Tuesday, March 16, 2010

North Stars start busy stretch of games

To say that the Traverse City North Stars will be busy over the next couple of weeks is a bit of an understatement.

Wednesday’s St. Patrick’s Day contest against Motor City at Centre ICE arena will commence a stretch run of seven games in 11 days, including a three-game homestand this weekend against first-place Marquette, to close out the 2009-10 regular season slate.

“The alternative is to sit home, rest up, and get ready for the playoffs,” observed North Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “I think I like the idea of staying in a heavy-rotation routine and keeping our competitive edge right on through.”

And the torrid regular season finish couldn’t come with the NAHL North Division standings more tightly-packed. Marquette owns a two-point lead over second-place Traverse City, which is followed closely by third-place Janesville – fresh off a two-game sweep of Marquette and just two points behind TC in the chase for the second and final home-ice advantage playoff slot in the NAHL North. The Stars have a game-in-hand against both the Rangers and Jets, which they’ll play on Wednesday.

Wednesday’s opponent is also fighting for playoff position, as Motor City has a five-point lead on Alpena for the fourth and last divisional playoff berth and retains a mathematical chance at overtaking Janesville for the third spot.

“Whether we’re playing Marquette, Alpena, Motor City – whomever we’re playing – we have to make the most of every chance we get to pick up points," said Palumbo. "If we have hopes of having home ice, or dreams of getting past Marquette, then every single game from here on out is the most important game of the season, and we have to play that way.”

Motor City lost a pair of games at Alpena last weekend while the Stars sat idle, but swept Janesville the previous weekend at Yack Arena in suburban Detroit. R.J. Kleiman leads the Jackets in both goals (19) and assists (26), while rangy blue-liner Mike Monfredo (23 pts., 155 PIM) anchors the Motown defensive unit. Randy Willis (26 GP), Jason Torf (22) and Phillip Graveline (11) have platooned in net.

A trio of North Stars – Garrett Thompson (45), Doug Clifford (45) and Dan Radke (42) – have eclipsed the 40-point mark so far this season, while Eric McLintock (19 G), Nick Shkreli (35 pts. in 38 games) and Andy Huff (20 G) have reached the 30-point plateau. Drew Strandberg, who is 7-2-1 in goal since Christmas, is now 19-8-2 and fifth in the NAHL with a 2.45 goals-against average. He’s three wins from tying C.J. Motte’s club mark for wins in a season (22).

After Wednesday’s game, the Stars (28-18-5) will have just one day before the division’s top dogs come calling. The Friday and Saturday contests are set for 7:00 p.m., while Sunday’s matinee series final gets underway at 1:00 p.m.

The regular season home finale is on Mar. 26 against Alpena, and is wedged between road games at Marquette (Mar. 25) and Alpena (Mar. 27).

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