on the road, and having the late-season games at home means more of our hockey families will have their own seasons wrapped up and can come out to our games.”

The North Stars, coming off a franchise-best 34-17-7 record, will face-off against North Division rivals for 52 of the 58 regular season games. Geographic rival Alpena is the Stars’ most common foe, as the clubs will square off 15 times, with Marquette (14) and Motor City (13) right behind. Traverse City will get to help write history to open the season as the first-ever opponent of the expansion Janesville (Wisc.) Jets on Sept. 12.

“What a way to open the year,” Palumbo lamented. “To have to go into their rink with their huge crowd and everyone pumped up. We had better be ready to go.”

The annual NAHL Showcase is slated for Sept. 16-19, and while the matchups have not been determined, Palumbo likes the idea of getting in a pair of games prior to the scout-fest event.

“That’ll give us a chance to get established in a game setting, to get a bit more comfortable than just pulling the warps off for the Showcase,” he opined. “But there are a lot of things to like about the schedule. The pre-Thanksgiving game was always a big hit, we don’t have a lot of long stretches on the road, and getting a team like Wenatchee in here while they’re on their Michigan swing gives fans a chance to see a team from outside the Midwest. It is shaping up to be a pretty exciting season.”

The North Stars will hit the road in search of talent on June 26-28 for the team’s final open tryout camp of the summer at Suburban Ice in East Lansing. The best players from the summer camp season will convene for training camp at Centre ICE on July 31, from which the 2009-10 roster will be hewn.

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