Blizzard Hockey: Bitzer helps Alexandria reboundIf former Moorhead standout Michael Bitzer has proven anything in the last couple months, it’s that he isn’t rattled by big games.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
If former Moorhead standout Michael Bitzer has proven anything in the last couple months, it’s that he isn’t rattled by big games.
Blizzard head coach Doc DelCastillo had a tough decision to make after a 4-2 loss to Austin in game one of the Central Division playoffs. Jacob Meyers has been one of the top goaltenders in the league all season, but DelCastillo decided to go with Bitzer on Saturday with a 0-2 deficit staring his team in the face.
Bitzer made his coach look good by how he responded to the challenge. He shut out the Bruins on the back of 32 saves that led to a 5-0 win for Alexandria. That will send the Blizzard back to Austin this weekend tied at a game apiece in the best-of-five series.
“I was kind of surprised when coach said it,” Bitzer said of getting the start. “I thought Meyers was going to get the reins. He’s been great all season. He’s been great while I’ve been here. He didn’t play bad [Friday] night, either, just a few unlucky bounces, but I got my chance to play, and I feel like I really played well.”
Bitzer has responded to almost every challenge thrown his way this winter. He made a name for himself in St. Paul with a shutout of heavily favored Eagan in the opening round of the state tournament. His first win in a Blizzard uniform came in Bismarck, where he had 30 saves in a 5-1 win over the Bobcats.
He delivered when his team needed it again on Saturday night. Bitzer made a flurry of big saves in the second period as Alexandria held onto a 2-0 lead. The Bruins put 19 shots on net in the middle frame and came up empty on three power plays. His performance during that stretch made an impression on his teammates and added to what was a frustrating night for the Bruins.
“He’s definitely earned everyone’s respect,” Blizzard defenseman Jordan Krebsbach said. “It’s hard to tell what they did in high school, if it’s going to transfer over to juniors, but he’s definitely shown that he’s capable of playing here and playing well.”
Krebsbach got the first goal of the night for Alexandria on the team’s first power play midway through the opening period. He connected on a one-timer late in the man advantage for his first of two goals in the game.
That set the tone early during a stretch where Alexandria’s defense controlled the game. The Blizzard limited Austin to just six shots in the first period, none of which were clean looks at the net. DelCastillo called it exactly the kind of defense this team wants to play. It also helped a young goalie calm down by making a few easy saves.
“Our D played great,” Bitzer said. “We had a lot of blocked shots. They kept a lot of the shots to the outside, boxed people out when we needed to. They really just made my job easy. I couldn’t have had the night I did without them.”
The Blizzard continued to pile on over the final two periods. Reid Sturos gathered himself early in the second and sent a wrister past Austin’s Tyler Bruggeman for a 2-0 lead. Bruggeman frustrated the Blizzard the night before with 39 saves but was pulled for Nicholas Lehr to start the third on Saturday after falling behind 3-0.
“It’s one of those games where we were definitely on,” Krebsbach said. “Everything was kind of clicking from the start. It was really nice, especially to take their goalie’s confidence down after he had a really good night [on Friday]. To get him out of the game was huge.”
The Blizzard put the finishing touches on the win with two more in the third. Craig Lindegard tapped in a loose puck in front of the net before Seth Ronsberg went to his backhand in front of the crease on a power play goal that finished the Bruins off.
“I’m proud of the guys,” DelCastillo said. “We had our backs up against the wall with them coming in and getting the first one. We needed to respond, and I think we did.”
The Blizzard now hopes to carry that momentum into Austin on Friday night. The Bruins stole home ice with the win on Friday in what has now become a best-of-three series between two evenly matched teams.
“We got to concentrate on going on the bus and going down there and playing some intense hockey,” DelCastillo said. “I expect the same thing. They got a good team, and it’s a hard place to play. That’s what playoff hockey is all about. This is fun. For the guys, for this organization – it’s going to be fun going down to Austin.
They will drop the puck for games three and four at 7:05 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. If Alexandria plays like it did in game two, the Blizzard likes its chances of, at the very least, bringing it back for a game five at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
“It’s one game at a time,” Krebsbach said. “We’ll try to play pretty much exactly like we did tonight and steal a couple games over there. It would be nice to get both of them, but we need to start with the first one.”
AUSTIN 0 0 0 – 0
ALEXANDRIA 1 2 2 – 5
SHOTS – Austin – 6, 19, 7 – 32; Alexandria – 8, 13, 13 – 34; Power plays – Austin – 0-5; Alexandria – 2-4
FIRST PERIOD – Alexandria – Jordan Krebsbach (PPG) (Reid Sturos, Seth Ronsberg), 13:39
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Reid Sturos (Seth Ronsberg, Thomas Williams), 1:45; Alexandria – Krebsbach (Thomas Williams, Michael Bitzer), 12:35
THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Craig Lindegard (Tucker Coborn, Aidan Cavallini), 5:28; Alexandria – Seth Ronsberg (PPG) (Reid Sturos, Nick DeCenzo), 11:00
GOALTENDING – Austin – Tyler Bruggeman – L, 40:00, 18 saves, 21 shots; Nicholas Lehr – 20:00, 11 saves, 13 shots; Alexandria – Michael Bitzer – W, 32 saves, 32 shots
AUSTIN 1 2 1 – 4
ALEXANDRIA 1 0 1 – 2
SHOTS – Austin – 7, 16, 7 – 30; Alexandria – 18, 12, 11 – 41; Power plays – Austin – 1-3; Alexandria – 1-4
FIRST PERIOD – Austin – Jeremy Finger (Jake Flynn, Brandon Wahlin), 3:37; Alexandria – Jordan Krebsbach (PPG) (Dylan Zink, Reid Sturos), 13:08
SECOND PERIOD – Austin – Chris Fischer (PPG) (Jake Flynn, Trevor Waldoch), 16:21; Austin – Colton Kramer (unassisted), 16:41
THIRD PERIOD – ALEXANDRIA – Justin Moody (Casey Purpur, Craig Lindegard), 12:45; Austin – John Kirby (AJ Reid), 18:15
GOALTENDING – Austin – Bruggeman – W, 39 saves, 41 shots; Alexandria – Jacob Meyers – L, 26 saves, 30 shots