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Learning the hard way

Wildcats lose regular season final to rival TC Central

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Alpena’s Tanner Orban (left) skates the puck into the Traverse City Central zone past Trojans defenseman Nathan Weber (13) during the first period of a Big North Conference hockey game on Friday at Northern Lights Arena.

The Alpena High hockey team couldn’t have asked for a much better test to end the regular season.

But the Wildcats were perhaps wishing for a better result by the end of the night.

The Wildcats (10-13-2, 6-4 BNC) were once again shorthanded–which has been the story of their season–and facing the Big North Conference champion and rival Traverse City Central Trojans (20-3-2, 10-0 BNC), all added up to be a bit too much for the Wildcats who dropped their regular season final by a score of 6-2 on Friday at Northern Lights Arena.

“I thought we played decent at times. Their (Central’s) speed and skill just took the life out of us. You could see how we got back close and then it was tough to stay focused and disciplined and do the things that we had to do to give us success and we just got lax in our coverage a few times and when you do that against a good team, they’re going to make you pay and that’s what Central did to us tonight,” Alpena coach Chris Limback said. “It didn’t help that we were shorthanded, but we had enough guys to come out there and compete. One of the things that we have to do is to be willing to stay with the game plan, be disciplined and be strong at both ends of the ice and we weren’t willing to do that tonight and they just took that energy right out of us. It was all Central’s game, they played well and they took it out of us. We just weren’t willing to match their speed and intensity.”

The Trojans wasted no time putting the puck in the net.

Central scored a pair of goals just 1:29 into the contest. Christopher Usiondek scored 57 seconds into the game and Nick Sommerfeld followed that up with a goal 32 seconds later, putting the Trojans up 2-0 in the blink of an eye.

It appeared like Central was going to dominate the game, but Alpena showed its resiliency once again.

Limback called a timeout after the second goal and let his team focus and regroup. His team responded less than a minute later, when Anden Marceau got control of the park and skated around the Central defense and around Trojan netminder Grant Neuhardt to put the Wildcats on the board. It gave the home team a bit of a spark that it played with the rest of the period as the Wildcats trailed just 2-1 after a dreadful start to the game.

“We just weren’t ready to come out of the gate tonight. We weren’t ready to match them and a couple of fluke shots that got tipped in was all them and we were back on our heels not willing to compete,” Limback said. “We regrouped, I was happy about that. It was looking rough, but still, gave up 44 shots tonight and that’s never a good sign, but there’s so many things to grow and learn from and get ourselves ready for Wednesday.”

Central regained its two goal lead midway through the second period when Charlie Douglass kept possession of the puck after collecting his own rebound after Alpena goalie Colin Lightfoot made the initial save. Lightfoot got back in position, but Douglass send a backhander past Lightfoot’s glove and into the net.

The Trojans extended the lead to 4-1 after two periods and cashed in on a power-play opportunity when Douglass scored another pretty goal, skating to Lightfoot’s blocker side of the net and found a small spot over Lightfoot’s shoulder.

Despite trailing by three goals, Alpena came out strong to begin the third period and cut back into the lead on an unassisted goal off the stick of Eli Gosselin.

The Wildcats had another good scoring chance moments after the Gosselin goal when Tanner Orban skated in on a breakaway, but Neuhardt turned him aside.

From there the wheels fell off for the Wildcats as Central scored a pair of goals less than 30 seconds apart to take away all of the momentum Alpena gained.

Douglass recorded a hat trick and scored the third straight Trojans goal with 13:34 remaining and 29 seconds later, Carson Peters scored on a perfectly set up pass from Douglass for an easy goal.

“Fifty one minutes is a long time for us to stay focused and to battle and to know that each shift you have to give it your all. You saw signs of being a young team and it felt like our kids just thought that it was too much work than they were willing to give tonight and we gave them some free ones,” Limback said. “We were tired and we just weren’t willing to do those little things against a great team. Central is a very good team. They have depth and they are fun to watch, they just weren’t fun to play against tonight. A better team will always give us so much that we can learn from and tonight hopefully it got our kids’ attention and we know what we need to do. I couldn’t have asked for a better game, I wish we would have played better, but their speed and all of that is just going to help us get ready for playoffs.”

The Wildcats will begin Division 3 regional play on Wednesday against Cheboygan at 7 p.m.

Alpena will have the benefit of playing on their home ice at NLA. The winner of Wednesday’s contest will advance to a regional semifinal matchup with Gaylord next Saturday.

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