Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
Winners of five of their last seven games, the Marquette Rangers jumped into third place in the NAHL’s North Division standings after two victories last weekend over the U.S. Under-17 Team.
“It’s no secret that our division is extremely tight this year, so anytime you can go on the road and come out with two wins, it’s a big lift,” said Rangers coach Randy Enders, whose team improved to 13-8 on the season. “We were happy with the wins, but we know it’s nothing more than one weekend and we need to use it as motivation.”
On Friday, the Rangers outlasted the Team USA in a shootout, 6-5. Aaron Pietila notched a goal and two assists in the win, while Nick Condon and Garrett Ladd each chipped in two assists. Between the pipes, Beau Christian turned aside 29 shots (3-of-4 in the shootout).
The next night, Pietila, Nic Weight (game-winner) and Josh Bussell rang up goals as Marquette skated to a 3-1 triumph over the U.S. squad. In goal, Matt Brooker made 25 saves.
With goals from six different players on the weekend, Enders was pleased with his team’s balanced offensive attack.
“When you’re able to get production like that, it’s tough to defend against,” said the coach. “We were also able to get very timely goals that helped shift momentum when we needed it.”
Pietila was the Rangers’ only multiple scorer. The 19-year-old from Brighton, Mich., who played last season in Traverse City, leads Marquette in scoring with 24 points (10 goals).
“We picked Aaron up this summer to add a solid power forward with experience in the league, and we’re starting to get even more out of him,” said Enders. “Not only does he put up points, but he plays with grit and has the ability to impose his will on the other team.”
Proof positive is Pietila’s two “Gordie Howe” hat tricks on the season (a goal, assist and fight in the same game).
“That type of play is inspiring and can energize your teammates,” said Enders.
First-year forwards Bussell and Pietila’s cousin, Chad Pietila, have stepped into leading roles this season and have proved to be major contributors. In addition, Weight, a veteran, is starting to find his scoring stride.
On the blue line, Condon, Derek Grogan and Tyler Matthews have been nothing short of reliable while contributing on the offensive end, with unheralded Michael Thompson and Trevor John delivering steady efforts in their own zone.
“We’ve been getting good play from our defensive unit,” said Enders.
The Rangers have also been inspired by their goaltending tandem of Brooker and Christian, both in their second seasons with the team. The two have been splitting time this season almost down to the minute.
“Coming into this season, we were excited to get both of them back and they haven’t let us down,” said Enders. “When you have two guys that have a healthy competition between them, it fuels them and makes the entire team better.
“No matter who’s in the net, we have confidence that they’ll help put us in a position to win the game.
“It’s a long season, and both guys will be given opportunities to emerge and our challenge to them is to get better each day and continue to push each other.”
Encouraged by their play of late, the Rangers’ focus is on constant improvement in hopes of carrying their winning momentum into December.
“Like a lot of teams, we’re learning early on what it takes to compete over the length of an entire season,” said Enders. “Consistent play is something that every team needs to be successful and we’re starting to see it more.
“We have a lot of things that we’re happy with and know that we have solid parts of our game to build off of, but we know there are many areas that need work.”
And for Marquette, the end goal is to be playing its best hockey come the postseason.
“We need to keep the big picture in mind,” said Enders. “We need to be better tomorrow than we are today and we need to be peaking at playoff time.
“You need to use little successes to drive you, to push you to excel to bigger and better places. As a team, our focus is to continue down the right track.”
AROUND THE NAHL
EHN HONORED: Air Force senior forward Eric Ehn (Capital Centre Pride, 2002-03) was named the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week after scoring five points in a pair of games against Holy Cross last weekend.
KAUNISTO RETURNS: Kory Kaunisto, 18, has returned to Traverse City after starting the season with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks. The Northern Michigan University recruit tallied six goals for 22 points in 61 games with the North Stars last year.
NO AVERAGE JOE: Since being acquired from Topeka three weeks ago, Alaska forward Joe Harren, 19, has six goals for nine points in 11 games, including three goals and an assist last weekend as the Avalanche took two of three games over Kenai River.
HOME SWEET HOME: After 14 straight games on the road dating back to Oct. 12, Bismarck finally returned home to All Seasons Arena on Saturday, treating the 1,334 in attendance to a 5-4 win over Alexandria.
WALTERS KEEPS ROLLING: North Iowa forward Shea Walters, 19, scored a goal and three assists in two victories over Fargo-Moorhead last weekend as the Outlaws extended their winning streak to nine games. “Every game Shea makes things happen,” Outlaws coach Dave Boitz said of the Bemidji State University recruit.
MAKING HIS POINT: With an assist in Springfield’s 5-3 win over Southern Minnesota on Saturday, Jr. Blues forward Matt Larke, 20, extended his point-scoring streak to eight games (12 points).
TOM TERRIFIC: Texas goaltender Thomas Callaghan, 18, picked up his first career NAHL shutout in the Tornado’s 2-0 win over Fairbanks on Friday (30 saves).
HATS OFF: Mahoning Valley forward Stefan Salituro, 17, recorded a natural hat trick, including the game-winning goal, in the Phantoms’ 6-3 win over Traverse City on Friday.