Friday, November 06, 2009

North Stars readying for IceDiggers

The teams might be at polar opposite ends of the North American Hockey League’s North Division standings, but Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo says his North Stars and the Alpena IceDiggers are much closer than their comparative records would seem to indicate.

The Stars – who visit Alpena on Friday before hosting the IceDiggers at Centre ICE arena on Saturday night – enjoyed Halloween weekend off while second-place Marquette was swept at Janesville, keeping TC in the top spot at 10-4-1. Alpena (5-12-0) split a pair with Motor City, and currently hold down fifth place in the five-team North.

“I think they’re absolutely a very dangerous team,” Palumbo offered. “They’ve lost a ton of tough, close games, and they’re ready to break loose at any time. We’ll have to be ready for them to play their best hockey and we know how stocked their roster is. You look at it and see all the veterans and know they’re going to get it going any time.”

The numbers seem to back up Palumbo’s assertions. Alpena has lost seven games by a single goal, and an eighth by two goals. And the Diggers roster is lined with NAHL-tested personnel, including leading scorer Nate Taurence (five goals, 14 points) and fixture Jimmy McCusker (five goals) who is in his fourth season with Alpena. Swedish import Jonas Vassalli leads the way with 11 assists, while Austrian netkeep Marco Wieser has garnered the lion’s share of the crease time, going 4-9-0 with a 3.29 goals-against average and a .884 save percentage.

“I’d say I’m concerned about coming off a week away from game action, being on the road, that we’re going to have some rust,” Palumbo added. “That makes the first period on Friday that much more critical. We need to come out with the same energy and intensity we showed in the Marquette series (Oct. 24-25) to be able to match them.”

Eric McLintock leads the North Stars with 17 points (eight goals) through 15 contests, while Andy Huff is second in the NAHL with 12 goals. Dan Radke has 11 assists for Traverse City, and Kyle Jean is red-hot since returning from injury – with six goals and as many assists through six outings.

In net, Drew Strandberg leads the way with an 8-2-0 mark, a pair of shutouts, a 2.51 GAA and saves on 90.5 percent of his chances.

The Stars and 'Diggers face off at Northern Lights Arena on Friday before the set shifts west for Saturday’s weekend-capper. Both games drop at 7 p.m.

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