Pete Doubek remembers the experience of playing in Canada during his playing days with the Alpena High School hockey team: the older, bigger opponents, the increase in physical play and subtle cultural differences.
"I remember all the Canadians had long hair and they called us short hairs. They had that fifth grade (13th grade in high school) so the kids were older and had beards and long hair," Doubek said. "It was intimidating, but it was good competition. I think we lost most of our games, but they were close and it was good for when we came back to the states."
As coach of the Wildcats, Doubek and his players will get to share in the experience of playing in Canada again. The Wildcats will travel to Ontario, Canada for two games against Central Algoma Secondary School this weekend. The first game is tonight at 6 p.m. and the second game is 11 a.m. on Saturday.
The Wildcats (7-7-1) enter the two-game series on a bit of a high note. Alpena played three times last week and won twice, beating Traverse City St. Francis and Jeffers. The Wildcats have won five of their last seven games and seem to have turned a corner from the beginning of the year when they lost four of their first six games.
"I think we've improved a lot for sure. You look at us at the start of the year and right now and it's totally different. It's really cool to see us finally figure out all our plays and people working together," senior forward Tait Froggett said. "It's exciting, it really is. I've never played out of the states so I'm just looking forward to it."
Alpena got a look at the Huskies last season when they played in the Boosters Tournament, but the two teams didn't play each other. C.A.S.S. beat Hudsonville 3-1 in the semifinals, but lost to Anchor Bay 4-2 in the championship game. The Huskies have also fared well in local tournaments in Canada and won the 40th annual NDA Tournament title in December.
While the Wildcats have been looking forward to this trip for a while, it's particularly gratifying for senior defenseman Shane Dawson.
After being limited to three games last season because of a knee injury, Dawson was all set to come back this season, but injured his other knee over the summer after attending a few camps. Dawson finally returned to the lineup last weekend and made an immediate impact, tallying four points against Jeffers with a goal and three assists.
Dawson has watched the team from the sidelines in his long absence and believes, like Froggett, that the Wildcats have finally turned a corner.
"It's really fun coming back and being out here and playing with everyone. I missed playing so it's good to be back," Dawson said. "I think we started out kind of rough, but now that we have some games and a couple big wins under us, I think we're starting to come together as one. It's going to be fun playing this weekend, I've been looking forward to it for a long time."