After two tough loses to Escanaba last weekend and another loss to Traverse City Central on Monday, the Alpena hockey team needed a confidence booster that would show the Wildcats could hang with the big teams.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats got one.
The Wildcats pulled together a stunning 2-1 upset over No. 3 Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday at Northern Lights Arena.
"It means a lot to have a win like this. It shows we can compete with anybody and helps us get worked up for the playoffs,"Alpena goalie Brett LeTourneau said.
LeTourneau had a virtuosic turn as goalie, making 50 saves.
The game started with both teams playing dead even. The Blue Devils (16-5) pushed hard, but the Wildcats (8-10-1) were able to keep the Devils off-kilter with tough defensive pressure.
The Wildcats may have pushed a bit too hard however as they ran into penalty trouble all game, including three penalties in the first period alone.
There were many moments during the period where the puck hung menacingly close to dropping into the net for both teams. But both goalies kept the first period score free.
The second period saw Alpena running into penalty trouble immediately with a high sticking penalty by Sam Rumbles. The Blue Devils contributed their own penalties throughout the game, but like the Wildcats, were highly successful in penalty kills.
Alpena's strong defensive pressure and the excellent goal tending of LeTourneau paid off nine minutes into the second period. Alpena's Jared Kwiatkowski was bearing down hard on the goal when a Zach Nash-shot bounced towards him. Kwiatkowski's rebound also bounced off the goalie. However, it bounced back towards Kwiatkowski and as the puck hung in the air, he tapped it in for the first goal of the night.
"I couldn't score anything that first period. I felt cursed. Getting that goal was a big confidence booster," he said.
The third period saw both teams continuing to fight hard. As LeTourneau continued blocking everything in sight, Kam Russell was able to knock in the second goal of the game off an Emily Duncan assist three minutes in. The crowd went wild.
The Wildcats ran into penalty trouble again as Duncan and Evan Hamp sat in the box within 30 seconds of each other. Alpena's penalty problems finally hurt when Sault's Eric Hillock was able to knock in a goal on the power-play.
Hazen ran into his own penalty problems two minutes later when he was called for roughing. He didn't agree with the ref and let him know. As he sat in the box, he shouted at the ref, took off his helmet and waved his finger in the air. He was given a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
"That's just bad sportsmanship," Alpena coach Pete Doubek said, "But you know you're getting to them when they start acting like that. And you fell good when your players don't feed off it or react to it."
The rest of the period became a strong offensive push by the Blue Devils as they desperately tried to force a tie. They pulled their goalie and hovered around LeTourneau for about five minutes. There were two moments in the last 30 seconds when the crowd gasped as the puck hung flirted with going in the net.
"All three lines on offense and defense played at 100 percent tonight. They weren't over confident and they weren't under confident. Brett was spectacular and really focused on getting those second and third rebounds. This win shows that we can play with good teams as long as they put their heads down and play hard," Doubek said.
Alpena travels to Cheboygan on Wednesday.