Blizzard hockey: Alexandria wraps up home ice in first roundA postseason preview came down to the third period, where Alexandria responded
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
Blizzard fans got a postseason preview on Sunday as Alexandria wrapped up home ice in the opening round of the Central Division playoffs against the same team they will see at the Runestone Community Center next week.
The Austin Bruins came in hoping to pull within one point of Alexandria for that second spot in the division. The Bruins rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second period, but the Blizzard responded with two of its own in the third to take a 5-3 game in a match-up of two of the hottest teams in the Central.
“I’m very confident in our team when it comes to third periods,” head coach Doc DelCastillo said. “Sometimes you just got to forget about what happened to that point and move forward. I think the guys responded. I think guys pulled together and had a great performance all night.”
Alexandria’s Thomas Williams stepped up the way a captain and second-year player should at this time of year. The former Cardinal standout scored the first two goals of the game for the Blizzard by working his way in front of the net and firing open looks past Austin’s Nicholas Lehr.
Williams then made the biggest play of the game in the third period in a 3-3 tie. Austin was on a power play when Williams jumped on a loose puck and started a 2-on-1 break. He sent a shot at the net before Reid Sturos tapped in the rebound for a 4-3 lead.
“I got a little lucky,” Williams said. “Their [defenseman] just kind of fumbled it, and it was right there. Got a little luck on the 2-on-1, and Reid made a great play to stop in front of the net and bury it.”
Alexandria wouldn’t relinquish the lead this time. Dylan Zink capped off a great shift almost 15 minutes into the third by getting one past Lehr to give his team a little breathing room. The shot came from near the blue line and all but put an end to the Bruins’ hopes at a second comeback.
MEYERS BACK IN NET
Jacob Meyers made sure that lead held up with another nice performance in his first time back in net since March 16.
Meyers missed the last three games because of a sore ankle that he will likely feel for the remainder of this season. He shook off any rust through the first two periods and stopped 12 Austin shots in the final frame. He finished with his 29th win of the season by turning aside 31 of the 34 shots he faced.
“It was pretty rough at the beginning,” Meyers said. “But as the game went on, it loosened up. I was able to battle through it. I‘ll take a couple days off here and there just to give it some rest, but for the remainder of the season, I don’t see myself missing too many games. It will only get better.”
Michael Bitzer continued to do a nice job serving as Meyers’ backup. Bitzer took an overtime loss on Saturday in a 4-3 game against the Minotauros but got his first NAHL shutout the night before with a 3-0 win in Minot.
Meyers said he hopes to play at least one of the final two games of the regular season when Aberdeen and Minot come to Alexandria this weekend. The Blizzard doesn’t really have much to play for with all four seeds in the Central playoffs already determined. Now it’s all about staying sharp before welcoming in the Bruins again next week.
“I’d rather play,” Meyers said when asked if he would rather rest his ankle. “Especially going into the playoffs. You want to catch as much momentum as you can, try to catch fire while you’re in net. Going into the playoffs, I’d rather try and at least get one of those games and try to build a little bit of momentum going into that next week.”
Alexandria hopes getting home ice in the opening round of the playoffs will be the tipping point in what is a match-up of two teams playing their best hockey of the season right now.
Austin has played as well as any team in the NAHL in the last month. The Bruins ran off an eight-game winning streak from February 18 through March 10. They swept top-seeded Bismarck by a combined score of 10-5 before coming to Alexandria on Sunday. That’s why any advantage the Blizzard can get, this team is happy to take.
“It was pretty huge, actually,” Williams said. “It’s always great to start at home and try to get the early lead, to get the fans to have your back. If it does come to that game five, that home ice is a big advantage from going on the road. You don’t have those bus legs. That’s pretty big, especially now.”
Alexandria won the regular season head-to-head match-up between these two teams with a 7-5 record. Both teams know that won’t mean much come next week in what should be an entertaining opening round series.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” DelCastillo said. “I think it’s going to be a great series. They have a very good team. They’ve won a lot of hockey games this year, and they’ve been really good in the second half. So have we. If I was a fan out there, I’d be getting my playoff tickets right now.”
AUSTIN 1 2 0 – 3
ALEXANDRIA 2 1 2 – 5
SHOTS – Austin – 8, 14, 12 – 34; Alexandria – 13, 7, 10 – 30; Power plays – Austin – 1-4; Alexandria – 1-5
FIRST PERIOD – Alexandria – Thomas Williams (Sean Mostrom, Seth Ronsberg), 6:32; Austin – CJ Smith (John Simonson, Chris Fischer), 11:16; Alexandria – Thomas Williams (PPG) (Dylan Zink, Reid Sturos), 13:04
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Hayden Trupp (Aidan Cavallini, Matt Youso), 2:09; Austin – Jonathan Gehrt (PPG) (AJ Reid, Chase McDonald), 7:12; Austin – Brandon Wahlin (Jeremy Finger, Matt Hansen), 14:45
THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Reid Sturos (Shorthanded) (Thomas Williams, Matt Youso), 7:00; Alexandria – Dylan Zink (Craig Lindegard, Gage Torrel), 14:45
GOALTENDING – Austin – Nicholas Lehr – L, 25 saves, 30 shots; Alexandria – Jacob Meyers – W, 31 saves, 34 shots
MINOT 0 3 0 1 – 4
ALEXANDRIA 0 1 2 0 – 3
SHOTS – Minot – 6, 14, 4, 1 – 25; Alexandria – 11, 10, 17, 0 – 38; Power plays – Minot – 0-4; Alexandria – 0-2
FIRST PERIOD – No scoring
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Michael Mooney (Vadim Gyesbreghs, Craig Lindegard), 1:22; Minot – Kelvin Walz (Josh Twietmeyer, Mason Morelli), 6:01; Minot – Denis Dalidovich (Derek Tylka), 6:56; Minot – Brian Farkas (Mike Mezzano), 8:43
THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Vadim Gyesbreghs (Reid Sturos, Tucker Coborn), 14:23; Alexandria – Vadim Gyesbreghs (Hayden Trupp, Tucker Coborn), 16:57
OVERTIME – Minot – Joe Hockert (Brian Farkas, Jadin Martin), 0:33
GOALTENDING – Minot – Tim Shaughnessy – W, 35 saves, 38 shots; Alexandria – Michael Bitzer – OTL, 21 saves, 25 shots
ALEXANDRIA 3 0 0 – 3
MINOT 0 0 0 – 0
SHOTS – Alexandria – 11, 3, 6 – 20; Minot – 6, 13, 11 – 30; Power plays – Alexandria – 0-5; Minot – 0-5
FIRST PERIOD – Alexandria – Hayden Trupp (Dylan Zink, Justin Moody), 7:10; Alexandria – Jordan Krebsbach (Justin Moody, Gage Torrel), 14:21; Alexandria – Seth Ronsberg (Thomas Williams, Reid Sturos), 15:47
SECOND PERIOD – No scoring
THIRD PERIOD – No scoring
GOALTENDING – Alexandria – Michael Bitzer – W, 30 saves, 30 shots; Minot – Jake Hebda – L, 15:47, 6 saves, 9 shots; Tim Shaughnessy – 44:13, 11 saves, 11 shots