Friday, April 09, 2010

North Stars look to finish off Jets

If you’re lucky enough to still be playing hockey this time of year, each game becomes the biggest game of the season.

And if you’re five-year old franchise on the precipice of advancing to the NAHL North Division Finals of the first time in history, each shift becomes the most important shift in club lore.

Such is the case with the Traverse City North Stars, who own a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five North Division semifinals after 7-1 and 4-0 wins over the Jets last weekend at Centre ICE. With one more, win they’ll move on. But a pair of losses would send the series back to Centre ICE for a decisive fifth contest on Monday.

“It’s going to be a very different weekend, we know that,” said Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “It’s their first-ever home playoff game, there’ll be a packed house, and a lot of emotion. We expect them to come out flying.”

The Jets will have to get their very capable offense going to stave off elimination this weekend. All-stars Rui Encarnacao (52 regular season points; team-high 27 goals) and Ross Mauermann (41 pts., 28 assists) have yet to record a point through the first two contests. Palumbo says they and the other Janesville skaters could go off at any time.

“They have some talented, hard-working guys,” he pointed out. “And that makes it that much more important that we focus on winning the first shift, then the first period on Friday. Then we’ll try to win the second period, and so on. We’ll see where that takes us. We can’t get caught up thinking about anything other than what our job every time we go over the boards.”

North Stars goalkeep Drew Strandberg has backstopped the club almost flawlessly through 120 minutes of action, permitting a single goal in Friday’s Robertson Cup playoff opener before penning a shutout the following evening. TC defenseman Chris Heineman may be available this weekend after absorbing a blow to the upper body last Friday.

If the Stars can wrest one of this weekend’s games, or on Monday back in Traverse City, they’ll face the winner of the Motor City-Marquette series the following weekend. The Metal Jackets lead the Rangers 2-0 in the other North semifinal, and Game 3 was in a second overtime late Thursday. A possible decisive Game 5 between the Stars and Jets would be played on April 12 at 7 p.m.

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