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Blizzard has its hands full against Bismarck

Life in the North American Hockey League's Central Division is never easy.

The Alexandria Blizzard will find that out first hand over the next 10 days. The Blizzard will have its shot against the top two teams over that span after splitting a two-game set with third-place Coulee Region last weekend.

The team kicked off a stretch of five straight games against Bismarck and Owatonna with a game against the Bobcats on Wednesday night. The two teams will be back at it tonight when they drop the puck at 7:30 at the Runestone Community Center.

The Bobcats have looked like a team capable of making a repeat run at the Robertson Cup this year. The 2010 champions are 20-9-2.

The run at another title begins and ends with one of the best goaltenders in the NAHL for this team. Ryan Faragher is in his second season with the Bobcats and is 19-7 this season after going 23-6 last winter. The Dartmouth College commit has the fourth best save percentage in the NAHL at .924 and his goals against average of 2.08 is third.

"The success that they've had starts in the net," Alexandria head coach Doc DelCastillo said. "Faragher, I would say he is the best goalie in our league and maybe the best goalie at this level. He is good enough to be playing college hockey right now."

Alexandria goes into tonight's game knowing it has had some success off him this season. The Blizzard has handed him three of his seven losses after Wednesday's 4-2 win and scored a total of 11 goals on him during those three games.

"He's the type of goaltender where if you relax and think a puck is going in the net, it's just not the way it happens," DelCastillo said. "He's a goalie that should be at the college level that's playing at our level right now. You need to get shots off on him and you need to get traffic in front of him."

Alexandria has the offensive firepower to pose some problems for Faragher. The Blizzard has 12 players who have posted double-digit point totals this year. Nardo Nagtzaam is tied for fourth in the NAHL with 46 points, while Steve Zierke (35), Alex Altenbernd (25) and Thomas Williams (24) are just a few of the goal scorers that opposing teams have to worry about.

The Bobcats do not have a top-20 scorer like Nagtzaam on their team. Their offense consists of a balanced unit, consisting of five players with at least 21 points. Matthew Gates leads the way with 28 points and a plus/minus rating of plus-12. DelCastillo knows his team has to limit Bismarck's chances with a goalie like Faragher on the other end.

If Alexandria can do that, it might be able to gain some ground in the division standings. It is an opportunity this team relishes as it tries to reel in the top teams in the division.

"We talked about it a week ago," DelCastillo said. "This is going to be a pretty good stretch for us as far as competition. We like the challenge. I love playing the first place team three games in a row. It might not always translate into wins, but yet, you're getting better as a team and hopefully if you do the right things, you end up on the right side of the scoreboard."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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