Blizzard back on track

It took a little longer than they would have liked, but the playoff mentality the Alexandria Blizzard has been looking for seems to have arrived. A week after busting out of a 10-game losing streak with a 5-2 win in Marquette, Alexandria picked u...

Jerry Freismuth
Jerry Freismuth (15) battled a Bismarck player during recent Blizzard hockey action at home. The Blizzard will be in Bismarck tomorrow, Thursday, before returning home for their final regular season game Saturday against Albert Lea. Echo Press file photo

It took a little longer than they would have liked, but the playoff mentality the Alexandria Blizzard has been looking for seems to have arrived.

A week after busting out of a 10-game losing streak with a 5-2 win in Marquette, Alexandria picked up five out of a possible six points in three home games last weekend in an impressive showing against the Central Division's top-two teams.

"I thought the guys played well all weekend, which is exactly what you need to do this time of the year," said head coach/general manager Brad Willner, whose team beat North Iowa with a pair of 3-2 efforts Friday and Saturday before forcing first place Bismarck into a shootout Sunday.

"It was good to see, and by the end of the game Sunday, I thought we still had something left to give. If that would have been a playoff game without a shootout, we had more gas left."

Granted, Alexandria didn't use up much fuel in the first period Sunday.


Bismarck scored the game's first three goals that night, taking advantage of a dominating opening 20 minutes to build a 2-0 lead and hold a 14-4 edge in shots on goal.

It was 3-0 by the midway point of the second, but then Alexandria's power play went to work.

Taylor Vichorek and Kyle Politz both scored with the Blizzard up a man late in the second, and then on their next power play opportunity, John Swavely tied it on an unassisted goal with 3:42 left in regulation.

"We looked like we were really tired from Friday and Saturday in the first," Willner said. "But midway through the second, I shortened up the bench and played the guys who I thought were working hard, and then in the third, we were all over them."

Alexandria fired 15 shots on Bismarck goaltender David Bosner - Bismarck countered with just five - and a good chunk of those came via the momentum built up from their power play.

The Blizzard was a perfect 3-for-3 with the man advantage, firing at will and at all times.

"We just got shots on net," Willner said. "Bismarck is so tough five on five that you have to try and capitalize when you do get a power play."

North Iowa handed the Blizzard plenty of opportunities with the extra-man in the first two games of the weekend, but Alexandria ended up scoring just once in 10 power play tries Friday and Saturday.


They even missed on a penalty shot Friday. North Iowa was also rewarded a penalty shot in the opener, and Brandon Brodhag connected on his free try midway through the second to draw the Outlaws even.

North Iowa went up 2-1 1:46 into the third on a goal from Dan Durham, but Bryce Ravndalen got it right back just over five minutes later, and after another scoreless overtime, the Blizzard got goals from Kyle Clement and Jerry Freismuth, plus four saves from Ryan Leets in the ensuing shootout to give the Blizzard the win.

Not including those four shots, Leets ended up with 26 saves on the night. He was also in goal Sunday, turning away 30 shots against Bismarck.

Saturday, Alexandria native Matt Hemingway made his junior hockey debut. And just two weeks after concluding his high school season, he made 27 saves of his own to earn his first North American Hockey League win.

"He made some big saves for us," Willner said. "He was first star of the game, and he deserved it."

Clement scored twice for Alexandria Saturday. Joe Knoepke also tallied a goal and Politz picked up a pair of assists.

More importantly, they did it on the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, which has Willner believing that despite a forgettable six-week stretch, his team is peaking at just the right time.

"We showed a little moxy," he said. "We were down in the third game in three nights and we were able to battle back. In a playoff series you might have to play three in three, and we showed we can play."


They'll get another chance to do that Thursday, with one final bus ride before the regular season ends at home Saturday against Albert Lea.

Thursday, Alexandria will be in Bismarck, where they will return a week later to open the first round of the NAHL playoffs.

The game doesn't mean a thing standings-wise, but there are still plenty of implications.

"The guys want to go up there and try to set the tone," Willner said. "They know we are working hard, and right now, the mindset is to keep doing that, because it will get amped up in the playoffs, and Thursday will be a good primer for then."

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