Wednesday, May 05, 2010

North Stars win Cup opener over Wild

The Traverse City North Stars played the role of discourteous houseguest on Tuesday at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee, handing the host Wild a 5-4 setback in the teams’ Robertson Cup opener.

Chris Heineman issued the decisive affront with just 34 seconds remaining in the third period, tattooing a one-time slapshot into the top corner of the net to give Traverse City a victory in its first-ever Robertson Cup outing.

“Our guys played with a lot of heart tonight,” said Stars head coach-GM Anthony Palumbo. “They played hard, and played within that team framework. It was a lot like some of the tough North Division games we play a lot of – that just kind of becomes part of your team.”

The North Stars, who have won all seven of their postseason contests this year, had to fend off eight Wenatchee power plays, including a pair of two-man advantage situations. The TC power play generated a trio of goals in six attempts.

“The penalty kill did a very nice job,” Palumbo added. “And to get some timely goals with the man advantage was huge, too.”

There were some tense moments around the 14:25 mark of the second period when Traverse City goalie Drew Strandberg was forced to leave the game with an apparent lower leg issue, but it turned out to be a case of severe muscle cramps and Chris Paliafito ably assumed the reins.

“Chris came in and did a great job,” Palumbo said. “They guys knew he had it. It’s a great luxury for us to have somebody like him able to step right in and not miss a beat.”

The North Stars carried much of the play in the first period, but were felled by a fluky bounce off the endboards that put them at a 1-0 disadvantage 4:08 into the contest. Andy Huff delivered an equalizer just 1:25 later, but once again the host Wild responded in kind less than three minutes after that.

Traverse City recorded the first of three consecutive power play markers with 6:46 remaining in the first period when Garrett Thompson delivered his sixth goal in seven games. Eric McLintock gave the Stars their first lead of the game a mere 58 seconds into the middle frame, but the Wild responded late in the period to send the game into the final stanza deadlocked at 3-all.

Dan Radke put the visitors back on top near the mid-point of the third with his fifth playoff lamplighter, and it seemed the affair was destined to go to an overtime session after the Wild scored on a face-off with 2:23 left. However, Heineman took a pass from Stars captain Travis White and blasted the puck from the point over the shoulder of All-NAHL goalkeeper Brand Jaeger.

“First, it was huge win on the draw from Sal,” said Palumbo, referring to Stars centerman Chris Salomone. “And we were able to get it over to Heiney, who absolutely crushed it. He’s a veteran, a leader, and gives us that kind of dimension back there, and we were able to take advantage of that.”

The North Stars were outshot by a 39-27 margin against the league’s Organization of the Year, had to contend with nearly 3,000 rabid Wenatchee fans, and play under the bright lights of the NAHL’s flagship event. Palumbo says it was a fantastic all-round atmosphere.

“It was awesome – and a great honor to get to play against Wenatchee in the opening game like that. I think it’s an experience our boys will remember forever.

“Unfortunately, despite getting a nice win, it really doesn’t mean nearly as much if we aren’t successful on Wednesday against St. Louis. We have the afternoon game, so there really isn’t any time to spend a lot of energy celebrating. It’s just one game, and you have to win five games if you want to win this thing. We still have work to do.”

Doug Clifford led the TC setup brigade with a pair of assists, while six others had one apiece: Heineman, McLintock, Huff, Thompson, Nick Shkreli and Tim Opie.

The Stars will face three-time defending Robertson Cup champion St. Louis on Wednesday at 2:05 p.m. PT/5:05 p.m. ET. The Bandits dropped their tourney opener to Bismarck by an 8-5 count. Wenatchee will face West Division foe Fairbanks in Tuesday’s Cup nightcap.

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