ALPENA, MI- The Alpena Wildcats and the Marquette Redmen have been on a collision course long before the season started. With Alpena moving up to Division Two and Marquette coming off a regional title, it seemed as if two defending regional champs would meet up. Here we are months later and the matchup we all expected is now a reality. The second and third ranked teams in Division Two meeting for a regional title.
Now why are two highly ranked teams meeting so early in the playoffs? Well, the MHSAA in efforts to reduce travel breaks the state down by regions, with the winner of each region moving to the state tournament. While this method does make it easier on the teams and the schools, it can create instances such as this. Two great teams meeting much earlier than they should. The true victim in this format is Marquette. There are 16 teams left in Division Two. It would make sense that being ranked second would get you a home game against a lower seeded team. Instead the Redmen not only have to travel five hours to play the third ranked team, they have to play in front of 2,000 people who are going to be rooting against them.
Looking at the matchup on the ice, there is no way to determine who the better team is. They have not played one another and they have each rolled over any common opponents that they have faced. Alpena has the better record, Marquette played the tougher schedule. The talent that is going to be on the ice is at the highest level Michigan can offer. Whomever wins this game has a legit possibility of being the state champion in a few weeks. You can make the argument that the winner of this game is the favorite moving forward.
Why Marquette Can Win:
- Depth: They may not have the top line talent that Alpena does. But they will run out three lines of forwards all capable of filling the stat sheet. This is not a knock on the depth of the Wildcats, but advantage Redmen.
- Battle Tested: The Redmen played one of the states toughest schedules. Catholic Central, Houghton, Byron Center, Bay Reps, Livonia Stevenson. All highly ranked teams and the Redmen more than held their own. Just two weeks ago they took down a Houghton team ranked second in Michigan.
- Size: This is a speed against strength battle. Alpena is going to try to turn this game into a fast paced shot heavy game. Marquette has the size on defense to by physical with the Wildcats forwards and make things tough. Whether or not the top four defensemen can last 51 minutes may the difference.
Why Alpena Can Win:
- The Top Line: It is no secret how Alpena usually beats you. Anden Marceau, Reid Meinhardt and Harrison Kaszubowski have combined for 77 goals and 110 assists this season. They have been a three man wrecking crew on offense. While they were quiet against TC Central, if they get it going Alpena will win.
- Goaltending: Marquette goalies Cole Kelly and Parker Nevenhoven have been solid all year. Nevenhoven started the semi final, but it will likely be the sophomore Kelly in between the pipes. Alpena goalie Aidan Schultz statistically has been the states best goalie the last half of the season. Eight shutouts, a goals against average right around 1. Always good to have a senior in net. Advantage Wildcats.
- Home Ice Advantage: This one speaks for itself. When 2,000 people are rooting for one team it is going to have an impact. While the crowd will not have an effect on Marquette in a negative way. It may just be the boost Alpena needs to win.
I would make a prediction, but it would be nothing more than a guess. This matchup is as even as it gets. One team moves on, the other hangs up the skates. It is what makes winning so great and losing so cruel. Get to Northern Lights at around 5:00 if you want a seat. Otherwise expect to be five people deep behind the glass.