Blizzard hockey: Ecklund, Skinner form dynamic duoThe Blizzard's top two scorers have a chemistry that is proving hard to stop
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria’s Garrett Skinner hesitated a split second, waiting for his Blizzard teammate, Ian Ecklund, to catch up on Friday night.
Skinner carried the puck toward the net in a scoreless game in the first period against Breezy Point as Ecklund set himself up on the other side of the crease. With a flick of the wrist, Skinner released a pass right to Ecklund’s stick for a tap-in goal that became the start of a 5-1 win for Alexandria.
Blizzard fans have seen that scene play out time and time again over the course of Alexandria’s first season in the NA3HL. That’s the kind of chemistry these two have on a top line that has helped the Blizzard win six straight and move within six points of Granite City for the second seed in the West Division.
“We’ve pretty much been skating together since he got here in September,” Skinner said. “He’s always open. I can’t score a goal, so I usually just give it to him, and he takes it down there and puts it in the back of the net.”
Skinner was lamenting a few missed scoring chances that he had himself on Friday night. Ecklund set him up late in the opening period in similar fashion to the team’s first goal, but Breezy Point’s Ian Shidlosfky turned aside a tap-in opportunity right in front of the net.
Instead of dwelling on that, Skinner became a distributor the rest of the way. He assisted on four of the five goals Alexandria scored, including another perfectly timed pass to Ecklund, who finished it on an open net for a 2-0 lead early in the second period.
“When you play with someone, you kind of learn how they play and what they do,” Ecklund said. “Me and Skinner, we know what we’re doing and have a feel of how each other play and where we’re going to be pretty much all the time.”
Both guys have maximized their talents by settling into their roles on this team. Ecklund has established himself as one of the top goal scorers in the entire league. His 56 points are second in the NA3HL to Three Rivers’ Nico Vecchio’s 62 and his 27 goals are tied for the most with North Iowa’s Timothy Santopoalo.
Skinner is the playmaker who prefers to set people up. Of his 45 points, 34 have been on assists. That’s fourth in the league, just two behind Vecchio’s 36 helpers. Ecklund’s plus-minus rating of plus-33 and Skinner’s plus-29 are top-15 in the league.
“They’re just dominating,” Blizzard head coach Jeff Crouse said of his two forwards. “They gained some chemistry and became good friends off the ice, and it carries over on the ice. It really puts a lot of pressure on the other team when [number] four and [number] 11 get on the ice. It’s, ‘Whoa, here they come, and we may be in trouble.’ They’re both just good players.”
Ecklund showed off his scoring prowess for the hat trick against Breezy Point in the second period. He eluded a defenseman by hitting the brakes and centering himself before releasing a wrister that got past Shidlofsky for a 4-1 lead. Richie Brown and Danny Pelzer each added goals in the middle frame to help the Blizzard blow things open.
“He’s the best forward I’ve seen in this division,” Crouse said of Ecklund. “We played down at the [NA3HL] Showcase, and he was the best player on the ice against St. Louis (33-2-1) and the best player on the ice against Three Rivers (24-10-1). So he’s definitely one of the most talented players in this league.”
Ecklund has helped his team play its best hockey of the season with 15 points during the current six-game winning streak. Alexandria knows it will have to prove itself against teams like North Iowa and Granite City down the stretch. But with Skinner and Ecklund playing the way they are, this team’s confidence is as high as it’s been all season.
“Once we beat North Iowa (on January 4), I think we gained a lot of confidence,” Ecklund said. “We used to go into games wanting to win. Now we go into them knowing we’re going to win. The attitude is completely different.”
BREEZY POINT 0 1 0 – 1
ALEXANDRIA 1 4 0 – 5
SHOTS – Breezy Point – 9, 13, 8 – 30; Alexandria – 17, 14, 14 – 45
FIRST PERIOD – Alexandria – Ecklund (Skinner), 10:05
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Ecklund (Skinner, Ricky Seidel), 0:32; Alexandria – Brown (shorthanded) (Chayce Coenen, Mick Dhein), 3:02; Alexandria – Ecklund (Karson Kuntz, Skinner), 15:09; Alexandria – Pelzer (Skinner, Sergey Erileev), 16:55; Breezy Point – Bo Borowski (Kyle Eberwein), 18:48
THIRD PERIOD – No scoring
GOALTENDING – Breezy Point – Shidlofsky – L, 40 saves, 45 shots; Alexandria – Kyle Miller – W, 29 saves, 30 shots