Turning the tables
Wildcats exact revenge in playoff opener, eliminate Blue Devils
GAYLORD–After the Alpena High School hockey team had its season ended last year by Sault Ste. Marie, the Wildcats got some revenge Tuesday as they shut out the Blue Devils 4-0 in a Division 3 pre-regional quarterfinal contest at the Otsego County SportsPlex in Gaylord.
“First game is always the hardest in playoffs and this one really worried me coming. You just never know what’s going to happen, Sault hasn’t won a lot of games this year, but they’re still a quality team and we knew we had to get a lead early and we were able to build on it,” Alpena coach Chris Limback said.
The Wildcats advance to Thursday’s regional semifinal riding a 10-game winning streak. Alpena will play the host Gaylord Blue Devils at 8 p.m.
The Wildcats didn’t start as fast as they had hoped, but goaltender Cooper Black made big saves early to keep the game scoreless and it was only a matter of time before Alpena got rolling.
Midway through the first period, Alpena opened the scoring on a beauty of a goal from Kyle VanDusen.
The Wildcats stole the pick in Sault territory and VanDusen ended up with the puck on his tape. He sent a quick wrist shot into the back of the net on assists from Colby Plowman and Owen Limback.
The Wildcats extended the lead with 1:10 left in the first period when Plowman outskated a Blue Devil defender and beat Sault goalie Logan Raffaele on the short side in what was a great individual effort from Plowman, who played another solid game despite feeling under the weather.
“I thought we were a little flat early, but Sault came out and you expect that in a playoff game because of the emotions. Fortunately we were able to get the lead and build on it,” Limback said. “We just had to work our way through a smooth game tonight and I was happy that we got to play the first game because now we’re a little more at ease and know what it’s like and we should be a little more relaxed on Thursday night.”
Alpena took advantage of a power play opportunity early in the second period as the Wildcats’ top line consisting of VanDusen, Plowman and Limback struck again on a perfectly executed play. Plowman sent the puck to Limback, who faked a shot and sent a crisp pass to a wide open VanDusen, who buried his second goal of the contest to give the Wildcats a 3-0 with 9:13 left in the second period.
Alpena committed a few penalties later in the period, including a five minute major, but the Wildcats’ penalty kill unit was strong again due in large part to the play of Black and Limback who played all five minutes on the penalty kill and blocked a handful of shots as the Blue Devils never got a clean look at the net during their power play opportunity.
“It was a great penalty kill and I thought at time we were a little undisciplined and that’s something we have to do a better job at,” Limback said. “It was a another good learning chance for us tonight. As embarrassing as it is to say, Owen was on the ice all five minutes in the penalty kill, but did a great job and blocked six shots. Alex Cosbitt also did a great job and Colby played well despite being under the weather. You don’t have to be an expert to look and realize who our good players are and in high school hockey it’s usually about can your best outplay their best and tonight our guys did that. I thought the middle layer guys tonight we also very strong.”
Alpena’s final goal came with 8:19 left in the game as the Wildcats cashed in on another power play opportunity when Anthony Berg sent a shot between the legs of Raffaelle on assists from Plowman and Limback who each picked up three helpers and Black stopped all 27 shots he faced before getting relieved by Jimmy Bolanowski with 3:13 left to play.
The Wildcats split the regular season meetings with Gaylord and fell to the Blue Devils on the same sheet of ice they will be playing on Thursday, but Alpena is confident and playing its best hockey at the right time.
“The loss to Gaylord earlier in the year was a great turning point for us. We thought we could just show up and get the win, but Gaylord just outworked us that night and deserved to win. It was a great learning experience, we learned from that and grew,” Limback said. “Now we get them on their home ice in the playoffs, we know they’re going to be ready, but it’s going to be there first game and I know the nerves that my boys had, they’ll have it and I like that we know what it’s like and how it feels. We’re hoping it will be another great night for us.”