Having 14 days between games can have sometimes have a detrimental effect on a team's normal routine, but it may just be the perfect remedy for the Alpena hockey team.
The Wildcats dropped their last game, 4-1 to Traverse City West on Dec. 14, while juggling an injury and sickness-depleted lineup.
But having time off seems to have served the Wildcats well as they head into tonight's Blue Line Tournament at Northern Lights Arena. Alpena (4-2) will play Saginaw Swan Valley (5-3-1) at 6 p.m. and Bay City (7-2-1) will play Walled Lake Western (4-4-2) at 8 p.m.
Alpena will have several players returning to its lineup tonight including forward Zach Nash and defenseman Brad Lorenz, who have both missed the last two games. Defenseman Jared Plume will return to the Wildcats after playing with them last season and defenseman Jensen Saddler could also return.
All of this is good news to the Wildcats who enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak after starting the year 4-0.
"With everybody back, I'm expecting big things," Alpena coach Pete Doubek said. "Swan Valley we should be able to play with fairly well."
2012 Blue Line Tournament at
Northern Lights Arena
Alpena vs. Saginaw Swan Valley, 6 p.m.
Bay City vs. Walled Lake Western 8 p.m.
Consolation Game, 1 p.m.
Championship Game 3 p.m.
One key to success this weekend Doubek said, will be staying out of the penalty box at crucial times during the game such as during the first and last five minutes of each period. He also pointed out that the Wildcats must improve defensively and they should be able to with four regular blueliners scheduled to play tonight along with two-way player Cole Cosbitt.
Though they enter the tournament with a small skid, Doubek said the Wildcats are confident and mentally prepared as they aim for their second tournament title this season. Alpena won its division in the Huron Shores Challenge in November and has reached the Blue Line title game each of the last four seasons without a win.
The most recent setback came last year in a 3-2 overtime loss to Bay City and Doubek said while his team doesn't exactly feel a chip on its shoulder from last year, the players' expectations for themselves have increased thanks to a strong veteran leadership.
"Mentally, the expectation that they're going to win is higher, which is good to see as a coach," Doubek said. "Even in games that we lost there was no hanging of heads."
The Wildcats will also host a "Wildcat Hockey Fights Cancer" game on Jan. 11 and is looking for fans to come out in support of friends, family members and loved ones touched by cancer. Tickets for the game will be two dollars and all proceeds will go to Friends Together. Honorary captains will be chosen for the game from among community members whose lives have been affected by cancer and players will wear pink jerseys which will be auctioned off.