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Blizzard gets back at North Iowa

The last time North Iowa came to Alexandria, the Bulls didn’t leave without ruffling a few feathers within the Blizzard organization.

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North Iowa was fresh off a 3-2 win on November 16 that completed a two-game sweep over the Blizzard. Instead of leaving the ice quietly, the Bulls saluted the Alexandria fans. It’s a tradition for Blizzard players to salute their fans after every home game and the fact that the Bulls mimicked them after a tight game didn’t sit well with many in the organization.

“It’s something you don’t do,” head coach Jeff Crouse said. “It would be like North Dakota beating the Gophers in Mariucci and North Dakota saluting them. It’s just something you don’t do. There weren’t a lot of people in my players and in the organization who were too happy. It was kind of like, ‘Good luck coming into our barn the next time’ and that’s the way it turned out.”

The best revenge for Alexandria would be to get a win the next time out and that’s exactly what happened this past Saturday night. The Blizzard put together perhaps its best game of the season to this point in beating the Bulls 5-1 and ending what was an 18-game winning streak to start the season for North Iowa.

“We thought we were going to beat those guys when they came here a couple weeks ago,” Crouse said. “We were kind of hoping that they were going to go through the Showcase undefeated so we could have another shot at them on Saturday night. The guys were really excited and we just played a really good hockey game.”

Mick Dhein had a lot to do with that as the Richfield native finished off a hat trick in the closing minute. He scored the first two goals of the night for the Blizzard after the Bulls had taken a 1-0 lead into the second period. Joe Anderson and Aammir Freese also scored to help Alexandria extend its lead.

The Bulls outshot the Blizzard 45-33 but 19 of those came in the opening period. Alexandria weathered that storm and only trailed by one at the first intermission. That led to a big second period where the Blizzard outshot the Bulls 18-11 and scored three times.

“Our big thing is you have to take away what [North Iowa] does best and flip flop that on them,” Crouse said. “I don’t think they play very good team defense, and we kind of took that to them and forced them to play defense. We took away their offense and forced them to play defense.”

It was the first time all season that the defending NA3HL champions had been held to just one goal. The Bulls are averaging more than six goals per game this season behind 20 from Richie Marenis and 19 from Timothy Santopoalo.

Alexandria knows it needs to take advantage of head-to-head matchups with North Iowa and Granite City if it’s serious about competing for a top two seed in the West Division playoffs. Granite City currently leads the division with 40 points (20-5), but the Lumberjacks have played six more games than North Iowa and four more than Alexandria.

That’s why a win on the road against Granite City on November 27, followed by the win over the Bulls stand out among the now 14 wins Alexandria has this season.

“It puts the series at 2-2 with us and Granite City,” Crouse said. “We got North Iowa five more times now so who knows what can happen. They got a loss under their belt. It might have tipped some teams off on how to beat North Iowa with the way we played against them.”

The Blizzard now have to shift its focus and try to win a couple games out of the division in Wisconsin (11-7-4, Central Division) tonight, Friday, and Saturday. Alexandria then heads to North Iowa on Sunday with the Bulls no doubt thinking about avenging their first loss of the season.

“It’s a big stretch,” Crouse said. “We’re out of division so you have to take care of business when everyone else is playing in division. Then hopping on the bus and going to North Iowa is a huge test. We have a huge next six games. You want to finish strong before the break so they’re excited about coming back.”

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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