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Hockey: Blizzard wins ninth straight, still unbeaten in December

Josiah Roen sheds a defender and got the puck past Willmar's goaltender at the RCC on Dec. 30. The Blizzard won, 5-3. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)1 / 4
Riley Scanlon had an assist when the Warhawks came to town. The Blizzard won their ninth straight game and is undefeated in December. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)2 / 4
Goaltender Brady Meyers makes a save against Willmar at the RCC on Dec. 30. Meyers had 18 saves on the night. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)3 / 4
Josiah Roen celebrates after he scored a goal against the Warhawks on Saturday night. The Blizzard won, 5-3. (Emily Myrin / Echo Press)4 / 4

The Willmar Warhawks pulled ahead of the Blizzard hockey team at the Runestone Community Center twice on Saturday night but it wasn’t enough to end the game on top. The Blizzard took home another victory, 5-3, extending its winning streak to nine straight games.

“We’re killing teams with our speed and our ability to play physical,”  Austyn Renn said. “Every team that we come up against, we just bang bodies and they can’t hang with it.”

Renn had the fourth goal for the Blizzard against the Warhawks. The rest of the scoring was spread out evenly. Brenden Payne grabbed the first, Josiah Roen the second, Ryan Worley the third and Connor Beltz hit the net with just 30 seconds left in the game.

Being able to spread out their offensive strategy and trust every player to step up has been a big part of the team’s success said Renn and Payne.

“You get everybody on the same page and you’re going to win more than you’re going to lose,” Blizzard head coach Jeff Crouse said. “We’ve pretty much been doing the same thing all year, but the guys feel a lot more confident. They’re relaxed but they’re playing intense. And they’re playing emotional as well.”

The Blizzard outshot the Warhawks 40-21. Brady Meyers protected the net for Alexandria, making 18 saves on the night. Drake Voell made 35 saves for Willmar.

“It all starts with good goaltending in the d-zone,” Payne said. “We’re playing a full 60 minute game.”

Meyers has had 604 saves in the season with 59 goals allowed for a .902 save percentage.

The Blizzard only had one returning defender this year and no veteran goaltenders on the roster. The team had taken some time to adjust and get the chemistry right, but now halfway through the season, all the pieces are falling into place through an undefeated month of December.

“It takes some time with new defensemen and new goalies,” Crouse said. “Everybody’s on the same page. I can play four lines, I’ve got six, seven (defensemen) that can play, our goaltending had been really strong. Our special teams have been really strong. We’re playing good consistent hockey right now. Good team hockey.”

The Blizzard is 17-10 so far in the season. Alexandria is third in the West Division with 34 points, behind New Ulm (16-7-3-2, 37 points) in first and Granite City in second (18-10, 36 points).

“Our main goal is, we want to win the division,” Crouse said. “We’ve put ourselves in a great spot to do that. I think we have 13 or 14 more home games left too and we have a really great home record. The big thing is just to keep playing consistent hockey.”

The Blizzard takes on the Warhawks again in Willmar on Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m.

ALEXANDRIA - 1 2 2 - 5WILLMAR - 1 1 1 - 3SHOTS - Alexandria - 14 10 16 - 40; Willmar - 7 5 9 - 21; Power plays - Alexandria - 1-3; Willmar - 1-3SCORING - FIRST PERIOD - Willmar - Cameron Pries (Andrew Gilbert, Peyton Bolstad), 8:06; Alexandria - Brenden Payne (Logan Nelson, Austyn Renn), 13:59SECOND PERIOD - Willmar - Jacob Berkowitz (Bolstad, Pries), 7:50; Alexandria - Josiah Roen (Marshall Tschida, Tanner Frerichs), 9:54; Alexandra - Ryan Worley (Peter Johnson, Riley Scanlon) (power play), 13:55THIRD PERIOD - Alexandria - Renn (Nelson, Payne), 11:56; Willmar - Jacob Barkowitz (Pries, Bolstad), 17:54; Alexandria - Connor Beltz (empty net), 19:31GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Brady Meyers - 18 saves, 3 goals allowed; Willmar - Drake Voell - 35 saves, 5 goals allowed
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