Friday, April 06, 2012

Blonde North Stars ready for Kalamazoo

The traditional playoff beard has given way to dazzling domes this time of year with junior hockey players opting to bleach their hair in postseason solidarity.

The Traverse City North Stars are participants in the follicle frivolity, and hope to be sporting the platinum look long after their roots show. The Stars travel to Kalamazoo to open the 2012 edition of the NAHL Robertson Cup Playoffs today, and are looking to extend their run in their final go-round in Traverse City.

“Yeah, the bleach-blond thing is a relatively new tradition, I'm not exactly sure why they do that,” said Stars head coach Chad Fournier. “I’m not sure if White (former Stars defenseman Travis White) started it or brought it back here. It may be out of necessity, as not every kid can grow a full beard anyway. Seriously though, I think it’s just a way for the guys to express their solidarity at a crucial juncture on the calendar. If it promotes team unity and isn’t a distraction, why not?”

On the ice, Traverse City and Kalamazoo didn’t just split their regular season series – they set up as evenly-matched as possible after each club won six of the 12 meetings, scored 39 total goals, and played in eight games that were decided by two goals or less. The clubs were separated by just four points in the final NAHL North Division standings; The Wings scored 13 more goals than the Stars, but gave up 13 more as well. Both teams were .500 in shootouts, and won seven of their final 10 games of the regular season.

“We’re very similar teams,” Fournier said. “They are extremely deep up front, and they know how to put the puck in the net. They skate well and really get up and down the ice. If we aren’t sound in our own end, they’ll score a lot of goals on us.”

TC winger Sean Murphy has been especially potent versus Kalamazoo, scoring seven goals and assisting on as many in 11 games. Jared Van Wormer, Mitchell Snider and Eric Rivard have a combined 15 goals in those meetings, while Michal Toman has levied four of his six goals this season against the K-Wings. Kyle Laslo has worked 11 of the 12 contests, going 6-2-3 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

On the other side, Kyle Gattalaro is the only Wing with double-digit points (10), but Andrew Graves also has seven goals over nine games. Kalamazoo goalie Kenneth MacLean (5-2-0) has fared slightly better in net than counterpart Alex Okicki (1-3-1) in the clubs’ meetings.

“They have their share of top-flight scorers, but there’s a lot of depth there, too,” Fournier added. “We’ll have to be able to meet and exceed their intensity right from the opening puck drop. That’ll be one of the key components to this series.”

Fournier also offered some rare good news on the personnel front as well.

“We’re still minus one (forward Kyle Loridon), but 100 percent beyond that. For the first time in three or four weeks, we’ll be able to dress the 20 players we’re allowed to dress. We haven’t been able to say that in a while.”

Following Friday’s opener, the series continues with a Saturday matinee (2 p.m.) before the series shift to Centre ICE Arena the following weekend, April 13-14. If a decisive fifth game is required, it will take place in K-Zoo on Monday, April 16.

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