Blizzard hockey: Defending champs await Alexandria
The Alexandria Blizzard wanted a chance to prove it could play with the best teams for a NA3HL title in its inaugural season. Now the team will get that chance against the defending champs.
Alexandria (31-15-2, 64 points) finished third in the final West Division standings after dropping two games this past weekend, including a 4-3 shootout loss to Minnesota in the finale. The Blizzard will open a five-game series at Granite City (36-8-3) tonight, Friday, after the Lumberjacks finished second in the division with 76 points to North Iowa's 88.
"We're feeling really good about ourselves," Blizzard head coach Jeff Crouse said. "We're actually playing really well, probably the best hockey we've played all year."
Granite City will host Alexandria for games one and two tonight and Saturday. Game three will be back in Alexandria next Friday, with games four and five, if necessary, being played on March 23 and 24.
On paper, it would seem like a bad matchup for Alexandria. The Blizzard is just 1-7 against the Lumberjacks this year, including a 4-2 loss to them last Friday night.
"We have confidence against Granite City," Crouse said. "Granted, we know our record wasn't good against them in the regular season, but we know we can play with them. Early on, they were beating us by one goal, a couple goals. We were a younger team early on, and they had some veterans who were leading their team. I think as the year has gone on here, we have definitely caught up to them."
Alexandria killed itself with penalties when these two teams played last Friday night. Granite City broke things open with three power-play goals in the second period. That erased what had been a 2-0 lead after first-period goals by Danny Pelzer and Drake Hunter.
The Blizzard likely can't spend a lot of time in the penalty box if it wants to have a chance against Granite City or any team in these divisional playoffs. The West is loaded with all three of the top teams having more than 64 points. In comparison, the second-place teams in the East and Central Divisions have just 58 and 56 points, respectively.
"The penalties could be the difference in the series," Crouse said. "If we're going to keep taking penalties at crucial times and giving them momentum, that's what happened last Friday. We need to play five-on-five against them. I've been preaching that we need to stay out of the box and make sure we play five-on-five against these guys and not give them any confidence and let them get going on the power play."
Whichever team comes out of the West playoffs will have already made a statement to the rest of the league. Crouse has talked of winning a 3HL championship being this team's goal. The path toward that goal starts on the road tonight with a 7:30 drop of the puck.
"It's going to have to be 25 guys going all in and competing," Crouse said. "Do the little things well like taking care of the puck. Who's going to go the extra mile to win this series? If you turn the puck over against Granite City, it usually ends up in the back of the net. If you take a dumb penalty, you end up giving up a power play goal. So I think it's going to come down to the little things."
ALEXANDRIA 1 1 1 0 0 - 3
MINNESOTA 0 2 1 0 1 - 4
SHOTS - Alexandria - 9, 10, 8, 2, 0 - 29; Minnesota - 8, 15, 11, 6, 1 - 41
FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Ian Ecklund (Sergey Erileev), 18:35
SECOND PERIOD - Minnesota - Jared Sprink (Alex Yde, Andre Pison), 4:24; Alexandria - Erileev (Austin Rudnick, Ryen Zerfas), 14:16; Minnesota - Dylan Nelson (John May, Mason Wyman), 16:16
THIRD PERIOD - Minnesota - Patrick Kegley (PPG) (Tate Sykes, Alec Brandup), 12:43; Alexandria - Karson Kuntz (extra attacker) (Kyle Kuntz, Danny Pelzer), 19:45
OVERTIME - No scoring
SHOOTOUT SCORERS - Alexandria - Ecklund; Minnesota - Andre Pison; Mason Wyman
PENALTIES - Alexandria - Ten minutes on five infractions; Minnesota - Two minutes on one infraction
GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Sam Goetsch - SOL, 37 saves, 40 shots; Minnesota - Jared Stearns - W, 26 saves, 29 shots
ALEXANDRIA 2 0 0 - 2
GRANITE CITY 0 4 0 - 4
SHOTS - Alexandria - 8, 5, 8 - 21; Granite City - 6, 15, 7 - 28
FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Pelzer (Nate Mettenburg), 10:04; Alexandria - Hunter (unassisted), 19:14
SECOND PERIOD - Granite City - Mattheu Raiola (PPG) (Aaron Storch, Hunter Schneider), 5:57; Granite City - Blayne Ellson (Zac Sikich, Aidan Verbeke), 16:44; Granite City - Eric Miller (PPG) (Drew Otto, Mitchell Gwost), 18:01; Granite City - Nick Turbitt (PPG) (Brett Love, Sikich), 19:12
THIRD PERIOD - No scoring
PENALTIES - Alexandria - 31 minutes on nine infractions; Granite City - 19 minutes on eight infractions
GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Dom DeGuisseppi - L, 24 saves, 28 shots; Granite City - Scott Murray - W, 19 saves, 21 shots