The skates are sharpened, the sticks are taped, there's a nip in the air and a buzz growing around Northern Lights Arena, which means the Alpena High School hockey is ready to take the ice again.
The Wildcats will open the 2013-14 season today in the Huron Shores Challenge at home. Alpena's varsity team will play Utica Stevenson at 6 p.m. and Alpena's JV team will play Negaunee at 8 p.m.
"The kids are excited, everybody in school's excited; just to get the season rolling and get into a routine. I've got a good group of returning veterans coming back and they're excited," Alpena coach Pete Doubek said.
News File Photo
Alpena’s Tait Froggett, left, battles a Walled Lake Western player during a game at Northern Lights Arena last season. Froggett and the Wildcats will open the 2013-14 season tonight in the Huron Shores Challenge.
After years of being a 12-team tournament with multiple divisions, the Huron Shores Challenge will feature just four teams this season. The Wildcats fared well in last year's Challenge, opening the season with two wins and won their bracket in the Lake Huron Division.
This year's group is eager to defend that title and get the season off to a good start.
Everyone's been working really hard," senior goaltender Jay Dutcher said. "Coach Doubek's been pushing us to our limits, but we've been responding good and getting ready for this weekend."
2013 Huron Shores Challenge
Alpena vs. Utica Stevenson, 6 p.m.
Alpena JV vs. Negaunee, 8 p.m.
The other teams participating will be looking for a good start as well. Utica won both of its games in last year's challenge, including an 8-7 win over Negaunee, but finished the year at 5-11. Negaunee won its first game last year, 10-4 over Lapeer, but stumbled the rest of the season and went 4-21.
As much as the Wildcats would like to open the year on a winning note, Doubek hopes to see some chemistry develop between his players. Alpena has only scrimmaged up to this point, but Doubek wants to see the Wildcats play good fundamental hockey; namely playing strong defensively and playing smart.
"In the scrimmages we saw a lot of potential and obviously, with kids who haven't played together it takes awhile to develop chemistry," Doubek said. "We've got lines picked out, but we haven't perfected anything; hockey always changes depending on which way the winds blowing."
Developing chemistry will be important for the Wildcats, who graduated nine seniors from last year's team including their top line and goaltender Bret LeTourneau. With that in mind, this year's returning players are looking forward not only to the start of the year, but also to taking leadership roles on the team.
"We don't know a lot about these teams, but we're just going to skate hard and see what happens," senior forward Tait Froggett said. "It's always a lot of fun to see who you're playing with and getting to know the guys; senior year I'm just looking forward to it. The team this year, we've got a lot of talent, more depth and a lot of good guys on the team."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.