The Alpena Street Cats had a decent showing in 2013, going 13-11.
Now the Street Cats are hoping a strong showing in 2014 will lead them to the playoffs.
The Street Cats will open the 2014 portion of their schedule at 7 p.m. tonight when they host the Traverse City Hounds. Alpena will then play at Traverse City on Saturday.
News File Photo
Alpena Street Cats forward Vladislav Khasanov, left, skates in on Detroit Fighting Irish defenseman Robert Speer during a junior hockey game in November. Khasanov and the Street Cats will play the Traverse City Hounds tonight at 7 p.m. at Northern Lights Arena after a nearly three-week layoff.
Alpena is currently fourth in the Midwest Junior Hockey League standings with 26 points, just one point ahead of the Bloomington Blaze. The Street Cats are also within striking distance of the third-place Soo Firehawks (28 points) and the second-place Detroit Fighting Irish (31) points, which makes this weekend's games important.
"Right now, every point for us is gold and we have to fight for every point with double energy," Alpena coach Igor Myaskovskiy said. "These two games will be a real, real hockey war."
The top four teams will make the MWJHL playoffs which begin March 21.
The Street Cats closed 2013 with a three-game sweep of the Michigan Ice Dogs, but have struggled against the league-leading Hounds, going 1-3. The Hounds have a firm grip on the regular-season league title at this point with 47 points in 28 games.
For the first time in a while though, Alpena play with a nearly full bench as several players return from the inactive roster including forward Sergey Deev and goaltender Vlad Salangin.
"To play with a full roster and a full bench is better for us," Myaskovskiy said. "
Deev has 24 points in 19 games and Salagin is 2-2 in five starts.
The Street Cats' inaugural season in Alpena kicked off with a bang in October when Alpena swept the Blaze in three games by a combined 20-5 score. Since then, Alpena has seen its share of ups and downs, but did enough to have Myaskovskiy believe the team was successful.
"I think we're doing good. We lost a couple of points to (help us) make the playoffs, but we'll be there," Myaskovskiy said. "We lost some points, but in the first part of the season we did well."
Alpena hasn't seen action in nearly three weeks, but having a full roster will be a big boost against the Hounds and goaltender David Krejcik, who is 16-3 and leads the league with a 1.71 goals-against average.
The return of Deev should add an extra element on offense for the Street Cats. Vladislav Khasanov leads the team with 56 points, but linemate Pavel Bocharov has also been a big contributor with 43 as has Savelii Skurkhin with 36 points.
Myaskovskiy is quick to point out however that Alpena's depth allows everyone to be a contributor whether a player is a big goal scorer or not.
"Vlad is a key player for us, but we play a kind of game where everyone is important. We're not a team of superstars," Myaskovskiy said. "Right now we have three equal lines, which gives hope to me as a coach and to our fans who want to see a good game."
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.