Big North champions

Wildcats capture BNC title with 5-0 win over rival Trojans

Alpena’s Keegan Mathews celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of a Big North Conference hockey game against Traverse City Central on Saturday at Northern Lights Arena.

After 14 years, the Alpena High hockey team is back on top of the Big North Conference.

Saturday’s home finale for Alpena was special as the Wildcats won the BNC for the fourth time in school history and first since the 2004-2005 season by defeating rival Traverse City Central 5-0 at Northern Lights Arena.

“You coach long enough and when you win early on and you just think you’re going to get back to it and think you’ll keep winning and winning and this just shows how hard it is and all of the work that goes on behind the scenes to get to this point,” Alpena coach Chris Limback said. “I’ve had this senior group for almost 10 years and you can see where we started to where they are now is really rewarding and special. To see the culmination of the kids milling around on the ice knowing they’re champions, that’s why you do it.”

Alpena (19-4-1, 8-1 BNC) skated to their ninth victory in a row and put together a performance everyone has become accustomed to seeing from this Wildcat team as they scored a pair of power play goals and added two shorthanded goals on their way to capturing the BNC crown over their rivals in front of a home crowd.

Colby Plowman opened the scoring with 6:07 left in the first period.

Alpena was shorthanded, but Plowman intercepted a pass near the Wildcat blue line and skated in one-on-one against Central goalie Grant Neuhardt and Plowman fired a wrister over Nerhardt’s right shoulder and underneath the crossbar to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead after one period.

“We rise to the occasion and I didn’t realize we’ve won nine in a row, but you can just see that this is a special group and I’ve never had so much fun coaching, playing the caliber of teams we’ve played and be able to go out and compete and it’s special to be a coach of this team right now,” Limback said. “We just find ways to win. We’re blessed with a lot of special players and it gives us a chance to win every day and our guys know that we can keep working and battling and we’re never out of a game. We’ve grown so much through the year.”

The Wildcats poured it on in the second period as they scored a flurry of goals to put the game away.

Alpena scored four second period goals starting less than 30 seconds into the period when Owen Limback scored a power play goal on an assist from Kyle VanDusen to put the Wildcats up two.

Five minutes later VanDusen scored a power play goal of his own after receiving a perfect pass from Plowman as the home team went up three goals early in the period.

With 9:16 left in the second, Keegan Mathews lit the lamp on assists from Alex Cosbitt and Ian Shriner and Alpena scored its final goal of the period and the game with 5:42 left in the second period when VanDusen buried his second goal of the game on an assist from Plowman while the Wildcats were shorthanded.

“We knew going in Traverse City was going to skate well, but we knew that they’re young and we knew we had to get on the board early and the shorthanded goal early was huge and we caught the breaks that good teams usually get. Once we got up three goals, they started to lose their focus,” Limback said. “It’s just another quality win and a great way to wrap up our stay at Northern Lights Arena this year.”

After building a huge lead, Alpena was able to coast to the finish line as the trio of goalies, Cooper Black, Jimmy Bolanowski and Collin Lightfoot combined to shut out the Trojans despite Alpena being outshot in the contest.

As the clock ran out and the horn sound, the celebration began for Alpena as they secured another BNC championship under Limback.

“The 2004-2005 team and this one now both had quality kids who bought into one goal. What’s so special is you realize how hard it is to get here and equally as impressive is to sweep Traverse City Central, something that hasn’t been done in a while,” Limback said. “It’ll be nice to get that banner up and the hard work shows just how special it is.