Although snow has yet to fall in any serious way in Alpena, you can sense it in the air: the subtle shift when the air gets colder, clothes get thicker and the sound of pucks slapping the ice all sing together in a melodious symphony. This beautiful song sings a tune with a message that is crystal clear: hockey is here.
The Alpena varsity and junior varsity hockey teams are looking to start their season strong by hosting the Huron Shores Challenge today and Saturday at Northern Lights Arena in a field of 12 different teams which include Grand Rapids Christian, Cheboygan, Kenowa Hills, Milford, Lapeer, St. Clair, Dewitt/St. Johns, Berkley, Negaunee and Utica/Stevenson.
Coach Pete Doubek can't wait to get his teams out on the ice.
"It's awesome to be getting started," he said. "We lost a couple of solid defensive players last year but we have a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to make up for it. I can't wait to see the chemistry of the team come together."
Alpena will field two teams for the tournament. The varsity team will play tonight at 6:30 and the JV team will play at 5 p.m. tonight against Utica Stevenson.
The competition for this year's Huron Shores Challenge will be stiff. Cheboygan had a 21-6-1 record last season, however Alpena more than held its own against the Chiefs, beating them once, tying them once and losing once.
2012 Huron Shores
Challenge at Alpena (Northern Lights Arena)
Game A: Cheboygan vs. Grand Rapids Christian, 4:30 p.m.
Game B: Alpena 1 vs. Milford, 6:30 p.m.
Game C: Negaunee vs. Lapeer, 8:30 p.m.
Game D: Alpena 2 vs. Utica/Stevenson, 5 p.m.
Game E: Berkley vs. Kenowa Hills, 7 p.m.
Game F: St. Clair vs. Dewitt/St. Johns, 9 p.m.
Game C winner vs. Game D winner, 10:30 a.m.
Game A winner vs. Game F winner, 12:30 p.m.
Alpena 1 vs. Game E winner/loser, 2:30 p.m.
Game A loser vs. Game F loser, 10 a.m.
Milford vs. Game E winner/loser, noon
Game C loser vs. Game D loser, 3:30 p.m.
"Cheboygan went far in the playoffs last year," Doubek said. "They were really underrated last year. They had an excellent goalie."
Doubek is a little wary of his team's youth as there are few returning players. But he saw this as a great chance to build a new team.
"The kids are a little inexperienced and disorganized, but they're so enthusiastic and excited to be out on the ice. Every day their chemistry is better and we're getting up to a solid playing level. I really think that once everything comes together they'll be a competitive team," he said.
In spite of his team's youth, Doubek does have two very important returning players: goalies Brett LeTourneau and Jesse Boilore.
LeTourneau had a banner year last year, with 284 saves and only 33 goals scored against him the whole year. Boilore had very similar numbers with 239 total saves and 33 goals against. Doubek expects these two to step up into important leadership positions as the season progresses.
"Brett and Jesse are excellent goalies with a lot of experience and we'll be leaning on their experience to help shape this team and move forward together," he said.