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Playoffs begin today for Blizzard hockey

Ian Ecklund carries the puck near the Minnesota goal last Friday during a 4-2 victory for the Blizzard at the Runestone Community Center. Ecklund and the rest of the Blizzard will begin the playoffs tonight against Granite City. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

With the regular season schedule now completed, the Alexandria Blizzard hockey team is set to begin the NA3HL playoffs today with a three-game series against Granite City.

Alexandria wrapped up its regular season last weekend with a 4-2 home victory over Minnesota on Friday and a 3-1 loss to Granite City at home Saturday.

On Friday, the Blizzard scored four third period goals, including two by Garrett Skinner, to take a come-from-behind 4-2 win over Minnesota.

The next night, the Blizzard struggled to generate offense against Granite City. The Lumberjacks took a one-goal lead into the third period and scored two more late in the game. Nate Mettenburg finally netted a goal for Alexandria with 30 seconds left in the game for a 3-1 final.

Alexandria had been hoping for a win Saturday to gain some momentum heading into the playoffs. For the second straight season, the Blizzard will start the playoffs against Granite City. Last year, the Blizzard lost a five game series between the two teams after four games. This has only intensified the rivalry between the two teams, which are only 70 miles away from each other down Interstate 94.

“They’re always big rivals against us,” Schmidt said. “We don’t like them and they don’t like us, so it’s going to be a good series.”

With a fourth division now added to the NA3HL, the first round of the playoffs will be a three game series this year instead of five games. Head coach Jeff Crouse said winning the first game is extremely important in this shorter series.

“The big thing is if you lose game one your back is against the wall,” Crouse said. “Then if you lose, you’re done.”

The Blizzard feels it has closed the gap on Granite City compared to where it was last year. In 2012-2013, the Blizzard only won one of eight regular season games between the two teams, and this year it improved to three wins in the season series.

This gives Alexandria an added boost heading into the playoffs.

“We have a lot more confidence when we play against them,” Skinner said.

The series starts on Friday with a 7:30 p.m. game in Sauk Rapids. The Blizzard will host the second game of the series at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Runestone Community Center, and if a third game is needed it will be played at 5 p.m. in Sauk Rapids on Sunday.

The Blizzard is confident it can pull out a win against Granite City, and the team expects an entertaining series.

“It’s going to be a great series,” Crouse said. “It’s going to be a great battle, and probably the three best teams in the league are in our division so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

GAME RESULTS

GRANITE CITY 0 1 2 – 3

ALEXANDRIA 0 0 1 – 1

SHOTS – ALEXANDRIA (6, 7, 9) – 22; GRANITE CITY – (14, 10, 4) – 28

SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – No goals

SECOND PERIOD – Granite City – David Kenney (Taylor Brown, Drew Otto), 12:34

THIRD PERIOD – Granite City – Billy Warren (Roy Grandov, Luke Richardson), 17:53; Grandov (empty net), 18:57; Alexandria – Nate Mettenburg (PP) (Tyler Sworsky, Zach Kihle), 19:30

GOALTENDING – Alexandria – Kyle Miller – L, 25 saves on 27 shots; Granite City – W, 21 saves on 22 shots

MINNESOTA 1 0 1 – 2

ALEXANDRIA 0 0 4 – 4

SHOTS – ALEXANDRIA (15, 14, 11) – 40; Minnesota (7, 11, 9) – 27

SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – Minnesota – Eric Rogorzenski (Jake Mullendore, Vladislav Shipota)

SECOND PERIOD – NO SCORING

THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Garrett Skinner (SH) (Tom Schmidt, Gavin Mind), 0:38; Minnesota – Eric Cruickshank (Jake Mullendore, Anthony Martinez), 6:19; Alexandria – Nick Nitta (PP) (Ian Ecklund, Garrett Skinner), 15:50; Skinner (SH) (Schmidt, Zach Kihle), 18:21; Tyler Sworsky (Joe Anderson, Nate Mettenburg), 19:00

GOALTENDING – Alexandria – Tanner Elmore – W, 25 saves on 27 shots; Minnesota – Jaxson Gosnell – L, 36 saves on 40 shots

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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