Hockey is a game of tough hits, hard shots and aggressive play. However, the Alpena (13-10-1) High School hockey team learned on Friday that striking back against its opponents may not always be the best strategy when it let penalties get the better of it in a 3-1 loss against Sault Ste. Marie.
This loss came in spite of consistent team play and another solid performance by goalie Jesse Boilore, who stopped 39 shots. The Wildcats suffered from 23 penalty minutes compared to Sault's seven.
"Jesse played phenomenally, but the penalty box let us down tonight. At this point in the season, we've sat guys, changed lines and done everything as coaches to stop the retaliatory penalties," Alpena hockey coach Pete Doubek said.
News Photo by Eric Benac
Alpena’s Zack Kendziorski (4) fights for the puck against Sault’s Chase Meehan (12) in a game at Northern Lights Arena on Friday. Alpena lost 3-1.
Every goal of the night was scored in an active second period that saw both teams playing hard and laying out punishing hits.
The first period had been dominated mostly by the Blue Devils, who outshot the Wildcats 16-4. Alpena had a few good shots on the goal, but relied on Boilore to stop the Blue Devils' attack.
Alpena's defense started out slowly and let the Blue Devils take too many shots at the net early in the game.
"Our defense started out slow tonight. They gave the Blue Devils too many opportunities early," Doubek said.
Alpena upped its offensive attack in the second period, but remained hampered by problems with penalties.
It picked up three two-minute minor penalties and a five-minute major.
The five minute major came when a shot on the Blue Devils' goal five minutes into the period turned into a tumble of players lying on the ice in the net.
As the teams untangled, a Sault player shoved Joey Bracken who shoved back. The Sault player retaliated and it evolved into a minor scrape between the two.
Both players were given five-minute majors and ejected from the game.
"Players know the difference between those hard hitting penalties and retaliatory penalties. They have to take ownership of it and learn how to stop it from affecting the game," Doubek said.
Sault finally scored when Andrew Dale took a Nicholas LaCross pass and snuck it past Boilore eight minutes into the second period to go up 1-0.
Alpena's only goal of the night came off a textbook pass and shoot by Zack Kendziorski and Jensen Saddler two minutes after Sault's first score.
Kendziorski took the puck up the ice toward the net and passed across the net to Saddler who slipped it by Sault goalie Nickolas McKenzie to tie it up.
Unfortunately for Alpena, the Blue Devils answered back 30 seconds later with a goal from Willem Gauthier. Gauthier picked up a pass from Chase Gemelin and took it past Boilore.
After two periods, Sault had outshot the Wildcats 31-11.
The third period was more even between the two teams and featured several promising offensive chances from Alpena. However, the Wildcats picked up four two-minute penalties to stay shorthanded for eight minutes in the final period.
The Wildcats had a good chance to make up the difference after Sault's Blake Mastaw took a penalty with 1:48 left in the game. Alpena pulled Boilore and went 6-on-4 against the Blue Devils, but couldn't get a second goal to drop.
"When you spend that much time in the penalty box and its your scorers, everybody else is sapped. Everybody's tired and you just can't get any momentum going. They did a good job getting some shots on the 6-4, but just couldn't finish it up," Doubek said.
Alpena plays Gaylord on Wednesday.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.