Playing with legends

Anybody concerned that the Red Wings Alumni game at the Northern Lights Arena would be a stuffy affair with grim ex-professionals going through the motions would no doubt have rested easy after watching former Red Wings tough guy Joe Kocur photo bomb scoring legend John Ogrodnick during an interview with WBKB sports reporter Jeff Kolb.

Ogrodnick scored 55 goals in the 1984-85 Red Wings season and scored 402 goals and 425 assists for 827 career points.

Kocur’s anticts indicated the lighthearted mood shared by the Red Wings Alumni and Alpena Flyers alumni teams. Alpena players were excited to play with and against former legends and to help raise funds for the Alpena Wrecks youth hockey team.

“These are guys you’ve watched play on TV when you were growing up, looked up to and idolized. And now you get to play on the same ice as them,” Alpena Flyers player Phil Tulgetska said.

The Flyers were also ready for a tough game against players who might not be at their peak form anymore, but who played at a higher level.

“The thing about it is, you figure out really quickly that they’re professionals. Everything’s so consistent and its pretty accurate. It’s kind of hard to look good in front of a bunch of pros,” Alpena Flyers player Eric Saddler said with a laugh.

The Red Wings Alumni teams were just as excited to be at the Northern Lights Arena. It had already played two other games over the weekend, one on Friday in St. Ignace and one just five hours earlier in Cheboygan.

“Its always a great event, Alpena has a beautiful building and they always draw a very good crowd. We really enjoy playing in games where there’s a strong attendance and where the people enjoy watching us play,” Ogrodnick said.

The packed stands of the Northern Lights Arena were filled with Red Wings fans that were abuzz with excitement at the chance to see their favorite players on the ice in their hometown.

Alpena residents Abby Hickok, a long time Red Wings fan, simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to watch.

“I’ve been watching the Red Wings ever since I was pretty much a little kid. I sat on (Sergei) Fedorov’s lap at the ’19th Hole’ one time when I was a kid,” Hickok said. “I don’t watch other sports, but I love the Red Wings so I couldn’t miss this.”

Her friend, Audrey Scott, was just as enthusiastic.

“I haven’t been (to the Northern Lights Arena) since high school, but I watch hockey all the time, the Red Wings specifically. It’s a fun thing, an event for the area and something different to do on a Saturday night,” Scott said.

Fans milled about the auction booths, checking out a wide range of memorabilia. Dozens of names filled up the raffle sheets as fans hoped to win rare and valuable Red Wings items.

The 50/50 auction, which directly benefited the Alpena Wrecks, was worth over $400.

Alpena resident Amanda Dozier bought over a dozen tickets for the 50/50 raffle, but lost when announcer George Stevens had the winning ticket.

“When I was younger, we used to watch hockey a lot in my home. Darren McCarty (who had to pull out of the games) was a favorite of mine, as was Joe Kocur. It’s really nostalgic and brings back a lot of great memories,” Dozier said.

As the game started, it was clear that both teams were feeling each other out. The first 25 minute period was pretty slow paced until Alpena’s Eric Peterson knocked in the first goal of the game at 18:45 in the first period.

Peterson, who has played in two previous alumni games for Wings Over Alpena, was honored to be part of the game once again.

“It always feels good to score, but scoring against these guys is something special. It’s always fun to come out here and play against the veteran players from the Red Wings. Its just always a great time and everybody enjoys it,” Peterson said.

Another Alpena goal was called off by the referee for unindicated reasons. The Red Wings Alumni picked up the pace a little throughout the second period, hitting two goals to take a 3-1 lead into the second period.

Several Alpena elementary school hockey teams played during the second period. Fans cheered on the young players as a few Red Wing alumni watched the games carefully to maintain order.

One interesting element of the game was the elimination of penalty minutes. Every penalty, no matter how minor, immediately lead to a penalty shot.

Alpena had a few chances to scoring during these penalty shots, but couldn’t get around goalkeepers Ed Mio, George Bowman and Gregg Malicke.

The Red Wings dropped two more goals in the back of the net to end the game 5-1.

Although Alpena players had to donate money to participate in the game, it was a small sacrifice for the chance to play against their favorite players.

“It’s worth it. It’s money to play against some Red Wings. Everybody up here is a Red Wings fan, so I don’t think money is anything somebody will have a hard time getting when they have the chance to play against the Red Wings,” Tulgetska said.

Eric Benac can be reached via email at ebenac@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.