The Alpena high school hockey team is once again hosting the Blue Line Tournament this weekend and may have the chance to pick up head coach Pete Doubek's first Blue Line tournament championship since he started coaching three years ago.
"Based on what we did last year (against our opponents), and if things are the same they were last year, it should be a very balanced tournament. I think what it comes down to is the effort and how badly the teams want to push themselves," Doubek said.
Alpena (4-5-1) will face Anchor Bay High School at 6:00 tonight. Saginaw Swan Valley and Shrine Catholic face off at 8:00.
The losers of the first round play a consolation game at 1:00 on Saturday while the winners play the championship game at 3:00.
A championship win in the Blue Line Tournament could cap off a strong Wildcats turnaround and give it the momentum to continue winning.
The Wildcats are currently riding a two game win streak after struggling to win early in the season. Its most recent win was a tight 2-1 win over Traverse City West last Saturday.
"I think coming off a win over West, the boys are pretty fired up (for the tournament) and are ready to win," Doubek said.
Alpena lost to Saginaw Tri-Valley 7-1 in the first round last year, but beat Walled Lake Western 6-2 in the consolation game.
The Wildcats success in the consolation game was driven primarily by Jared Plume and Jared Kwiatkowski, who both scored two goals. The graduating Kwiatkowski was Alpena's primary offensive weapon last year.
Doubek is looking to the experience of veteran players like Plume to help propel his younger players to fill in the gaps left by graduating seniors. Some of these younger players have already made an impression on Doubek.
"Zach Kendziorski has really stepped up as a leader this year as well as Cade MacCarthur. Jesse (Boilore) has just been spectacular at goal," Doubek said.
MacArthur picked up a goal in Alpena's recent victory over TC West while Kendziorski had an assist. Boilore had 32 saves at the net.
The Wildcats have been preparing for the tournament for a few weeks, but were unable to practice this week due to a later regular season start.
"We haven't been on the ice for awhile, since the rink has been shut down for Christmas break. Some of the guys will skate in the alumni game tonight and we're still trying to decide if we want to have a pre-game skate," Doubek said.
The Wildcats will be largely in charge of its own fate for this tournament and is likely to focus on tight, team oriented play. It doesn't have the kind of high scoring players it had last year, but instead has a more even pool of talent to which it can spread the puck.
This could be to Alpena's advantage this year. It won't have to rely on spectacular play from one or two players to win, but instead can focus on the kind of type of tough, physical play that has been the hallmark of Alpena hockey for decades.
"Every team is unique, and you have got to figure out how to push them and how hard to push them. They have to decide for themselves how hard they want to work. Right now, they're discovering what they can do as a team if they push their limits," Doubek said.