It's been more than three years since a junior hockey took up long-term residency in Alpena.
The Alpena Street Cats are hoping to change that.
Area hockey fans will be able to get their first look at the Street Cats when they open the 2013-14 season at 7 p.m. Friday at Northern Lights Arena against the Bloomington (Ind.) Blaze.
News Photo by James Andersen
The 2013-14 Alpena Street Cats are, from left to right, back: Savelii Skurikhin, Sergey Merzlov, Andrei Yanovich, Egor Yaragin, Sergey Deev and Tommy Hrynkiw; front: Uladzislau Hrayeuski, Pavel Bocharov, Vladislav Khasanov, Andrei Kiselev and Vlad Salangin. Not pictured are Kameron Russell and David Wandell.
Since relocating from Rhinderlander (Wisc.) earlier this year, the Street Cats have been hard at work getting enough players together a team and practicing for the upcoming season. This season, 13 players will suit for Alpena and despite a lack of depth, the Street Cats hope to be competitive.
Street Cats head coach Igor Myaskovskiy expects his team to play a smart, possession-based style as the Street Cats look to improve on last season's 20-24-4 record.
"Our style is team play and we're not a team of superstars. All of them are good players and time will tell who the superstars are," Myaskovskiy said. "But it's a team sport and we'll win as a team and lose as a team. All of them have something to show."
Scouts have helped to bring many players from overseas to this year's team. Of the 13 players on the roster as of Wednesday, 10 are from Eastern Europe. Alpena could also add several players to the roster as the season progresses.
The lone returner to this year's team is forward Sergey Deev, who netted 22 points (13-9-22) in 14 games last season.
Other forwards on this year's team include Andrei Kiselev, David Wandell, Tommy Hrynkiw, Pavel Bocharov, Andrei Yanovich, Vladislav Khasanov and Kam Russell, who played for Alpena High School last season and scored four points.
The Street Cats originally signed former Alpena High players Jared Kwiatkowski and Amber Repke over the summer, but neither will play with the Street Cats due to other commitments.
On the blue line, the Street Cats will have a trio of players in Sergey Merzlov, Egor Yaragin and Savelii Skurikhin. Skurikhin has already proven to be a popular figure in the locker room and is known as the "butterfly lover."
Vlad Salangin and Uladzislau Hrayeuski are slated to see time in net for Alpena this season.
Alpena hasn't had a viable junior team since the Alpena IceDiggers played from 2005-2010. The Alpena Thunder, a Tier III junior team played one season in 2010-11.
Myaskovskiy and his coaches know it may take some time for the Street Cats to be embraced by the community, but they believe they have a talented roster to put on a good show for fans.
"The chemistry on the team speaks for itself. It's different other than any team I've seen, but they work hard. It doesn't matter how many players you have, if they're working together and skating as one, they'll be great," Alpena assistant coach Lori Seguin said.
Myaskovskiy, who has more than 30 years of coaching experience, has worked with the Red Army national team in Russia and also coached at the college level before coming to the United States. Since he arrived in the US in 1991, Myaskovskiy has coached at various levels and petitioned USA Hockey to form the Rhinelander Street Cats in 2010.
This season, he'll have two very familiar names joining him behind the bench as co-coaches: Seguin and Eric Peterson.
Peterson, a former Wildcat, played for the IceDiggers for several seasons and is the team's all-time leading scorer, registering 205 points in 201 games. Seguin has been involved with the Alpena Hockey Association for a number of years as a youth coach and will also serve as the Street Cats' goaltending coach this season.
"I played here for four years and I helped out the last couple years with teams that were here," Peterson said. "It's just a great hockey town and it's good to have junior back in town."
A lack of players nearly left the Street Cats dormant for the season a few weeks ago, but Alpena's coaching staff was able to gather enough players to field a team. Alpena is part of the seven-team Midwest Junior Hockey League that includes the Blaze, Traverse City Hounds, Soo Firehawks, Berkley Bears, Michigan Ice Dogs and Detroit Fighting Irish. The Hounds, who relocated from Hartland earlier this year, won the inaugural Veterans Memorial Cup last season.
Several of the teams struggled with low numbers in preparation for this this season. Nonetheless, Myaskovskiy expects a tough slate of games and said the league will overcome some of its growing pains in the future.
"All of the teams will be better than last year because we're growing up. Teams are getting better and we don't expect any easy games," Myaskovskiy said. "This league will be growing up. We've had some difficulties and they've had some difficulties just because it's a new league, but I'm sure this league will be good."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.