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Penalties prove costly in series finale

Blizzard goalie Kyle Miller sends a puck behind the net after making a save during a scrum that sent defenseman Aammir Freese to the ice during game two of the best-of-three series against Granite City on Saturday night. Alexandria dropped game two 3-2. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Alexandria Blizzard goalie Kyle Miller talked about the importance of staying out of the penalty box in a decisive game three on the road after Alexandria fell 3-2 against Granite City at the RCC on Saturday.

The Blizzard watched a 2-1 lead disappear in the third period that night in a game that could have clinched the series after Alexandria took game one on the road 4-1 on Friday. The Lumberjacks and Blizzard combined for eight penalties in the second period on Saturday, and staying out of the box was something the Blizzard needed to do on Sunday.

“It always is [important] against Granite,” Miller said on Saturday night. “If we stay out of the box, we’ll win the game.”

Alexandria didn’t stay out of the box on Sunday, and it ended up costing the Blizzard in a 4-2 loss that ended the season. The Lumberjacks had nine power-play opportunities, compared to four for Alexandria. That proved to be the difference in the game as Granite City converted on three of those.

Drew Otto had a big night with two goals in the first period and an assist in the second. Alexandria responded to that 2-0 deficit with a goal from Mick Dhein and another from Tom Schmidt on the power play.

The two teams went into the first intermission tied at two apiece, but the Lumberjacks got power-play goals from Taylor Brown and David Kenney in the second period. That held up as Alexandria outshot Granite City 10-6 in the third period but couldn’t get anything past Lumberjacks’ goalie Scott Murray.

“They’re kind of a power play team,” Alexandria head coach Jeff Crouse said after Saturday’s loss. “Once they get some power plays, they get going. Five on five, I thought for the most part we dominated them.”

Alexandria showed that in game one of the series. The Blizzard had just six penalty minutes on three infractions last Friday, and the end result was a 4-1 win where they controlled things from start to finish.

Ian Ecklund got the Blizzard going with a goal at 9:32 in the first period. That was the first of three straight for Alexandria as Danny Pelzer and Joe Anderson added goals in the second period before Granite City got on the board with a Luke Richardson power play goal. The only goal in the third came from the Blizzard’s Bo Gronseth on an empty-netter.

That gave Alexandria some momentum coming home for game two on Saturday. The Blizzard got a power play goal from Aaron Ryback in the second period, and scored on a penalty shot from Anderson just 16 seconds into the third period to take a 2-1 lead.

Anderson was taken down on a breakaway after he got loose with the puck during a Granite City power play. The Blizzard forward had a clear path to the net, but was taken down from behind on the shot. He made Granite City pay by burying the penalty shot to give his team the one-goal lead.

The Lumberjacks answered almost nine minutes later when Travis Kothenbeutel found the net. That shifted the momentum before Taylor Brown scored what turned out to be the game winner almost four minutes later on a shorthanded goal.

“They pressed and we turned the puck over,” Crouse said. “When we turned the puck over, they came down and scored. The big thing after that is we had a really good power play after that and had a couple good opportunities. We fought right down to the end and had a chance to win it.”

A three-game series is about what one might have expected between these two teams.

“I had a hard time believing somebody was going to win two in a row here, especially after last year the way it was and just the way it was this year,” Crouse said. “It would have been really tough to win two in a row. It would have been nice to take care of our home ice, but that wasn’t the case.”

Miller and Crouse both said they were confident they could win at Granite City heading into Sunday night. Ultimately, though, the Blizzard couldn’t make up for the three power play goals that the Lumberjacks converted.

Evan Bisek took the loss in net for Alexandria in game three, despite giving up just the one goal when the two teams were at even strength. He had 28 saves on 32 shots faced. Miller played the previous two games, going 1-1 with 55 saves on 59 shots faced.

The Lumberjacks will move on to face North Iowa in the West Division championship series. The Blizzard wrap up the year with a 32-19 record overall.

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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