Friday, October 23, 2009

Rangers and North Stars ready to go

It’ll be a clash of styles this weekend at Centre ICE, when the irresistible force (Traverse City North Stars) plays host to the immovable object (Marquette Rangers).

The Rangers, who come to town for a Saturday-Sunday series, are permitting a paltry 1.75 goals per game – easily tops in the North American Hockey League – while Traverse City is second in the NAHL on the other end of the ice, cranking out goals at a 4.15/game clip. Only St. Louis (4.18) has generated more scoreboard success.

“It’s early, but it’s our biggest games of the season so far,” North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo conceded. “They’re in first place and ahead of us by three points, they’re 10-2, and they’re just not giving up many goals against. We’re going to have our work cut out for us.”

Marquette has won nine of its last 10 games, including three of four against North Division rival Alpena over the last two weekends. Rangers goalkeep Kevin Kissaw has been virtually impenetrable so far this season, with a .953 save percentage and 1.44 goals-against average in his 11 starts.

“They’re playing a sound team defensive game and getting great goaltending, and that’s hard to beat,” Palumbo added. “Then you throw in the skilled veterans like (Garrett) Ladd, (Josh) Bussell and (Colin) Saint-Onge – plus the new guys they picked up that are already contributing – and those are the makings of a team poised to make a deep run this season.”

Ladd leads Marquette with 15 points over his first 12 outings, while rookies Brent Bain and Andrew Kolb have 13 points each. Those three players lead the club with six goals apiece.

Bussell, whose junior career has come full circle after starting out with the Rangers in 2007 and stopping off in Motor City, Mahoning Valley and Texas, has two goals and three assists in his first six contests back with Marquette.

“If we want to be successful, we’ll have to come out with a better first period than we’ve been playing,” Palumbo surmised. “We’ve played well, but in spurts. We have to start putting together three full periods of hockey and there’s no better time to stem that trend than against the team we’re chasing in the standings.”

The North Stars’ offensive cavalcade begins with Andy Huff, who leads the NAHL with 11 goals. The primary setup man has been Dan Radke (pictured), whose 11 assists put him third among NAHL skaters. Eric McLintock and Kelin Ainsworth have double-digit point totals through a baker’s dozen worth of games, while former Marquette winger Kyle Jean has racked up three goals and three assists in his first four games since coming off the injured list.

“We’ve been able to score some goals, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but we have to play a more complete game,” Palumbo opined. “The goals can’t come at the expense of playing in our own zone.”

The Rangers and North Stars hook up on Saturday night in a 7 p.m. contest before the first matinee of the season to close out the series on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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