Jared Kwiatkowski made his last home game a memorable one.
The senior forward scored four times and the Alpena hockey team's senior class accounted for five goals as the Wildcats beat Gaylord 7-1 on Thursday at Northern Lights Arena on Senior Night.
The victory was Alpena's fifth straight and Kwiatkowski tallied a hat trick in the first period as he finished with his second straight four-goal game.
News Photo by James Andersen
Alpena’s Jared Kwiatkowski (5) corrals the puck during the first period of a hockey game at Northern Lights Arena on Thursday while being defended by Gaylord’s Cameron Laug. Kwiatkowski scored four times in Alpena’s 7-1 win.
"He was snakebit through that first game in Petoskey (in January). He was sick, he had just gotten a round of antibiotics and sometimes that throws kids off a bit," Alpena coach Pete Doubek said. "He's got that natural goal scorer's knack and it's clicking right now. But it doesn't click without Sam (Rumbles) and Zach (Nash) on that line. The passing is what creates those goals in the first place."
Rumbles, Zack Kendziorski and Jared Plume each had single tallies for the Wildcats (12-10-1).
Alpena established itself as the dominant team early, outshooting the Blue Devils 18-5 in the first period and scoring four times.
Kwiatkowski started things off in the first period, faking a slapshot and firing a wrister past Gaylord goalie Peter Lawton at the 3:42 mark. Less than three minutes later, Kwiatkowski lit the lamp again, taking a pass from Nash and banging in his own rebound after missing an initial shot.
Rumbles gave Alpena a 3-0 lead just 18 seconds later, firing a shot past Lawton from the right circle at 6:22.
Gaylord's lone goal came from Trevor Ruhlman-Raymond with 1:01 left with an assist from Ronald Deans.
Kwiatkowski completed his hat trick with 30 seconds left in the period, banging in a rebound with assists from Nash and Rumbles.
The game game saw relatively clean play in the first two periods with only a few penalties called. Plume scored the only goal in the second period, lifting the puck over Lawton's shoulder at 3:18.
Alpena goaltender Bret LeTourneau finished with 19 saves and wasn't challenged much until the third period. Early in the frame, the Blue Devils got a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:01 and LeTourneau came up big, making five saves during the stretch. This included point-blank stops on Gaylord's Seth Muzyl and Robb Hansen.
The Blue Devils threw more shots at the net in the final stanza, outshooting the Wildcats 12-10, but Gaylord hurt its chances in the third period by taking four penalties in the last 10 minutes.
Alpena took advantage of the infractions and scored twice with the man-advantage over the last seven and a half minutes. Kwiatkowski netted his fourth goal with 7:29 left and Kendziorski scored Alpena's final goal of the net with 4:26 remaining.
For eight Alpena seniors-Nash, Rumbles, Kwiatkowski, LeTourneau, Brad Lorenz, Emily Duncan, Ugis Skuja and Kam Russell-Thursday marked the final time they would play at Northern Lights Arena and though Alpena won the game, the seniors felt mixed emotions when it was over.
"It feels great, but it's mixed feelings. It's the last game at home and everything. We got a lot of support today, but it's tough," Nash said. "I'll never play in this Wildcat uniform again in Alpena and hopefully we can go on a deep playoff run and keep wearing it for awhile."
All eight seniors were honored before the game along with senior student managers Brian Girard and Bret Hauff.
Alpena will play at Gaylord tonight and Doubek is pleased with the way his team is playing right now, though he noted the seniors will be missed by the program when the season ends.
"These kids know what it takes to win, they're not taking anything for granted and they're right where we want them to be right now," Doubek said. "It's always nice to go out on a winning note. We're really going to miss the seniors. Hopefully we have a few more games with them here down the road."