EAST ALTON – The Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association's New Year's Day tripleheader at East Alton Ice Arena offered an opener many area hockey fans probably had marked on their calendars.

Alton and Triad – arguably two of the better teams in the league – took each other on in what promised to be a pretty tight, hard-fought game.

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In the end, it was just that, with the Redbirds' Zack Hunter proving to be the difference as he scored two early third-period goals just 1:39 apart to give Alton a 4-1 win over the Knights.

“Zack played a heck of a game,” said Redbird coach Abram Henson. “He's been having an issue lately hitting the net; the first one was a real confidence-booster for him and the second was just icing on the cake for him.

“It was close the whole game; the shots were almost even, if they weren't, and it was just a hard-fought battle. We just came out on top of it.”

It was a key two points in the standings that the Redbirds needed as well, considering the division into two six-team groups based on standings is fast approaching (the final six regular-season games will be played among the two divisions). “We needed it,” Henson said, “coming up to break here; we don't know where we're going to shake out. We're almost even at 8-7 right now. We definitely needed that.”

“It was hard,” said Knight coach Pat Culiberk. “We go from having good puck placement on good goalies to having really poor puck placement on good goalies. That was the name of the game today; with 33 shots on goal and you only score one?

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“The goalie can look a lot good if you shoot a lot at him, and that's what we did. In the first period, we had about seven that we missed the net on. When you get the steam taken away quickly, it's hard to recover.”

Culiberk gave the Redbirds credit for taking advantage of the breaks they got. “Give them credit,” Culiberk said. “They took advantage of the breaks they got and we didn't work hard enough to take advantage of ours.”

The Redbirds grabbed the lead with 3:59 left in the first when Scotty Waldrup grabbed a loose puck and skated in to beat Knight goaltender Nathan Funk to put Alton up 1-0; Triad countered just 56 seconds later when Kyle Kowalski found Cole Ebersoldt with a pass and Ebersoldt put a shot home past Caleb Currie to tie the game at 1-1.

It stayed that way until 2:02 had elapsed in the third period when Hunter scored for the first time, with assists going to Jake Bohn and Brandon Lang; Hunter scored again 1:39 later when Tanner St. Peters and Lang teamed up to find Hunter again for a score to extend the lead to 3-1.

Bryce Simon then put the game away with 8:43 left when Hunter found him with a feed and Simon beat Funk for a 4-1 Redbird lead. The Knights tried to get to within two of the Redbirds, but Currie and the Redbird defense were up to the task and kept the puck out of the net.

Alton had 34 shots on goal, with Funk making 30 saves; Triad shot 33 pucks at Currie, who had 32 saves on the day for Alton.

Alton finishes up the first part of the regular season with a 7:15 p.m. Tuesday game at East Alton against Belleville, while Triad meet Collinsville at 8:45 p.m. Tuesday at Granite City's Wilson Park Ice Rink.

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