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Blizzard hockey: Season ends in controversy

Ian Ecklund (4) scored the first goal of last Friday's Blizzard game against Granite City, eventually leading his team to a 3-2 win. The team saw its season come to an end Saturday on a controversial call. (Lori Mork, Echo Press)

Having a season come to an end is bad enough but the way things ended for the Alexandria Blizzard left head coach Jeff Crouse still searching for answers on Wednesday.

Alexandria had battled through a scoreless tie in game four of the West Division playoffs on Saturday night when Granite City took a 1-0 lead with less than a minute to play. That's how things stood as the two teams prepared for a faceoff with 8.6 seconds left.

The Blizzard won the faceoff and Spencer Peratalo sent the puck toward the net. A crowd was waiting near the crease as Blizzard players fired away at the rebound. Finally, the puck found its way past Lumberjacks' goaltender Scott Murray for what players and fans thought was the tying goal.

The problem was that the clock operator did not immediately start the clock off the faceoff. Crouse said there was 5.3 seconds left when the puck went in and the clock didn't stop once it reached the back of the net.

"Needless to say, it was a fiasco," Crouse said. "There were some pretty mad people. I watched it [later] and timed it and it comes out to right about eight seconds. There's no doubt in my mind that it was a goal."

Referees eventually disagreed. They waived off the goal after talking things over amongst themselves and with the score keeper. Instead of traveling for a decisive game five on Sunday, Alexandria was faced with a sudden and unexpected end to its season.

"There were no words for it," Crouse said. "I didn't want to walk into the locker room. I got some guys who are aged out for their junior hockey careers and possibly for some of these guys, their hockey careers had come to an end."

Crouse said he didn't go into the locker room to address his team for almost a half an hour. Once he did, he still didn't know exactly what to tell them.

"Stuff like this shouldn't happen," he said. "I've never been a part of that, let alone to end a game, but you ended a season on a note like that. I thought for the most part, it would have been a pretty easy thing to call a goal. Let the teams control how it ends in overtime. I think that would have been the right way to handle it."

That is ultimately what Crouse was most disappointed about in how the entire situation was handled. He felt it came down to what he said was "basically a guess" with no concrete video evidence to look at with a clock showing the time left on the screen as the puck went into the net.

"I think if they would have sat down and took a look at the situation, it was simple," Crouse said. "It was a goal. There was still time on the clock. That's what we have to go by. Let's call it a goal and go into overtime. Let's let the two teams decide who's going to win it."

It didn't happen that way and fans and the Blizzard organization were left heading into the off-season on a bad note. It wasn't how they wanted things to end, but Alexandria did finish with 31 wins in the regular season as an expansion team.

The Blizzard finished third in the West Division behind only a 41-win North Iowa team and a 36-win Granite City team. Crouse still felt the better team didn't win on Saturday or in the series after the Lumberjacks left with a 3-1 series win.

"There's no doubt in my mind that we were the better team in the playoffs," he said. "I thought we outplayed them both times down there. We outplayed them and outshot them on Friday night. Then Saturday was a pretty even hockey game. From where we started to where we ended, I definitely thought we were the better team between us and Granite City."

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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