BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Now the competition get ratcheted up.
After a quartet of exhibition games, the Traverse City North Stars start the season in earnest Wednesday at the North American Hockey League's Showcase Tournament.
The team leaves early this morning for suburban Minneapolis and plays its first game Wednesday night against Texas.
The rest of the showcase features day games for the Stars -- against Odessa, Aberdeen and Springfield -- in the three days following their opener.
"Springfield has always been a good team," first-year Traverse City coach Chad Fournier said. "Texas is going to be a really good test for us. They're hosting the national tournament, so they are building themselves to win a championship at home."
The North Stars are coming off four exhibition games in which they dominated for the most part.
Traverse City dropped a 5-2 decision with Port Huron, but dominated a pair of Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League foes, beating the Soo Eagles 8-4 and the Blind River Beavers 12-0.
The Stars also beat the Wellington 3-1. The Dukes are the Hewitt Cup title holder as Ontario's junior A champions.
"They're considered Tier II teams in Canada, so they're equivalent to us," Fournier said. "It's just harder for them to get the players we get. They have a lot smaller area to pull their players from."
Fournier still liked what he saw on the ice.
"I thought we worked hard," Fournier said. "We've still got a lot to learn. The pace of the game is going to change in the next few days. Our young guys still aren't quite sure what they're going to see. It's going to be a lot different than what we saw in Sault Ste. Marie."
The Stars had a different leader in each game, with Jaren VanWormer carrying that torch with a hat trick against Blind River, and Alexander Taulien and Chris Waterstreet stepped up in the other two wins.
"The returning forwards put in a good effort and gave us what we hoped to," Fournier said. "They still need to push it a little harder to held our young defense. Alec Shields and Eric Rivard both looked really strong, along with Mitchell Snider. And Chris Leibinger and Robert Wiener in back are holding down the fort and making sure the young guys had a little time to see how the game gets played."
Aberdeen is entering its second year in the NAHL.
"They struggled a little bit," Fournier said. "But they didn't have any veteran players to start the year last year, and now they have those guys. They're going to be a good test as well."