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Rangers ready for second half of season

The Marquette Rangers travel to Traverse City to play the North Stars in a two game North American Hockey League (NAHL) series tonight and Saturday and the trip may be just what the first year Rangers are in need of.

The last time the Rangers and North Stars met, the teams were tied for third in the North Division; now the Rangers are in competition for a play-off position. The Rangers and North Stars have paired off six times so far this season, with each team winning three times. "There have been a number of players changes over the last few weeks, but our team is coming off a well-earned week of rest and we're ready to compete for playoff positioning in the extremely tight Division. The team is excited about the second half of the season," says Rangers Head Coach Randy Enders.

Traverse City is currently five points ahead of the Rangers in the standings, but the Rangers have three games in hand on the North Stars. The Rangers' last two series, first against the U.S. National Development Team and the following weekend against Mahoning Valley were weekend splits. The weekend split against Mahoning Valley just before Christmas ended the Phantoms 19 game unbeaten streak, showing fans the affects of recent roster changes and continued team chemistry.

Scott Gardiner, Head Coach of the North Stars previously said, the Rangers are no pushover. "They're going through some growing pains just like all new franchises do, but make no mistake - they have a good team. They sure came in and played well against us last month."

"Despite being the only expansion team in the league this year, we've done a good job competing," said Enders. "Being in the thick of a play-off race with a ton of home games over the next three months is exciting for the players and fans."

Nick Kosinski leads Marquette with 29 points, while Brodie Zuk has amassed 27 points. Neeco Belanger has 23 points. Area fans can follow game action this weekend at Pointstreak.com - Pointstreak.com - Real-time Scoring and League Management System.

Following the Friday-Saturday series with the North Stars, the Rangers return home to host the U.S. National Development Team January 12 and 13 at Lakeview Arena. Tickets are available for upcoming games by visiting the Rangers Lakeview Arena office, Marquette branches of River Valley State Bank, Johnson's Pro Shop in Lakeview Arena, Johnson's Sport Shop on Third Street, or by calling the Rangers at (906) 225-9077. Team info can be viewed at Marquette Rangers Hockey.
 

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Phantoms return to league action against Alpena

BOARDMAN, Ohio - After splitting a pair of international exhibition games over the holiday season, the Mahoning Valley Phantoms return to North American Hockey League action this weekend when they host the Alpena (Mich.) Ice Diggers on Jan. 5-6 at the Ice Zone in Boardman. Face-off both nights is at 7 p.m.

The Phantoms look to continue a new winning streak on Friday. They saw their 19-game winning streak snapped in Marquette (Mich.) against the Rangers by a score of 3-2 on Dec. 22. Mahoning Valley bounced back for a 5-1 win the following night.

"It won't take much to fire up either team this weekend," Coach Bob Mainhardt said. "Considering where we both are in the standings, it will certainly be a playoff atmosphere."

The Ice Diggers are coming off a home-and-home series with the Traverse City (Mich.) North Stars on Dec. 30-31, where both teams won on home ice by identical scores.

Traverse City won 5-4 in an overtime shootout on Saturday at Centre I.C.E. Arena, while Alpena gained a split of the series the next day with a 5-4 regulation win at Northern Lights Arena.

By winning 20 of their last 21 games, the Phantoms, 26-8-1 for 53 points, have jumped into first place in the North Division, building a five-point lead over Alpena, 23-8-2 for 48 points.

"For us, Alpena has become our biggest rival," left wing Brent Dexter said. "We still play them twelve more times this year, but we're very familiar with each other and that will only make us work harder."

In four previous meetings, Mahoning Valley has outscored Alpena 20-9 in winning each match-up.

Following this weekend's series, the Phantoms and Ice Diggers will square off in Alpena next weekend, Jan. 13-14. The outcome of these next four games could impact the standings in the North Division.

"We recognize the importance of these next two weekends," Mainhardt said. "The team that wants it more will likely gain the upper hand."

Though their 19-game winning streak is behind them, the Phantoms are a perfect 12-0 at the Ice Zone this season. Friday's contest marks the first of 17 remaining home games through Mar. 31.

Center Dustin Cloutier is the most productive scorer in the NAHL over his last 10 games. Over that span, he has 10 goals and 10 assists for 20 points. Only Ryan Fuller of the Texas Tornado has more goals (11) than Cloutier over that period. Fuller is second in points to Cloutier with 17 in his last 10 games.

"Dustin has been a model of consistency since he's arrived," Mainhardt said. "He wins face-offs, kills penalties and can be counted on in any situation. Our goal is to see Dustin play at the collegiate level next season and he's making good strides towards that."

