Friday, October 16, 2009

North Stars host Janesville this weekend

Real men wear pink.

Or at least that’s the mantra of the Traverse City North Stars heading into Friday’s series-opener at Centre ICE arena – a contest that’ll be played on pink ice and with the host Stars sporting pink jerseys for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

“I think it’s an awesome idea, and hopefully it’ll grow into an annual event,” Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “My family has been touched by cancer – I lost my father and some aunts and uncles to cancer – just like so many families have been impacted by this disease. Our hope is to make a small contribution to worldwide problem through the game of hockey.”

The event will feature auction items – including the same rosy-hued sweaters worn by the home team – as well as food and drink specials, and a ticket discount for fans wearing pink to the game.

It will also feature the second go-round between the NAHL North Division rival North Stars and Jets. The clubs split a pre-Showcase series in southern Wisconsin in early September, with Janesville claiming their inaugural home opener on Sept. 12 (4-3) before TC scored a 4-3 win the following night.

“They’re a bit of a different team than when we first faced them,” Palumbo explained. “I’d have to look, but I’d say off the top of my head that they’ve made 3-5 upgrades to their roster. We’ll have to be ready to play a high-energy first period on Friday and go from there.”

One of those upgrades originated by the Bay, as the North Stars sent veteran defenseman Mike Schenfeld to the Jets late last month for a draft pick. Schenfeld spent 2008-09 in Traverse City. Ross Mauerman and blue-liner Cam Severson lead Janesville (5-6-0) with 10 points each, while Rui Encarnarcao has a team-best six goals through 11 games. Matt Wichorek has started seven of Janesville’s 11 outings, going 3-4-0 with a 3.03 goals-against average and .899 save percentage.

“Our power play will have to keep improving,” Palumbo added. “And we’ll have to find a way to keep them off the board when we’re on the power play, too. We gave up three shorthanded goals last Saturday (at Motor City), most because we were all thinking about the offense, and forgot to play in our own end as well.”

Andy Huff leads the 7-3-1 North Stars with eight goals and 12 points, while Eric McLintock has 10 points and Dan Radke has dished out a team-high seven assists. Winger Kyle Jean returned from injury last weekend with a bang, recording three goals and a pair of assists over his first two games. The team expects former Mahoning Valley forward Nick Shkreli to make his season debut this weekend after missing the first 11 games with an upper-body injury suffered in last spring’s NAHL playoffs.

“We’re getting closer to being at full-strength, personnel-wise,” Palumbo said. “That’s a real positive. We just have to be way more consistent that we have been, and way more than we were last weekend.”

The Turn the Rink Pink event is sponsored by Williams Honda, TV 7&4, WLKT/YOU-FM, Thompson Pharmacy & Medical, UV Vodka, Bon Fitte and Miner’s North Jewelers.

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