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File photo Nardo Nagtzaam (10) scored three goals for the Alexandria Blizzard over the weekend as they took two games from Austin. Those wins could help cement the Blizzard's spot in the Central Division playoffs.

Blizzard hockey: Alexandria avenges losses

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If Alexandria Blizzard head coach Doc DelCastillo could draw up a blueprint of how he wants his team to play, it would look pretty close to what fans saw at the Runestone Community Center last weekend.

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One week after getting swept in Austin, the Blizzard returned the favor against the Bruins on its home ice. Alexandria never trailed over the weekend as it maintained a comfortable lead for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division with 3-1 and 4-1 wins on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

"I don't know if it was being at home or what it was," DelCastillo said. "But our energy level was a lot higher than the weekend before. We did get a lead, which it seems really helps our team out. It was a good weekend. One of those weekends that if things didn't necessarily go our way, it could have put us in a situation where we don't want to be in."

The Bruins had an opportunity to make things interesting in the race for that fourth playoff spot. Austin came in just eight points behind Alexandria after a 6-4 win over Aberdeen last Thursday. A sweep for the Bruins would have closed the gap between these two teams to just four points with 12 games left in the regular season.

The Blizzard played like a team that knew what was at stake. Alexandria closed out Saturday's game with three goals in the third period after the two teams went into the final frame tied at one apiece. Steve Zierke broke the tie at 2:58 before Reid Sturos scored less than four minutes later to give his team some breathing room. Rock Einersen then put the finishing touches on the win with an empty netter at 18:14.

"Watching the tape from Saturday night, we played an extremely good game right from the beginning," DelCastillo said. "We just didn't put the puck in the net like we're capable of. In the third, we were able to put the puck in the net. We played a really good game all three periods, so it was nice to see the guys rewarded for their hard work."

The Blizzard took care of business a little earlier the night before. Nardo Nagtzaam scored his first of three goals over the weekend at the 12:23 mark in the first period. Brent Bain added to that lead with a goal at 13:36 in the second that sent his team into the third up 2-0.

Austin cut that lead to one but could get no closer than that. Nagtzaam added an empty netter with 12 seconds left in the game to secure a win in the opener.

Jake Williams and the Alexandria defense made life difficult for Austin all weekend. The Blizzard outshot the Bruins 71-50 over the two games. Williams improved his record with Alexandria to 14-7-3 by turning aside 48 of the 50 shots he faced. He has a goals-against average of 2.85 since coming over from Fresno earlier this season.

"He was very good," DelCastillo said. "You go into the weekend knowing that they had played on Thursday night and we hadn't, so I knew the first period that they were going to have a little more game intensity than us. I thought Jake came up with some really nice saves early when we needed them to kind of get us through the first period and get our feet under us."

Alexandria now faces the challenge of carrying over the momentum from these two wins as it takes to the road. The Blizzard starts a three-game road trip tonight, Friday, with the first of two in Aberdeen. The team will then hit the road early Sunday morning for a 5 p.m. game at Coulee Region to wrap up the weekend.

It is the kind of road trip that will test a team mentally as much as it does physically. Alexandria will not get home from Aberdeen until around two or three in the morning on Sunday. The players then have to be back on the bus by around 10 a.m. to head for Onalaska, Wisconsin for a game against the second-place team in the division.

The Blizzard can take some solace in the fact that its next road trip will not come until the playoffs. Alexandria will start a nine-game homestand next weekend to wrap up the regular season.

"We'll take it one step at a time," DelCastillo said. "This is a big weekend and we've been pretty good on the road, so hopefully we can continue that...these three-game weekends aren't easy, but everyone in our league does it. You have to adapt to it. It's kind of the last little stretch of road games, so we'll have to take advantage of this. After this one, when we get back home, we expect to be very good at home."

GAME SUMMARY

AUSTIN 0 1 0 - 1

ALEXANDRIA 0 1 3 - 4

SHOTS - Austin - 9, 11, 3 - 23; Alexandria - 14, 8, 13 - 35

SCORING SUMMARY - FIRST PERIOD - No scoring

SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Nardo Nagtzaam (shorthanded) (Mike Krieg), 10:01; Austin - Jack Walsh (James Dickinson), 17:34

THIRD PERIOD - Alexandria - Steve Zierke (Reid Sturos, Brent Bain), 2:58; Alexandria - Reid Sturos (Brent Bain, Steve Zierke), 6:45; Alexandria - Rock Einersen (empty net) (Jordan Nelson, Tucker Coborn), 18:14

GOALTENDING - Austin - Garrett Patrick - L, 31 saves, 34 shots faced; Alexandria - Jake Williams - W, 22 saves, 23 shots faced

PENALTIES - Austin - six minutes on three infractions; Alexandria - six minutes on three infractions

AUSTIN 0 0 1 - 1

ALEXANDRIA 1 1 1 - 3

SHOTS - Austin - 9, 9, 9 - 27; Alexandria - 9, 13, 14 - 36

SCORING SUMMARY - FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Nagtzaam (Michael Pieper, Alex Altenbernd), 12:23

SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Brent Bain (Steve Zierke, Thomas Williams), 13:36

THIRD PERIOD - Austin - Alex Tesensky (PPG) (Jordan Greenberg, Charlie Adams), 13:34; Alexandria - Nagtzaam (empty net) (Joe Rubbelke), 19:48

GOALTENDING - Austin - Keegan Asmundson - L, 33 saves, 35 shots faced; Alexandria - Jake Williams - 26 saves, 27 shots faced

PENALTIES - Austin - 14 minutes on seven infractions; Alexandria - 10 minutes on five infractions

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Eric Morken
Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.
(320) 763-1229
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