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Penalties prove costly for Blizzard at Granite City

Blizzard forward Mick Dhein handles the puck during a game against North Iowa on November 15, 2013. (Blaze Fugina/Echo Press)

By Eric Morken

The Alexandria Blizzard has already secured a playoff spot in the West Division as the team moved to 22-13 by splitting two more games this past weekend.

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The Blizzard has proven its ability to take care of teams below it in the standings. Alexandria did that again last Friday night in a 3-0 win over Minnesota, but Granite City welcomed in their West Division rivals and handed the Blizzard a 6-3 loss a day later.

Three power-play goals for Granite City proved to be the difference on Saturday night. The Blizzard took 67 minutes on 15 infractions and it led to power-play goals from Drew Otto, Gavin Porter and Taylor Brown. Granite City had 11 power-play opportunities and a lot of those were a two-man advantage.

“We were down 5-on-3 for four minutes,” head coach Jeff Crouse said. “We killed the 5-on-3 off and we got a shorthanded goal for us to cut it to a 5-3 game. Then they got another goal when it was 5-on-4. They always have a good power play, and it was one of those deals where they scored more power-play goals than we did, but we had our chances too on the power play.”

Alexandria got a power-play goal from Mick Dhein but went 1-for-9 with a man advantage. The Lumberjacks are one of the Blizzard’s biggest rivals, which leads to some extra activity on the ice in a lot of games. Crouse called it a challenge to get guys to harness the emotions that come along with playing a close division rival.

“It’s an emotional game and sometimes the reffing doesn’t go your way,” he said. “There’s obviously calls that go for us and calls against us. We just kept getting put down and put down and eventually some of the guys’ emotions run a little high and they say or do something they shouldn’t do.”

Things were a lot cleaner in a 3-0 win over the Flying Aces the night before. Alexandria outshot Minnesota 47-21 and took just 12 penalty minutes on six infractions.

Ecklund got the Blizzard going with a shorthanded goal at 5:21 in the first period. Aaron Ryback gave his team some insurance in the third period before Bo Gronseth scored on an empty net to help secure the win. Ecklund had two points on the night after assisting on Gronseth’s goal.

Evan Bisek got the win after shutting out the Flying Aces with 21 saves. He upped his record to 9-7 in the process.

The Blizzard is 22-13 and now 10 points behind Granite City for second place in the West. That’s why every game against the Lumberjacks is important as Alexandria tries to position itself for the playoffs. The Blizzard know that Granite City is likely going to be a first-round opponent and Alexandria would like to try and grab home ice by securing the second seed.

“You’re going to have to beat the best [regardless],” Crouse said. “You’re going to have to go through Granite City and North Iowa to win our division. I think you’ve seen the last two years that the team that comes out of our division has won the Silver Cup and the national championship. It just goes to show how tough this division is.”

The Blizzard will try to hold off Twin City tonight, Friday, when the Steel come to Alexandria for a 7:10 drop of the puck. The team then goes on the road to play a 1 p.m. game against Breezy Point on Saturday and a 5 p.m. game at North Iowa on Sunday.

It’s a big weekend, starting with an important game at home against a Twin City team that is just six points behind Alexandria in the standings.

“It’s a huge game,” Crouse said. “It could be a huge turning point in that race for the third and fourth seeds.”

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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