Playing for a cause

The Alpena hockey team got a little more than it bargained for in the third period on Friday after Petoskey scored three times in a little over five minutes.

But the Wildcats had more than enough firepower to power past the Northmen and snap a two-game losing streak with a 7-3 win at Northern Lights Arena in the first-ever Pink Game held there.

Alpena’s top line of Zach Nash, Sam Rumbles and Jared Kwiatkowski netted six goals total, including two empty-netters by Nash in a 19-second span during the final minute of the game.

The top line’s chemistry was the perfect remedy for the Wildcats (6-5, 2-3 Big North) after two tough games in Traverse City last weekend both ended in losses.

“We each had two tonight, so we’ve definitely got our chemistry going in the middle of the season and it’s going to get better,” Rumbles said. “It got a little scary at the end, but we really played as a team and I’m really glad it came out the way it did.”

Rumbles needed just 49 seconds to put Alpena on the board in the first period with an assist going to Kwiatkowski. Kwiatkowski added a goal of his own a few minutes later after Nash fed him a quick pass off a faceoff.

Rumbles lit the lamp again with nearly five minutes gone in the second period, scoring from the slot to give Alpena a 3-0 lead.

Playing in its first-ever Pink Game, Alpena wore pink jerseys for the game and the Northmen wore special blue jerseys with pink ribbons on the sleeves. Before the game, Alpena had a ceremonial puck drop from three honorary captains from three local families whose lives have been affected by cancer: Scott MacKenzie, Taryn and Trevor McConnell and Samuel, Wyatt and Cole Romero. Two longtime hockey supporters-Tom Barlow and Jerry LaFave, Alpena’s longtime announcer-were also remembered with a moment of silence.

The occasion brought out the masses to the arena and seeing the stands packed with fans provided the Wildcats with an extra boost to begin the game.

“It was awesome. Just to look up during the national anthem and see the entire stands full, it was great and that just got our energy going for the beginning of the game,” Rumbles said.

Alpena chased Petoskey goaltender Michael Whittaker from the net midway through the middle frame after Jared Plume scored to give the Wildcats a 4-0 lead. Kwiatkowski fired a pass from just above the left circle to Plume who was waiting on the doorstep and scored.

Whittaker had eight saves on 12 shots before Breanna Merriam took over netminding duties.

In spite of its deficit, Petoskey kept pace with Alpena with shots on goal and finally found the back of net with 9:46 left in the game when Skye Pieffer put a shot past Alpena goaltender Bret LeTourneau. Pieffer lit the lamp again less than two minutes late on the power-play, making the Wildcats tighten up on defense.

“We were trying to put three good periods together, trying to avoid those little letdowns. It kind of makes you nervous on the bench a little bit,” Alpena coach Pete Doubek said.

LeTourneau finished with 27 saves.

Kwiatkowski attempted to help Alpena pull away again with a goal with 6:46 remaining on an assist from Nash, but Tanner Davis answered back for the Northmen with 4:09 left, scoring on a backhand.

After a timeout with 90 seconds to play, Nash iced the game for the Wildcats with two empty-net goals in a 19-second span to give Alpena a much-needed win.

Alpena will travel to Traverse City today to take on the Traverse Bay Reps. Doubek was pleased to see a solid team effort from the Wildcats on Friday and hopes to see it continue today.

“The kids are learning to keep playing with that team concept, all the passing, unselfish back checks when they’re super tired, all those things go into that formula of the team and hopefully winning a game like this as a team, hopefully we can just build on it,” he said.