Last season the Marquette Rangers and Traverse City North Stars introduced the Smith Barney Challenge Cup to their fans. The Cup, sponsored by Smith Barney offices in Marquette and Traverse City, is awarded to the team who wins the head-to-head competition between the two squads at the end of season.
Traverse City claimed the title of the Challenge Cup in its inaugural season when the team came from behind to win it in the last game of the season against the Rangers.
"Winning the Cup last season was a bright spot in a season where we had higher expectations, but it's something we look at that happened last season that we can build on," North Stars head coach Anthony Palumbo said. "We made a strong push at the end of the season and that became one of our main goals as the playoffs became out of reach. We wanted to win the Marquette series."
The creation of the Challenge Cup not only added to the two teams' competition, but also has given fans another reason to cheer louder.
"It was new to our fans last season and it gained some popularity as the season went on," Polumbo added. " I think as we continue to build the rivalry with Marquette the Cup will become more of a focus for our fans." However, Rangers head coach Kenny Miller views the Challenge Cup in a different light as he hopes to capture the title this season.
"It's a terrific added prize for the season, but in all honesty it's only a piece of the bigger picture," he said. "Sure we'd like to claim the Challenge Cup this year, and I think if we're successful through the season winning the Cup will kind of fall into place.
"The Smith Barney Challenge Cup certainly adds to the fun of playing the game and to playing against Traverse City. I know some of our guys were disappointed after last year so we're going to making winning it one of many goals this season."
For the players, the Challenge Cup is an added incentive on the season as well.
"Watching them (Traverse City) skate off the ice with that thing last year didn't sit very well," said Rangers forward and captain Aaron Pietila. "We want to make some noise in our division this year, and I think if we do that, winning the Cup will hopefully be one of a lot of things we accomplish this season."
Palumbo added, "Winning the Challenge Cup will be part of our goals for the upcoming season. We're hoping to win all our series against the teams in our division but the Challenge Cup will definitely provide some additional incentive for our team against Marquette."
The first game of 12 contests between the Rangers and North Stars begins on Friday, Sept. 26 at Marquette's Lakeview Arena (8 p.m. faceoff).
Two points are awarded to a team for a win, one point is awarded for an overtime loss and no points are given for a regulation loss. At the end of the season, the points are totaled and the team with the most points claimsthe Challenge Cup.