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Anderson adds instant spark

The Blizzard’s Joe Anderson brings the puck up the ice in a game against the Wisconsin Whalers on October 19 at the RCC. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

Hibbing native Joe Anderson was only two games into his second stint with the Alexandria Blizzard when he had a game that head coach Jeff Crouse thought was unacceptable.

Anderson jumped right in with two goals in a 5-1 victory over a three-win Breezy Point team during his season debut on October 11. A bigger test came the next night against division-leader Granite City.

It was billed as an exciting opportunity for fans to get their first look at the Blizzard during Alexandria’s home opener. Instead, the Lumberjacks turned it into a night to forget. Anderson and fellow first-line forwards Ian Ecklund and Aaron Ryback barely made an impact with Ecklund gathering the only point among those three with an assist during an 8-1 loss. 

“I didn’t think he and Ian played very well that night,” Crouse said. “I kind of put it to them and pretty much said when you’re playing a Granite City or a North Iowa, you need your guns to be your guns.”

Message received. Anderson has dominated opponents since then, scoring multiple points in four straight wins for the Blizzard. He culminated that with four goals in a 6-3 win over that same Granite City team this past Saturday night.

“We just wanted to come out hard and get a road win,” Anderson said. “Show that we can beat them…it’s always fun scoring four goals, but doing it against them made it a lot better.”

Anderson knows he can score at this level. He started in Alexandria in 2012 and put together 24 points in 20 games. That earned him a promotion to Brookings where he played 37 games in the North American Hockey League (NAHL) between last season and the start of this season.

Anderson struggled to find his scoring punch once he got there as he battled for playing time. He scored just one goal in Brookings and finished with four points before rejoining the Blizzard in Alexandria in early October.

“Sometimes, when you’re on that level, you’re kind of gripping the stick a little too hard,” Crouse said. “You’re scared that you’re not going to be playing or not playing up to his potential. He’s the kind of kid that when he’s relaxed in a good way, he’s playing hard. He knows his job and he know his responsibilities here.”

Anderson knows he needs to be a scorer in Alexandria and he’s been just that upon his return. His 16 points (10 goals, 6 assists) in just six games is a big reason why this team is averaging almost six goals per game over the last four contests.

“The guys are all good,” Anderson said. “It’s just a good atmosphere here, and I really like playing here.”

It helped having guys he was familiar with to come back to. Anderson and Ecklund formed a friendship after meeting their junior year of high school and played together even before coming to the Blizzard. They are roommates off the ice. On the ice, they hope to form one of the best one-two punches in the West Division this winter.

“I just feel like we know where each other are most of the time,” Ecklund said of that chemistry. “We don’t have to say anything or look; we just have that idea of where we are.”

Ecklund also knows exactly where Anderson is coming from. Both players aspire to get another look in the NAHL and seem right on the fringe of getting that opportunity.

Ecklund put together a great season in Alexandria last winter with 71 points (33 goals, 38 assists) in just 48 games. That earned him a look in Brookings at the beginning of this season before he went to Texas to play for the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees of the NAHL.

It was a stay that lasted just one game before Ecklund found himself back in Alexandria in late September. He’s continued to put up good numbers at the NA3HL level with 13 points in seven games. Both he and Anderson know the ultimate goal is to prove that they do belong on an NAHL roster somewhere.

“Everyone’s trying to get back up there,” Anderson said. “I’m just trying to prove that I can play somewhere else and that I do belong in the NAHL.”

He’s off to a good start, and the Blizzard are benefiting from it. Alexandria improved to 8-2 with the weekend sweep over Granite City and the Minnesota Flying Aces.

This team has accomplished that record without the services of team captain Garrett Skinner after he fractured his kneecap in a game earlier this season. Crouse said the team is hoping to have him back for the start of a weekend series against North Iowa on November 15.

Skinner was second in points for this team a year ago with 61. His addition to the lineup will only add to the offensive punch for a team that is having no problems scoring with a talented group of forwards in the fold.

“I think it will be pretty good,” Ecklund said of Skinner’s return. “I think a lot of teams will start to be scared to play us, and we’ll score a lot more goals.”

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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