Blizzard hockey: Alexandria inches toward the topThe Blizzard gain confidence after moving within eight points of the division leader
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Alexandria Blizzard just needed a little time to gel. That’s how the team’s leading scorer described Alexandria’s recent hot stretch where this team has won eight of its last 10 games.
Ian Ecklund put an exclamation point on the most recent of those wins with a hat trick in an 8-0 win over Quad City on Saturday. The Proctor native had a six-point weekend after assisting on two goals in a 3-1 win on Friday that helped complete the weekend sweep over the Jr. Flames.
“Everything was just clicking,” Ecklund said. “Our team was playing well. Lately, the team chemistry has been picking up a lot more. At the beginning, it wasn’t as great. As the season has gone on, we’re getting used to each other, knowing each other better and using each other more.”
That has helped the Blizzard put up some big numbers over the last 10 games. Alexandria is averaging 4.7 goals per game during that stretch, and the discrepancy in shots on goal has been staggering on many of those nights.
Alexandria dominated the pace of play through each of its two wins over Quad City this past weekend. The Blizzard outshot the Jr. Flames 55-24 on Saturday and 98-51 through both games. Lately, the team has been burying more of those opportunities as players start to find their scoring touch.
“We didn’t get any garbage goals at the beginning of the year,” Ecklund said. “Lately, we’ve been banging in the dirty ones that we hadn’t been.”
It took all of two minutes into Saturday’s game for the Blizzard to convert on two of those opportunities. Ecklund scored the first of his three goals 1:26 into the game. Tanner Duffney then put the Jr. Flames squarely on their heels with a goal 32 seconds later.
“Everything,” goaltender Chase Wilson said of what that early lead did for his confidence in net. “It makes my job so much easier when they’re putting up points. I mean, eight goals at the end. Then all the [Quad City] shots were from the outside. Everything is simple when they’re playing like that in front of me.”
Wilson made the stops he needed to as he upped his record to 6-3-1 with the shutout. The Riverside, California native turned aside 24 shots and lowered his goals against average to 1.79 in his 10 starts. Kyle Miller got the win with 26 saves on Friday as both he and Wilson have helped keep Alexandria in games on a regular basis.
The offense didn’t need much help on Saturday as the Blizzard methodically walked all over a three-win Quad City team. Ecklund was the catalyst but Chayce Coenen, Bryce Mitzel, Danny Pelzer, Garrett Skinner and Tanner Duffney each added a goal. Joe Anderson didn’t score, but he assisted on three of those goals as 13 different players put up points for Alexandria.
“You just have to stay focused when it’s like that because it’s at the other end a lot,” Wilson said of his mindset in a game that is so thoroughly controlled by his offense. “You have to stay loose and when it comes down, you have to make that one save that could be a difference early in the game.”
The key for the Blizzard will be sustaining its current level of play against the better teams in the West Division. Alexandria is still in third place with 33 points after posting a 16-7-0-1 record through 24 games.
Granite City and North Iowa have been even better with just five losses between them. The Lumberjacks sit atop the West standings with 41 points, while North Iowa is just a point behind after going 19-2-1-1.
Alexandria is 0-5 against those two teams. The Blizzard’s biggest frustrations have come against Granite City where they have lost three of their four games against the Lumberjacks by just one goal.
That’s why Alexandria believes it is right there as one of the top teams in the division. And this recent run of quality play has done nothing but add to that confidence.
“They’re beatable,” Wilson said of Granite City. “It’s only December, and we just need to beat the teams we’re supposed to beat. We always have good games against Granite City. The only goals they get are the goals we give them pretty much. I think we look at them as the number one team, so we play differently against them than we do other teams. I think that is going to change next time. We’re coming together.”
QUAD CITY 0 0 0 – 0
ALEXANDRIA 2 3 3 – 8
SHOTS – Quad City – 10, 7, 7 – 24; Alexandria – 10, 21, 24 – 55
SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – Alexandria – Ecklund (Anderson, Duffney), 1:26; Alexandria – Duffney (Anderson, Ecklund), 1:58
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Mitzel (Mick Dhein, Sean Casey), 10:35; Alexandria – Ecklund (PPG) (Austin Rudnick, Coenen), 13:33; Alexandria – Skinner (Karson Kuntz, Kyle Kuntz), 18:35
THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Pelzer (Dhein, Mitzel), 2:40; Alexandria – Coenen (Will Becker), 12:17; Alexandria – Ecklund (Anderson, Becker), 19:08
GOALTENDING – Quad City – Robby Vukelich – L, 47 saves, 55 shots; Alexandria – Wilson – W, 24 saves, 24 shots
QUAD CITY 0 0 1 – 1
ALEXANDRIA 1 1 1 – 3
SHOTS – Quad City – 10, 9, 8 – 27; Alexandria – 12, 18, 13 – 43
SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – Alexandria – Zach Hill (Coenen, Dhein), 11:42
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Duffney (PPG) (Coenen, Ecklund), 8:58
THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Coenen (PPG) (Ecklund, Rudnick), 8:36; Quad City – Harley Manus (Tanner Litvinoff, Ross Mullen), 10:55
GOALTENDING – Quad City – Vukelich – L, 40 saves, 43 shots; Alexandria – Miller – W, 26 saves, 27 shots