The MQT Royales have many reasons to celebrate this weekend at Lakeview Arena.
This is the first time that the Royales have played a game on home ice this calendar year. This will be the first chance to see the Royales' two newest acquisitions, while celebrating the return of Lane King and Eric Hewitt from their NAHL assignments. MQT is a perfect 18-0 in front of the hometown crowd in Lakeview Arena. That home record propelled the team to a divisional title in their first year of existence.
So the Royales are going to party like its 2008.
“It feels good. Right now is just one step of the process,” head coach Mike Stanaway said. “We took a moment to celebrate, but we went right back to work.”
In addition to the raising, a charity event will run during Friday and Saturday's game. The NASCAR weekend for Central U.P. Youth Hockey will feature a silent auction, raffles, specialty jersey auctions, 50/50, chuck-a-puck and advertising from a larger program to donate to teams in the Central Upper Peninsula. Those teams are the MQT Electricians, MQT Junior Hockey, Negaunee High School, Munising High School, Escanaba High School and Marquette Senior High School.
Specialty pucks and jerseys will be worn for the game this weekend (Brice Burge, event Facebook page)
The NASCAR weekend was first imagined by owner of Hoover's Auto Body Robert Airaudi. The avid NASCAR fan has played or worked with youth and junior hockey teams in the Central Upper Peninsula for over 40 years. Future plans to develop more annual events are in the works, according to Airaudi.
“We hope to make MQT and the Central U.P. the hockey mecca that it was before,” Airaudi said.
The event focusing on youth hockey in MQT and the surrounding areas are a way to connect to the Royales fan base and future athletes, according to MQT forward Robbie Gervino.
“This (kind of event) to see the logos on the jerseys give kids something to look forward to and grow up and maybe play for (the Royales) some day,” Gervino said.
MQT mayor Robert Niemi will drop a ceremonial puck on Friday and Saturday. A deal was also worked out with the city to have four big screen televisions to show the Northern Michigan-Michigan Tech home-and-home series so fans didn't have to pick between the two games. Also, those fans that went to either college game will get into the Sunday season finale game for free with proof of ticket.
Trying to spoil the ceremonies will be the Tri City IceHawks. The IceHawks are 23-17-0-3, good enough for a fourth place tie with Fort Wayne Federals. MQT swept the series in November in Bay City. However, the IceHawks forced overtime and lost in a shootout in the third game.
The Royales will be using momentum from a five-game winning streak to return to Lakeview. The team's last road trip to play the Wisconsin Rampage finished in a sweep where the Royales outscored the home team 33-4.
“Away is dead,” forward Dallas McLaughlin said. “We have to create our own game with no support from their fan base.”
The games will start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Brice Burge is the Managing Editor of MQT Social Scene. He can be reached at briceMQT@gmail.com.