Tickets for both games are available at the Ice Zone ticket booth, located at 360 McClurg Rd. in Boardman, or by calling (330) 965-1423. Prices range from $6.00-$9.00 dollars.

The Mahoning Valley Phantoms are owned by the B.J. Alan Company- Phantom Fireworks, which is headquartered in Youngstown, Ohio
 

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Stars host reeling Rangers

TRAVERSE CITY - When Marquette visited Traverse City for an Oct. 27-28 series at Centre ICE arena, the first-year Rangers were riding high, sitting within striking distance of the top of the North American Hockey League's North Division, and swept a pair from the struggling North Stars.

Since then, life hasn't been quite as rosy for the neophyte franchise, as the Rangers have dropped 14 of their last 17 since the sweep in TC, including a pair of losses at Centre ICE arena Dec. 1-2. Just before the calendar changed to 2007, Marquette released head coach Leigh Mendelson, retaining former assistant coach Randy Enders as interim front man. Enders will make his head coaching debut this weekend in Traverse City, as the Rangers and North Stars clash in a Friday-Saturday series at Centre ICE.

"Every first-year club is going to have growing pains, plain and simple," said Stars head coach Scott Gardiner. "And it just so happens, the North Division is the deepest, toughest division in the NAHL.

"They have some very good talent, one of the best goalies in the league, and they're a tough, physical bunch. No one around here is fooled into thinking this weekend is going to be some kind of a walk- over or anything like that. You can't take a single night off in this division."

The teams have split their six games so far this year, with Traverse City splitting with the Rangers at Lakefront Arena in early October and the teams taking turns sweeping the past two series south of the straits. Presently, Marquette (11-19-2) and the U.S. National Team Development Program are deadlocked for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division with 24 points each. Traverse City (12-18-5) is five points ahead of those teams, but Marquette has played three fewer games to date.

"It's an important four points for a lot of reasons," Gardiner explained. "We want to maintain our standing in the pecking order, and start to creep on (second place) Alpena. They (Marquette) are one of the teams we're battling for eventual playoff position with."

Nick Kosinski (10 goals, 19 assists), Brodie Zuk (12 G-15 A), and Neeco Belanger (11 G-12 A) lead the Rangers in scoring, but the tandem of Luke Bennett and Jake Hauswirth have done the most damage in the team's six meetings with the North Stars. The duo has combined for five goals and seven assists in those contests.

On the other bench, Patrick Nagorsen and Aaron Pietlla lead the Stars with five points each in the six games versus Marquette, while Eriks Ozollapa registered a trio of goals in the Dec. 1-2 sweep of the Rangers.

Both the Friday and Saturday showdowns face-off at 7 p.m. at Centre ICE arena. The games can also be heard via live webcast at traversecitynorthstars.com.
 

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Texas Tornado update

Tornado visit 'Cats for first series of 2007

The Texas Tornado open 2007 with a two-games series in Wichita Falls against the Wildcats on Friday, January 5th and Saturday, January 6th at 7:05pm both nights at the Kay Yaeger Coliseum. The games can be heard live on the Texas Tornado Hockey Network beginning with the eLinkSystems Pre-Game Show at 6:55pm both nights. The Tornado have been very successful against the 'Cats so far this season, with a 5-0-1 record against them this year. The Tornado last faced the 'Cats in front of a sold out crowd at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Frisco back on December 29th and came away with a 4-3 victory.

Tornado fans wishing to make the trip: The Texas Tornado Booster Club has set-up a pre-game meal on Saturday for Tornado fans at McBrides Steakhouse in Wichita Falls before the game, and everyone is encouraged to join them. McBride's is famous for great steaks at a very reasonable price that is hard to beat! If your are interested in caravanning to the game or showing up to McBride's, please contact David Dunlap at 214-456-5640 or via email at: [email protected]bcglobal.net

Next home series: Friday, January 12 and Saturday, January 13 vs. Santa Fe Roadrunners

The next Tornado home games will be against the Santa Fe Roadrunners on Friday, January 12th and Saturday, January 13th at 7:30pm at the Dr Pepper StarCenter in Frisco. Tickets for both games are available by calling 972-335-9800, or Purchase Tickets Online Now! The Texas Tornado has teamed up with Sportsradio 1310AM The Ticket for the entire weekend. The BaD Radio Show will be broadcasting live from the Deja Blue Arena from Noon-3pm on Friday, January 12th and The Ticket will be giving away tickets all week to the weekend games against Santa Fe. For more information on The Ticket Weekend with the Tornado please check out SportsRadio 1310 The Ticket. On Saturday, the first 1,500 fans will receive a FREE Harley-Davidson/Texas Tornado T-Shirt.
 
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