Braden Altena sat for most of an eight-week, mid-season stretch, waiting for his chance to help the Granite City Lumberjacks again.
Altena returned in plenty of time to get ready for the most important part of the North American 3 Hockey League season.
“I missed 15 games with a concussion,” said Altena, who returned to the lineup for good in mid-January and began producing more offensively two weeks later.
Altena, a 20-year-old from St. Cloud, Minnesota, where the Lumberjacks are based, made just a brief two-game return before sitting again. Those were his only games between Nov. 18 and Jan. 14.
Like many who sustain concussions, now that more is known about them, Altena had to play a waiting game before being cleared for his return.
“I missed eight weeks total,” he said. “I did not think it was going to be that long.”
Altena came back properly rested — and sufficiently determined.
“I think I kind of just had it in my head that I had to go play really well because I had missed so many games,” Altena said. “I just came out ready to play.”
During the NA3HL’s Silver Cup Playoffs, Altena produced at twice the points-per-game rate that he had compiled in the regular season, earning a selection on the six-member, all-tournament team.
In 10 playoff games for the Silver Cup champions, Altena finished with four goals and 13 assists. He had multiple points in six of the games, and the only time he was held scoreless was in the round-robin portion of the tournament between the division playoffs and the Silver Cup final four. That was when the Lumberjacks were shut out, 3-0, by the top-seeded Metro Jets, the team they eventually defeated in the championship game.
As impressive as the playoff stretch was, Altena’s only explanations for it are the play of his entire line and the increase in production that started with his return from injury.
With three scoreless games when he first made it back to game action, Altena had gone six games — and 2 ½ months — without scoring before putting together back-to-back, two-goal and three-assist games in a weekend series against the Rochester Ice Hawks.
From that point forward, Altena was a more-productive scorer as Granite City locked up the West Division title before his point-production jumped even higher in the Silver Cup pursuit.
“I was over a point per game toward the end of the season,” said Altena, who finished his second season on the team with 13 goals and 16 assists in 34 regular-season games.
Altena, who played three seasons of high school hockey at St. Cloud Tech, plans to play his final year of junior hockey with the Lumberjacks — if he does not earn a promotion to the North American Hockey League — while hoping to open up an opportunity to play at a college in-state.
The play of Keenan Lund and Brady Dahl through the stretch run helped get Altena going again.
“They helped me out a lot,” Altena said.
Lund finished with 19 goals, one off the team lead. All three linemates were among the nine Lumberjacks who finished with between 37 and 24 points.
Altena started the playoffs strong with two goals, including the game-winner, in the opener of a two-game sweep of the Breezy Point North Stars.
He had 11 points in the five West Division games that sent Granite City to the Silver Cup Tournament as one of eight division playoff champions.
Although the Lumberjacks were the lowest seed because of the lowest total of standings points in the regular season, Altena said they still “felt like the best team” going in. That confidence, he said, came from finishing on top of a division that did not have a team with a losing record and, along with the rest of the West, doing well in their inter-division games.
Following the shutout loss to Metro, the Lumberjacks won four straight. The first two wins got the team through round-robin play and into the semifinals.
Altena came through on special teams in the final four. His steal set up a short-handed goal by fellow all-tournament forward Matthew Moran in a 3-2 semifinal win over the Binghamton Junior Senators and Altena also assisted on a power-play goal in the 2-1 championship game win.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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