Read the full NAHL Weekly Release.
They might sit in last place in the NAHL’s North Division, but with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games, including two home victories over the Alpena IceDiggers last weekend, don’t count the Traverse City North Stars out just yet.
“For our fans, I'm sure that two straight sweeps of one of our biggest rivals was nice, but for us it's just important to compete hard and execute every night, no matter who we’re playing,” said North Stars coach-GM Anthony Palumbo, whose team improved to 17-19-11 on the season.
Kyle Bonis potted two goals as the North Stars doubled up the IceDiggers on Friday, 4-2. Jonathan Sheridan tallied the game-winning goal, while goaltender Chris Paliafito turned back 17 shots.
The next night, Traverse City bested Alpena, 5-4, in a 10-round shootout. Harrison Niemann and Kory Kaunisto each rang up a goal and an assist in the triumph, with Jameson Raymond scoring the game-winner in the shootout. Paliafito made 27 saves in regulation and six of 10 in the shootout to secure the victory.
“We got solid defense, great goaltending and some very timely goals,” said Palumbo. “We seem to be learning how to win.”
Are they ever. With their victory on Saturday, the North Stars set a team record for points in a season with 45, eclipsing last year’s mark of 43.
Individually, Nate Urbaniak, 19, set a team mark for most points in a season with 53, surpassing the 46 points Patrick Nagorsen, now a freshman at Western Michigan, totaled a year ago. Urbaniak, a Top Prospects Tournament participant, has 18 points in his last 10 games.
“Nate's a guy who is responsible defensively and creative on the offensive end,” said Palumbo. “He’s really a complete package.”
Bonis also had an outstanding weekend for the North Stars, delivering two goals and an assist, along with a plus-3 rating. The 19-year-old from Lindsay, Ontario, has 11 points in his last 10 contests.
“Kyle's been as consistent an offensive threat as we have pretty much from the day he got here, and last weekend was no different,” said Palumbo.
Between the pipes, Paliafito has been outstanding the last few weeks, assuming the bulk of the minutes for the injured Brandon Stephenson.
"Chris has really started to come into his own right now," said Palumbo. "When he came in, we knew he had a great deal of ability and it was just a matter of getting comfortable. He's given us a great deal of stability back there."
Despite their positioning in the North’s cellar, the North Stars have proven to be formidable foes all season. Seventeen of their 19 losses have come by only one goal, with 11 of those decided in overtime or a shootout.
“I think we've had a good team all year,” said Palumbo. “We've played some good hockey against some very tough competition and haven’t always had the bounces go our way.
“Now, it seems we're learning how to win, our coaching staff seems to be growing to understand the team and we're getting those bounces.”
Palumbo also credits his team’s tight-knit rapport for its recent success.
“Our team camaraderie has developed to where we have a great group of guys that get along extremely well,” he said. “I think they're starting to realize the importance of taking care of each other.”
With 11 games left in the regular season, including four against fourth-place Marquette and one against the fifth-place U.S. Under-17 Team, the North Stars know they have plenty of life, but are focused on taking the month of March one game at a time.
“We can’t worry about who we're playing next, and we can’t get caught up in what all the other teams in the mix are doing,” said Palumbo. “It's sort of a cliche, but you can get distracted with all the other stuff. If we go out and play the way we're capable of, all that will work itself out.”
AROUND THE NAHL
TOP PROSPECTS CONCLUDES: The USNTDP and the North Division finished with 2-1 records at last week’s NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., while the Central and South Divisions posted 1-2 marks.
WARDA TO MICHIGAN STATE: Second-year St. Louis forward Ben Warda, 20, has committed to Michigan State University (CCHA) for next season. The Top Prospects Tournament participant from Lake Orion, Mich., ranks fifth in league scoring this season with 24 goals for 65 points after 49 games.
WENATCHEE GRANTED CONDITIONAL APPROVAL: The NAHL’s Board of Governors has voted to grant conditional approval for an expansion franchise to Wenatchee (Washington) Junior Hockey LLC to begin play next season.
PITTSBURGH WINS MIDGET SHOWCASE: The Pittsburgh Hornets won the third and final tournament of this year’s NAHL Midget Showcase Series in Ann Arbor, Mich. The Hornets finished with a perfect 6-0 record, including a 4-2 win over the Chicago Young Americans in the championship game.
SPALDING IMPRESSES ON D: Southern Minnesota defenseman Robby Spalding, 20, rang up three goals, including the game-winner on Friday, and an assist as the Express skated to a two-game sweep over Fargo-Moorhead last weekend. “Robby has a lot of options for next year,” said Express coach-GM Matt Romaniski. “He’s either looking at going to school or possibly starting a professional career in the minors.”
ROCKER ROLLING: Topeka goaltender Lyle Rocker, 19, backstopped the RoadRunners to a pair of wins over Alaska last weekend, improving to 11-0-1 on the season. “Lyle has a tremendous attitude. He’s been patient and is making the most of his opportunities,” said RoadRunner coach-GM Scott Langer. “His numbers speak for themselves.”
MAGGARD MARCHES ON: Bismarck’s leading scorer Kyle Maggard, a 19-year-old Army recruit, racked up two goals and three assists last weekend as the Bobcats picked up three of four points over Alexandria. "Kyle played extremely well for us in two must-win situations,” said Bobcats coach Byron Pool. “On a young team that doesn’t have a lot of veteran leadership, he’s going to be forced to step up his game the rest of the way.”
VICHOREK COMING INTO HIS OWN: Alexandria defenseman Taylor Vichorek, 19, notched three goals, including two on the power play, and an assist as the Blizzard split a pair of games with Bismarck. “Taylor is beginning to come into his own offensively and has been playing sound defensively,” said Blizzard coach-GM Brad Willner.
JOHNSON FLYING HIGH: Despite two losses to Southern Minnesota last weekend, Fargo-Moorhead defenseman Mark Johnson, 20, connected for a goal and an assist. He was also a plus-2. “Mark is smart with the puck and has good awareness of his surroundings,” said Jets assistant coach Aaron Kinslow. “He’s a complete player and a coach’s dream.”
HENDERSON PAYING DIVIDENDS: In a two-game sweep of Kenai River last weekend, Wichita Falls forward Mike Henderson, 18, tallied four goals and an assist. He now has six goals and three assists in his last six games. "Mike was acquired at the trade deadline to give us a little more offense and he hasn’t disappointed," said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus.