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Blizzard looks ahead to next year

Alexandria’s Garrett Skinner brings the puck up the ice against Granite City on March 15. Skinner played his last game in a Blizzard uniform on Sunday. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

Another season for the Alexandria Blizzard ended with a loss in the first round of the NA3HL playoffs, but that has not stopped the team from being excited about the future.

The Blizzard started off the three-game playoff series with a 4-1 win over Granite City on the road Friday. But the Lumberjacks won a come-from-behind victory Saturday 3-2 in Alexandria and closed out the series with a 4-2 victory on Sunday in Sauk Rapids.

Despite losing a playoff series to Granite City for the second consecutive season, head coach Jeff Crouse was happy with Alexandria’s overall consistent play this year.

“I definitely think it was another good season on and off the ice,” Crouse said. “We had a lot of turnaround from last year, and we were young. We were a lot younger than North Iowa and Granite City.”

Crouse felt the Blizzard played well enough to win the three-game playoff series against Granite City. In the first two games, he estimated the team was tied or led the Lumberjacks for about 110 of the 120 combined minutes from the first two games. Alexandria took a lead in game one and led the entire way for a 4-1 win, and the next night the Blizzard held an advantage for most of the contest before Granite City scored twice in the third period to eventually win 3-2.

“For the most part we dominated the first two games,” Crouse said. “It was obviously a crushing defeat Saturday at home in game two with a great crowd, great atmosphere.”

Crouse was frustrated after he felt inconsistent officiating may have altered the series. In game one of the playoffs, Alexandria was only assessed three minor penalties for a total of six minutes. But the team felt officials tightened up in the last two games as Alexandria was assessed seven minor penalties for 14 minutes on Saturday and 11 total penalties for 41 minutes on Sunday.

“It’s hard for a team to adjust, you come out for a playoff game and the ref lets you play, then you come out the next night and the ref is calling everything,” Crouse said. “It’s really hard for players to figure that out.”

Now that the season is over, Crouse said a majority of the Blizzard roster could be back for another season. Only six players from this year’s team are no longer eligible to play in the NA3HL.

“I’ve got 19 of the 25 players that can return, which is a lot,” Crouse said. “Usually you don’t get that many players that can come back. We’re happy with where we’re at; we definitely can build off of it.”

Some of those players hope for the opportunity to play at a higher level of juniors next season. Every NAHL team must select at least one player from the NA3HL for its roster, and Crouse said some of the current Blizzard hope to have that opportunity.

“There are obviously some players that hope they can move up to the next level, because that’s what this is all about,” Crouse said. “If it doesn’t and they don’t move up, I definitely think they know they have a great place to play.”

The team will also have the opportunity to add players through either the draft or tenders, so the Blizzard will have the opportunity to add some talent. Either way, the team expects to improve next season.

“We’re happy with where we were at, on and off the ice, and definitely still going in the upward direction,” Crouse said.

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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