BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Playing short a skater all game, it didn't look like it on the ice.
It did on the scoreboard.
With only 17 skaters, Traverse City outplayed Kalamazoo for long stretches, but couldn't catch a break in a 4-1 setback to their North Division rivals.
"I thought we played good; I really did," North Stars acting coach Anthony Palumbo said. "We just couldn't score. In the end, their guy made a lot of good saves. In terms of the game, I'd say we probably carried 65 percent of the game — maybe 70 percent even.
"We made a mistake on that one goal and it cost us. They scored a power play goal, and we didn't. That's kind of been our thing. But the boys played hard and worked hard. We hit a couple goalposts. (Eric) Jones hit the crossbar, Mitchell Snider misses a break-away, Will Badner misses an empty net in the first. But we played good. I like our chances if we play like that."
The North Stars held a 39-28 advantage in shots on goal — including a 17-6 bulge in the second period — but could never draw even with second-place Kalamazoo as the two squads battle for playoff position. The Stars hold third in the North Division.
"A couple breaks and it could have been a different game," Palumbo said. "Those are tough ones to lose. You outshoot a team and you dominate stretches of play. We've got to find a way to score a power-play goal — and I'm not sure how we're going to do it. I actually thought our power play was better. We got good shots; we just couldn't finish."
Traverse City was 0-for-5 on the power play, making the team 4-for-51 thus far in the new year.
With four players still serving suspensions as a result of the brawl between Traverse City and Kalamazoo on Jan. 22, the North Stars had to call up a player — forward Conor Durgan — from an affiliate just to have 17 skaters, which is one shy of a full four lines.
The team will get defenseman Zack Dorer back from suspension for Friday's home matchup with fourth-place Michigan. They'll also have forward Kyle Haak — who couldn't play Wednesday because of a school commitment — in the lineup. Forward Seth Adams is day-to-day with a deep leg bruise.
"It's been tough fighting through with a short lineup," Palumbo said. "But I thought the guys did a great job fighting through it."
And there was no fighting in the literal sense — which is not the norm is recent matchups with the K-Wings.
"I wasn't worried about that," Palumbo said. "We're in a playoff race. That's past history. We're focused on trying to make the playoffs and get a good position. That wasn't much of a concern going into the game."
The closest the contest came to blows was when TC's Kyle Laslo and Kalamazoo's Danny Hamburg collided near the blue line as Laslo was trying to get off the ice during a delayed penalty call. Laslo and Hamburg fought in Traverse City's 5-4 Jan. 17 win, and Hamburg was the recipient of several broken teeth and a concussion in the Jan. 22 brawl.
After the referees discussed the matter, Traverse City was awarded a power play for the original hooking call on David Dekorte and nothing else materialized. The Stars generated solid pressure on the ensuing power play, but came up without a goal for the fourth straight power play.
Laslo ended with 24 saves, while Kalamazoo's Alex Okicki had 38.
Sean Murphy scored Traverse City's only goal Wednesday, going five-hole off a Will Badner feed from behind the net for his 12th goal this season to make it 3-1 with 4:38 to go.
Kalamazoo had gone up 3-0 on third-period goals by Brett Beauvais and Andrew Graves.
The second period's only goal came off a Traverse City turnover in its own zone, and Daniel Cesarz was able to sneak his shot past a lunging Laslo for a 1-0 lead with 6:41 remaining. Former North Stars forward Taylor Burden assisted on the score.
The K-Wings added an empty-net goal by Kyle Gattelaro with 1:13 remaining.