BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Don't expect a brawl, but there's going to be a fight to move on.
The Traverse City North Stars hit the road Friday to start the North Division playoffs, visiting the same Kalamazoo team that saw six members of the Stars get suspended after a January brawl in the same building.
"It happened," Traverse City coach Chad Fournier said. "And that's that. It usually doesn't carry over. We've played them four or five times since."
TC forward Alexander Taulien returns after missing 20 games from the line brawl.
"He makes us deeper," Fournier said. "He's got the ability to score goals. And he's a big, strong player that will help us."
He was expected to have an appeal hearing with the league after the Stars' first-round series was complete. However, he was reinstated by the league a week after the last suspended Kalamazoo player — Austin Hervey — was allowed to return. The one player who didn't return from the fracas was TC's Dean Burggrabe, who hasn't played since the Jan. 22 brawl due to injuries sustained in the incident that brought on the fight.
"It's a big thing to come back, but it's also a big thing to come back for the team, to be able to help in the playoffs," Taulien said.
Kalamazoo is coming off a 2-1 regular-season finale home loss to Port Huron in which the K-Wings had an opportunity to surpass the Fighting Falcons and win the division, which would have given them the North's top seed and a more favorable matchup with fourth-place Michigan.
Instead, they'll draw the North Stars. The two teams battled nearly to a draw in 12 regular-season matchups.
"They are very talented up front," Fournier said of the K-Wings. "They skate well and get up and down the ice."
While Traverse City outscored the K-Wings 42-36, the series couldn't have been much closer.
In their dozen matchups, each has won six. Both teams won once in a shooout, and Kalamazoo claimed two overtime victories.
"We just have to come out and play our game," Taulien said. "Coach mentioned playing a little bit more physical and be willing to bang bodies around a bit. But if we play our game and work hard, we'll come out on top hopefully."
The North Stars didn't have any such bad luck in their finale, as Wil Badner scored four goals to earn the league's No. 2 star of the week.
"Everything just seemed to be clicking how it's supposed to be," Taulien said of Badner's outing in Sunday's 6-1 win over Jamestown.
While the team is getting Taulien back, they're also dealing with the loss of defenseman J.D. Controneo to a season-ending concussion.
"I don't think you can replace J.D. at the back end," Fournier said. "He was extremely talented, and I don't know that you replace that kind of guy."
"Chris Leibinger, Nate Harris, Zack Dorer, Robert Wiener — those four have really tried to carry the load more offensively without J.D. out there. And Frank Gilbert and Kyle Froese have made huge strides the last month to make us a little bit deeper back there."