Blizzard hockey: Season is overBruins cut short Alexandria's bid in playoffs
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Alexandria Blizzard has caused team fits with a lot of good goaltending efforts throughout this season.
Jacob Meyers and this Blizzard defense have been the backbone of a 40-win team. This past weekend, it was Meyers’ counterpart who made the biggest impact on cutting Alexandria’s season short with a 3-1 series loss to Austin in the opening round of the Central Division playoffs.
The Bruins’ Tyler Bruggeman looked nothing like the guy who got pulled to start the third period in a 5-0 loss in game two. He responded from that with a shutout in a 4-0 win for Austin in game three before putting the finishing touches on the series with 38 saves in a 3-2 win in game four. He halted 65 of the 67 shots he faced over the weekend.
“Bruggeman played extremely, extremely well,” Blizzard head coach Doc DelCastillo said. “I’m disappointed for the guys…we outplayed them, we outshot them, and they found ways to win hockey games, and he had a lot to do with that. At this time of the season, if you get extremely good goaltending, you’re going to win hockey games.”
The Blizzard didn’t get a single shot past him for five straight periods over the weekend. Alexandria trailed 2-0 heading into the third on Saturday before getting two quick goals in the first two and a half minutes of the final frame. Dylan Zink and Tucker Coborn gave their team new life when Zink scored unassisted, 17 seconds in and Coborn followed with a power-play goal at 2:21.
That’s how things went late into the period before Austin got the bounce it needed to secure the series. The Bruins got a shot off from the point that rebounded to the backside where Nolan Kirley was waiting. He tapped in a goal at 18:03 that deflated a Blizzard team that worked hard to battle back and try to send the series back to Alexandria for a game five.
“We really played extremely well in that third period,” DelCastillo said. “We had numerous, numerous opportunities, and [Bruggeman] came up with big saves. Credit to them. They found a way to get it done. Bounce or no bounce, they earned the ability to move on.”
The inability to get anything past Bruggeman got to Alexandria on Friday night. The Blizzard took 10 penalties to Austin’s three, something that proved to be a major factor in the game.
The Bruins scored their first three goals on power plays, including two in the second period to take a commanding lead with the way Bruggeman was playing. Austin Nelson added an empty-netter late in the third to put an end to a frustrating night for the Blizzard.
“When you go through the game and you take 20 minutes and the other team takes six, it’s a pretty difficult hockey game to win,” DelCastillo said. “We got frustrated a little bit based on not being able to score goals and him coming up with some big saves. When you spend that much time in the penalty box, it’s a difficult game to win.”
It proved to be the beginning of the end of an Alexandria season that was the best in the organization’s history. The Blizzard set a franchise record for wins for the third straight season. Its 40-15-5 mark through the regular season would be enough to win a Central Division title most years, but Bismarck set a franchise record itself with 45 wins.
The next step would seem to be a long playoff run for Alexandria. The Blizzard advanced past the first round in 2010, but fell in five games to Bismarck last season after winning its first division title. Alexandria has set the bar higher with the way its played under DelCastillo but has yet to translate that success into a long postseason run.
“It would be nice to see that,” DelCastillo said. “But it is what it is. I think the last two years, we ran into some pretty good goaltending in the first round of the playoffs, and that’s how teams have beat us. It’s disappointing that we weren’t playing [Sunday] night, but I don’t want to hang our heads too long based on the season that we had and what the guys did.”
That’s what DelCastillo said he’ll remember most about this group. The Blizzard lost a lot of talent after the 2011 season, including a 94-point scorer in Nardo Nagtzaam. Alexandria responded by taking a lot of new faces and growing into a group that finished with the most wins this franchise has ever seen.
“This team went a long way,” DelCastillo said. “It was projected to be kind of a rebuilding year for us, and it’s been the best team Alexandria has ever had. There’s a lot of things to be proud of. With the talent we lost a year ago, everyone thought this would be a rebuilding year and to walk away with 41 wins is really impressive.”
ALEXANDRIA 0 0 2 – 2
AUSTIN 0 2 1 – 3
SHOTS – Alexandria – 17, 13, 10 – 40; Austin – 10, 14, 6 – 30; Power plays – Alexandria – 1-3; Austin – 1-3
SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – No scoring
SECOND PERIOD – Austin – Brandon Wahlin (Jeremy Finger), 4:57; Austin – Charlie Adams (PPG) (AJ Reid, Jonathan Gehrt), 10:30
THIRD PERIOD – Alexandria – Dylan Zink (unassisted), 0:17; Alexandria – Tucker Coborn (PPG) (Dylan Zink), 2:21; Austin – Nolan Kirley (Trevor Waldoch), 18:03
GOALTENDING – Alexandria – Jacob Meyers – L, 27 saves, 30 shots; Austin – Tyler Bruggeman – W, 38 saves, 40 shots
ALEXANDRIA 0 0 0 – 0
AUSTIN 1 2 1 – 4
SHOTS – Alexandria – 8, 11, 8 – 27; Austin – 18, 15, 8 – 41; Power plays – Alexandria – 0-3; Austin – 3-9
SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – Austin – Charlie Adams (PPG) (John Kirby, Matt Hansen), 1:05
SECOND PERIOD – Austin – John Simonson (PPG) (Brandon Wahlin, Tyler Bruggeman), 13:40; Austin – Matt Hansen (PPG) (Charlie Adams, John Kirby), 18:06
THIRD PERIOD – Austin – Austin Nelson (empty net) (Nolan Kirley, Kody Reuter), 19:44
GOALTENDING – Alexandria – Michael Bitzer – L, 37 saves, 40 shots; Austin – Bruggeman – W, 27 saves, 27 shots