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Blizzard: Aiding the relief effort

Members of the Alexandria Blizzard team took a break on top of the sandbag wall they helped build Tuesday when the team traveled to Fargo as part of a contingent of volunteers hoping to hold back the flood waters of the Red River.

With wins in three of their last four games and standing in the shadow of what is expected to be a grueling playoff series with Bismarck, the Alexandria Blizzard weren't likely going to get bagged at practice Tuesday.

But that didn't mean they weren't going to get in plenty of bagging.

The Blizzard, in cooperation with Tastefully Simple, was part of a 300-plus contingent of area volunteers that spent their the day on the edge of the Red River, swapping the cozy confines of the Runestone Community Center for the front-line of what has become a heart-felt battle vs. Mother Nature in Fargo.

"It's real life," said forward Kyle Clement, who along with the rest of his Alexandria teammates, spent most of Tuesday building flood-safe walls with bags of sand in a Fargo neighborhood.

"There were hundreds of people out there. Right in that little cul de sac that we were in there were probably 300 to 400 people moving sandbags. It was hard work, but it was inspiring to see so many people working together to help try and save these homes."

The community of Fargo has seen this before, both the flood warnings and outpour of support to help stave off the rising waters.

In 1997, the city was ravaged when the Red River crested at 39.5 feet. Alexandria defensemen Tyler Swanson remembers it well, when as a child, the West Fargo native's grandparents had the same type of dike built in their backyard.

"They lived on the river and I remember being out there running around on the sandbags," Swanson said. "There was a lot of water that time, and obviously they don't want that to happen again."

Chances are strong it will. Officials have indicated that the river could crest at 41 feet by Saturday, a full foot and a half above the record levels set in 1997.

As the team found out Tuesday, flood-prevention organizers are preparing as best they can for the increase in water.

"They had land surveyors out measuring and marking how high the wall is," said head coach Brad Willner. "They are going to 42 feet, and the made sure of it. They added a foot when we were there, and we had to go back and build the entire wall up. It was just kind of amazing to see."

That was true on a pair of fronts. On one side, scores of volunteers and homeowners worked to get the bags to the river bank, while on the other, a river grew right before their very eyes.

"The water was rising the whole time we were there," said Clement. "You take a break and go back and the water had already risen. It seemed like we couldn't work fast enough."

Nonetheless, they worked hard enough to feel it when they were done. Willner said those who stayed in line the entire day tossed "at least 5,000 bags," and both Swanson and Clement talked about how sore they were after.

"There were some pretty heavy sandbags," Swanson said. "And there was some inconsistency in the weight, so the real heavy ones caught you off guard. It was nice to be able to give back to the community of Fargo. It was tough, but I'd rather be doing this than getting bagged on the ice."

In all, 23 team members took part in the volunteer effort. Matt Hemingway and Paul Prestcott stayed back to attend school. Everybody else was on board a bus early Tuesday morning. They returned late that evening, reaffirmed with the power of a team.

"That's what it was," Willner said. "It was a team of people trying to help and do what they could. It was so rewarding to see. It's hard to describe."

Final tune-up

Though in the face of reality hockey seemed trivial Tuesday, the team does have work to do this week.

Alexandria was scheduled to play in Bismarck Thursday - if they can get there - in a primer to next week's first round playoff series with the division champs, before heading back to town to face Albert Lea Saturday in the regular season finale.

It will also be fan appreciation night Saturday at the Runestone Community Center, when one lucky fan will win a $1,000 travel voucher with Alex Travel, Utopia Tours or Carnival Cruise.

The Blizzard would just like to win the game, and head into the playoffs with the same mindset they have after breaking out of a 10-game losing streak with points in four straight games.

"We want to go into the playoffs playing well," said Clement. "We seem to be peaking now, right at the right time. We just want to carry that into the Bismarck series."