Thursday, April 01, 2010

Traverse City opens playoffs vs. Jets

It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles when the Traverse City North Stars and Janesville Jets get together this weekend to open the 2010 Robertson Cup playoffs at Centre ICE arena.

While the score-happy North Stars don’t shy away from physical play – and the Janesville Jets are perfectly capable of putting the puck in the net – Traverse City head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo says his club will have to strap ‘em up tight if they hope to advance to through the NAHL North Division best-of-5 semifinal series.

“They’re big and tough and they have really taken it to us, especially later in the year,” Palumbo surmised. “We’re a team that can play that way, but also a team that has shown some finesse in our game as well. They’re a pretty complete team as well.”

The Stars will host the Jets on Friday and Saturday at Centre ICE arena before the series shifts to southern Wisconsin for Games 3 and 4. If a Game 5 becomes necessary, it will be back in Traverse City on Monday, April 12 at 5 p.m.

Janesville captured six of the teams’ 10 meetings this season, including the last four. The Jets strafed the Stars in a Feb. 20-21 series at Centre ICE, winning a pair of one-goal affairs. While TC claimed four of its final five regular season contests – including clobbering Alpena by a combined 15-3 over the final weekend – the Jets are coming off a pair of 3-0 shutouts at Marquette.

“I don’t think I would read too much into their last series,” Palumbo offered. “They were without one of their top scorers, their coach didn’t make the trip, and they couldn’t improve their playoff position at all, so there wasn’t a whole lot of motivation except to try to stay healthy for the postseason.”

Rui Encarnacao is Janesville’s top offensive performer, potting 27 goals and assisting on 25 others over the course of 57 regular season games. Ross Mauerman is the club’s leading setup man, dishing out 28 helpers in the same span. Derek Jacobsen is the Jets’ third-leading scorer with 10 goals and 21 assists in his 53 outings. Former North Stars defenseman Mike Schenfeld, dealt to the Jets early in the regular season, is top among Janesville blue-liners with four goals and nine assists.

In net, Mat Wichorek leads the way for the Jets, posting a 19-16-4 mark in 40 appearances to go with a 2.70 goals-against average and .903 save percentage.

“They do a lot of things well,” Palumbo said. “And they do it with a lot of energy, focus, and play with an edge.”

Doug Clifford finished atop the North Stars’ scoring chart with 53 points and a team-high 33 assists over 56 games. Garrett Thompson chipped in with a TC-best 24 goals and 50 points overall, while Dan Radke added 21 goals and 26 assists. Eric McLintock and Andy Huff also cracked the 20-goal plateau, with 22 each. Nilan Nagy led all Traverse City defensemen with 23 assists, which put him 12th among all NAHL rearguards.

In net, Drew Strandberg enjoyed the most productive season in Traverse City history, going 24-10-2 with four shutouts, a miniscule 2.38 goals-against average, and .909 save percentage.

“It should be an entertaining series,” Palumbo added. “We’ll have to bring our team game, a lot of energy, and be ready to go the distance if that’s what it comes to. We’re excited to get started.”

The Stars and Jets will open the North semifinals this Friday and Saturday at Centre ICE arena. Those games will get underway at 7:00 p.m.

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