ALPENA, MI- This is a special team. There just is not any other way to put it. Boys from the neighborhood who now have an entire city behind them. In front of a crowd that was estimated to be anywhere from 1,800-2,000 people, the Alpena Wildcats gave the crowd exactly what the came for, a win.
With a spot in the regional final on the line, Alpena rode the back of goalie Aidan Schultz, who picked up his 8th and biggest shutout of the season. Schultz turned away shot after shot as Alpena led 1-0 for what felt like an eternity. His teammates would eventually take over as Cam Young netted three goals in less than four minutes to turn a 1-0 lead into a 4-0 lead.
The Wildcats struck first in this one as a centering pass by James Kuhl hit the skate of a Trojan defender and slid into the net as the Wildcats took a 1-0 lead. Play was stopped later in the period as a Central player was injured and was carried off the ice on a stretcher after a collision with a teammate. Paramedics quickly attended to the situation and confirmed to us that the player was alert and had full movement and was being transported to a local medical center for precaution. Central would control the remainder of the first but Schultz stood tall in the frames final minutes.
The second period was a physical battle as Alpena had to fend off a 5 on 3 early in the period and the teams traded scoring chances but it was a scoreless 17 minutes as Alpena took a 1-0 lead into the third.
Young took the game over in the third as he scored his three goals that essentially put the game away. His first came off a loose puck in front. The second was a tip on in the power play, his third came less than a minute after that. Ian Lightfoot added a fifth and Alpena skated off the ice with a 5-0 victory.
The win propels the Wildcats to the regional final where they will take on Marquette. The Redmen and Wildcats are currently ranked #2 and #3 in Division Two and the winner will be one of the two teams favored to go all the way to the state championship.
The arena was at capacity 30 minutes before the puck dropped. The game sold 1,800 tickets, with children under five being free of charge and numerous arena staff and media personnel on hand, the crowd was approaching the 2,000 mark. The crowd without doubt played a role, it was and will continue to be a huge advantage for Alpena to play in front of what is a true home ice advantage.
Now at 23 wins this group as tied the Alpena record for wins in a season. Now they face their toughest test yet, in a game that promises to be one for the ages. Puck drop from NLA is at 6 PM on March 1.