Wildcats earn first victory of the season with 4-2 win over Gaylord
Exactly one week ago, the Alpena High hockey team skated off the ice in Gaylord with a sour taste in its mouths after a disappointing 5-0 defeat.
So much can change in a week and it certainly did on Wednesday as the Wildcats (1-6-1, 1-4-1 Big North Conference) got the monkey off their back.
They picked up their first win of the season while getting revenge against Gaylord (3-3-1, 2-2 BNC), as Alpena defeated the Blue Devils 4-2 at Northern Lights Arena.
“I thought the kids came out and stuck with it all night. For the most part, we played a solid 51 minutes and I’m so happy for the kids and their families,” Alpena coach Chris Limback said. “This takes the weight off of us and we can just relax and not pressure as much and keep building to see where we can keep this going now.”
Alpena opened the scoring just over a minute into the contest as Ben Nowak put the first shot on goal and the puck found the back of the net. Gaylord goalie Brewer Koleszar got a piece of the puck, but not enough to keep it out of the goal.
The Blue Devils responded by pressuring Alpena and outplaying the Wildcats for much of the first period. They scored a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
“It was a Wednesday at five start. I didn’t think either team really wanted to play and there was no energy, but as the game went on I thought there was more energy and it was a better hockey game,” Limback said.
The final two periods were much better for the Wildcats as they owned the second period and regained the lead with a pair of goals.
After having a potential tying goal waved off in the final minutes of the first period, Anden Marceau tied the game just over three minutes into the second period. He crashed the net and put a rebound off an Eli Gosselin shot into the back of the net.
Alpena scored the go-ahead goal with 6:10 left in the second when Nowak added his second goal of the night. He got just enough stick on a pass from Anthony Thompson to beat Koleszar and give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead heading into the final period.
“We grew as the game went on. Our forechecking from Eli (Gosselin) and Ben (Nowak) was huge for us tonight and you saw how good they can be when they use their speed. If we’re going to do anything this year, those guys are going to have to be strong,” Limback said. “We have to continue to make things happen on the ice and play with a sense of urgency. It was tough to go to two lines in the third period, but we had to go with the veterans if we were going to close the game.”
Closing games has been an issue for the Wildcats and they’ve let a handful of games get away from them in the final period, but Alpena refused to let this game get away.
The Wildcats were strong on the penalty kill and didn’t allow Gaylord to get many good looks at goaltender Collin Lightfoot who turned away 22 shots in the win.
The biggest save of the night for Alpena wasn’t made by Lightfoot.
The Blue Devils had a golden opportunity to tie the game with 6:27 left to play as a shot on net forced Lightfoot out of position and left an open net. Defenseman Matt Thompson was able to stand in front of the open net, deflect a shot over top of it and into the netting to eventually save the game.
The Wildcats were able to preserve the lead and Gaylord was forced to pull it goalie with under a minute to play.
The Blue Devils were unable to gain control in the Alpena end. Instead Marceau corralled a puck deep in Alpena’s end of the ice just seconds after Koleszar was pulled and sent a shot the length of the ice that went into the back of the net for an empty net goal to secure the first victory of the season.
“It’s all about believing. It’s about trusting your line mates and doing the little things while learning how to win, which is one of the hardest things to do,” Limback said. “Tonight we got a break. The puck that Matt Thompson stopped was an open net and should have been a goal, but the hockey gods were on our side tonight. We played hard and I couldn’t be happier for our kids, coaches, parents, grandparents and entire Wildcat family to be able to leave here tonight with that winning feeling.”
The Wildcats will return to the ice on Saturday when they travel to Traverse City to play the Bay Reps at 3 p.m.