Another test passed

Wildcats defeat host Gaylord to advance to regional final

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Alpena’s Owen Limback (8) celebrates with teammates Mitch Agius (24) and Keegan Mathews (19) after Limback scored a third period goal in Thursday’s regional semifinal game against Gaylord.

GAYLORD–Despite facing early adversity, the Alpena High School hockey team passed its second postseason test.

Kyle VanDusen scored twice and Owen Limback added a goal as the Wildcats defeated the regional host Gaylord Blue Devils 3-1 in Thursday’s Division 3 regional semifinal game at the Otsego County SportsPlex.

“We started slow, fell behind early, but we were able to tie the game back up which was huge and then we relaxed from there,” Alpena coach Chris Limback said. “We had a strong second period and just grew from there. It’s huge to continue practicing. There’s so many teams that are done and now we get an opportunity to play for a trophy.”

Alpena (22-4-1) will play Cheboygan at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Gaylord in the regional final.

The Wildcats committed two penalties within the first five minutes of the game and the second penalty cost Alpena as the Blue Devils cashed in just under seven minutes into the contest when Jon Allen scored a power play. He skated across the blue line and sent a wrist shot past Alpena goaltender Cooper Black, who was screened, to give Gaylord a one-goal lead early.

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Alpena’s Kyle VanDusen (21) outskates Gaylord defender Gabe Kleinsorge (25) to a puck during the second period of Thursday’s regional semifinal game at the Otsego County SportsPlex in Gaylord.

“I thought we came out a little slow and gave up that first goal and it was a lazy play on our part not getting back defensively,” Limback said. “We just didn’t have any energy on our bench early, but after that first period, our leadership took over and we started to play better.”

After trailing one goal after the first period, Alpena picked up the pace in the second frame and started controlling the play.

The Wildcats wasted little time tying the game as they took advantage of a power-play opportunity when VanDusen sent a wrist shot over Gaylord goalie Caleb Pettis’ shoulder on an assist from Owen Limback and Mitch Agius less than two minutes into the period.

Alpena took the lead with 6:40 left in the period when VanDusen netted his second goal off of a deflection after Agius sent a pass to Colby Plowman, who fired a shot on net and VanDusen sent a rebound in the back of the net to give Alpena a 2-1 lead.

The Wildcats came out in the third period just as strong and aggressive, putting the pressure on Gaylord.

Pettis made several big saves throughout the night and did all he could to keep the Blue Devils in the game, but Alpena scored an insurance goal when Limback fired a perfectly placed slap shot across the ice that went between Pettis’ five hole off.

Keegan Mathews and Alex Cosbitt earned assists on the goal, which came with 13:33 to play and gave Alpena a 3-1 lead.

“Owen got him (Pettis) moving and when ya get a goalie moving the stick comes off the ice and that’s the one time Owen put it low and it was just a perfect shot,” Limback said. “Once we got that third goal we were able to sit back and play that defensive style and come away with the win.”

Alpena advances to its second regional championship game in three years and on Saturday the Wildcats will be in search of their first regional title in over decade.

“We just have to get healthy and rest up and come here Saturday ready to battle for a regional title,” Limback said. “It’s been so long since we’ve won one so it’s real special to have a chance to play for that and it’s quite special for this group.”