Alpena outguns Gaylord 5-1 to claim regional title

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Courtesy Photo/Ben Murphy
Alpena’s Ben Nowak brings the puck down the ice for a scoring opportunity during Saturday’s division three regional championship win over Gaylord at Tawas Bay Ice Arena.

TAWAS — A steady offensive effort. A goalie with a hot hand. A knack for killing off the power play. Now that sounds like a championship winning recipe.

For the Alpena hockey team, it was just that Saturday at Tawas Bay Ice Arena, as it continually peppered Gaylord with shot-after-shot on offense, had a near shutout performance by netminder Collin Lightfoot and killed off seven power plays, all to pick up a 5-1 victory, giving the Wildcats the Division 3 regional championship trophy.

“Incredible,” Alpena coach Chris Limback said. “What we fought through today, with the penalties and how we just battled. It is an amazing test of our character. To fight through what we did, I couldn’t be more proud of the kids just to battle and play like we are capable of. Our kids played great today.”

Not only did the Wildcats, who last won regionals in 2019, fend off all seven power plays, the final one of the day even featured a short-handed goal. Senior Blaise Keller tapped away the puck from a Gaylord player near center ice, then outskated everyone to his offensive end, where he snapped the puck into the right portion of the net for a commanding 5-0 lead with 11:41 to play in the third period.

“He just bobbled the puck, I didn’t really do anything,” Keller, who had two goals in the win, said. “I hit it from him and I came down and shot. This feels awesome. It is great, everyone played awesome for us and it was a great team effort.”

Courtesy Photo/Ben Murphy
The Alpena hockey team celebrates with fans moments after Saturday’s 5-1 regional championship win over Gaylord.

While the Blue Devils ruined the shutout on a goal with 8:13 to play, Limback appreciated the fact that his team kept control of the pace throughout; even amid the penalties.

“We didn’t want to give them any momentum,” he said. “We didn’t want to give up that one, but it was late. We just didn’t give them momentum; you are dealing with high school kids so momentum is everything. As long as we could keep all the momentum, that was the key today for our win.”

Alpena was called for its first penalty just 50 seconds into the contest, but the Wildcat defense and a pair of quick-handed glove saves by Lightfoot helped keep the game scoreless.

This opened the door for Anden Marceau to net the game’s first goal. Marceau corralled the puck near the boards, wrapped around the front of the net and sent it home for a 1-0 lead with 8:40 to go in the opening period.

The Wildcats killed off two more power plays before the period was over, and another two that lapsed into the second period, even giving Gaylord a brief 5-on-3 opportunity, to preserve their lead.

Courtesy Photo/Ben Murphy
Alpena goalie Collin Lightfoot smothers the puck.

Alpena iced the game with three goals in the second period. With 13:42 to play in the frame, Eli Gosselin sent a pass from behind the net to Ryan Ritter, who slapped the puck in for a 2-0 lead. Keller scored his first goal of the game a little more than a minute later, when he redirected a long blast from Evan Kraenzlein for a goal and Marceau scored his second of the night with 4:14 to play in the period, when he slapped in a shot just above the Gaylord goalie’s left shoulder for a 4-0 lead.

From there Lightfoot’s steady hand in between the pipes and Keller’s third period goal helped Alpena finish off the trophy-earning victory.

“Lightfoot played the way I think he is capable of,” Limback said. “I didn’t think he had a great game against the Sault (in Thursday’s regional semifinal), but we found a way to get another chance and today he came out and saved everything. I thought he was amazing and that is what we needed with our goaltending.”

For the Wildcats, who improve to 5-11-1 with the win, it is quite the feeling for the team that didn’t get their first win until the eighth game of the season, in a year that has been mired within the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It has been a terrible year on so many fronts and now we are able to come through,” Limback said. “So many unique things have happened and now, to see the kids cheering and the fans; just incredible.”

Keller and Marceau finished with two goals apiece, with Ritter adding one. Kraenzlein and Gosselin each had an assist.

The Wildcats now turn their attention to their quarterfinal match-up with the top ranked Calumet Copper Kings (16-0-1) on Wednesday at Lakeview Arena in Marquette.

“Calumet is one of the best teams in the state,” Limback said. “We are just going to enjoy this game right now and then we know we have to get ready. Right now we are regional champs and we will worry about the Copper Kings later on.”

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