Blizzard hockey: Alexandria right on track for final surge
Everything is going according to plan for the Alexandria Blizzard. Head coach Doc DelCastillo goes into every season with one specific goal - have his team playing its best hockey come spring. After another dominating weekend, the Blizzard's blue...
Everything is going according to plan for the Alexandria Blizzard.
Head coach Doc DelCastillo goes into every season with one specific goal - have his team playing its best hockey come spring. After another dominating weekend, the Blizzard's blueprint seems to be right on track.
Alexandria is playing as good as any team in the Central Division after sweeping Owatonna and Austin over the weekend. The two wins pushed Alexandria's winning streak to seven games before it ended in a 5-4 loss at Aberdeen on Tuesday night.
"I think we're very confident," veteran defenseman Mike Krieg said. "We've been working hard all year for this last part of the season. We're ready to make a push into the playoffs and start moving up."
Krieg was a catalyst in Alexandria's two wins over the weekend. He had a combined five points with a goal and two assists in a 7-2 win over Austin on Sunday after scoring the first two goals of the night in a 4-2 win against the Express on Saturday.
He was not alone in a dominating performance against the Bruins. Veterans Nardo Nagtzaam and Steve Zierke combined for seven points in the game. Nagtzaam had a hat trick by the second period and added an assist in the third as Alexandria coasted by building a 6-1 lead after two periods. The Blizzard completely controlled the puck, outshooting Austin 46-19.
Perhaps more telling of how well the Blizzard is playing is the fact that it did the same thing against the first place team in the division a night earlier. Alexandria played most of the game in Owatonna's end and held a 38-15 shots advantage. The Blizzard outshot the Express 14-2 in the second but were clinging to just a 1-0 lead heading into the intermission.
Those shots started falling in the third. Owatonna tied things up 57 seconds in when Nick Widing sent a shot at the net and was rewarded as Alexandria goaltender Jake Williams was blocked by a crowd.
"I felt like there were 10 bodies in front of me," Williams said. "I saw nothing."
The Blizzard continued to apply pressure on Owatonna goaltender Charles Williams. Eventually that caught up to him. Krieg answered Widing's goal with his second of the night less than four minutes later. Krieg came free left of the crease and gathered a rebound before putting it into the open net for a 2-1 lead.
"That was very important," he said of answering right back. "I think we had a lot of momentum going into that. We had them hemmed into their own end for a while. I think we had constant pressure and it was bound to happen. I was just the one who put it in."
Alexandria continued to convert on those opportunities down the stretch. Owatonna tied things up 51 seconds after Krieg's goal, but again, the Blizzard had an answer. Thomas Williams set up Rock Einersen for a one-timer that he connected on at 8:33.
Alex Altenbernd then put the finishing touches on the game with a pretty goal at 12:10. Altenbernd brought the puck into the zone from left of the net before cutting back in front and putting it past Charles Williams for the 4-2 lead.
"That was great for them to pick me up like that," Jake Williams said. "I thought the second goal was kind of weak on my part. It was a huge relief that they were able to get back on and score a few goals for me."
Mistakes for Williams have been few and far between of late. The Montreal native had all seven wins during the Blizzard's winning streak. He had not allowed more than two goals in any of those games. During that stretch, he upped his record to 19-7-3 with a 2.57 goals against average since coming to Alexandria from Fresno early in the season.
"I'm feeling great out there right now," he said. "The team's making it really easy for me to play. That's really it. They're not giving up any chances, not many shots. I just have to make a few saves and let them take over."
The defensive consistency has helped put Alexandria in a position that did not seem likely even a month ago. The team was still sitting around the .500 mark after Austin swept the Blizzard in a two-game series on February 18-19. Alexandria has since positioned itself to make a run at the Central Division regular-season title.
Just six points separated four teams after Tuesday night. With 67 points, the Express were clinging to a two-point lead over Coulee Region. Bismarck was third with 64, while Alexandria is right behind with 61 points.
The Blizzard controls its own destiny the rest of the way. Alexandria has two more three-game weekends at home to close out the regular season. It starts tonight, Friday, when Bismarck comes to town for two games before Owatonna comes in for a 5 p.m. game on Sunday.
"I feel like everything is really coming together here at the end of the year," Krieg said. "We're starting to learn from our mistakes and everyone is assisting and starting to play Blizzard hockey...there's not one standout team in our division. We have a good shot against anyone."
AUSTIN 0 1 1 - 2
ALEXANDRIA 3 3 1 - 7
SHOTS - Austin - 5, 10, 4 - 19; Alexandria - 16, 16, 14; POWER PLAYS - Austin - 2-5; Alexandria 2-8
SCORING SUMMARY - FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Steve Zierke (Mike Krieg, Reid Sturos), 10:44; Alexandria - Nardo Nagtzaam (SH) (Brent Bain, Paul LaDue), 16:02; Alexandria - Brent Bain (Steve Zierke, Mike Krieg), 19:14
SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Nardo Nagtzaam (PPG) (Steve Zierke, Michael Pieper), 1:01; Austin - Sam Olson (PPG) (Cody Hotchkin, Connor Quinn), 3:10; Alexandria - Nardo Nagtzaam (Alex Altenbernd, Michael Pieper), 9:29; Alexandria - Josh Gaughan (Tucker Coborn, Craig Lindegard), 15:57
THIRD PERIOD - Austin - Jordan Greenberg (PPG), 6:48; Alexandria - Mike Krieg (PPG) (Thomas Williams, Nardo Nagtzaam), 13:25
GOALTENDING - Austin - AJ Underwood - L, 39 saves, 46 shots faced; Alexandria - Jake Williams - W, 17 saves, 19 shots faced
PENALTIES - Austin - 26 minutes on eight infractions; Alexandria - 10 minutes on five infractions
OWATONNA 0 0 2 - 2
ALEXANDRIA 1 0 3 - 4
SHOTS - Owatonna - 8, 2, 5 - 15; Alexandria - 8, 14, 16 - 38; POWER PLAYS - Owatonna - 0-3; Alexandria - 0-4
SCORING SUMMARY - FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Mike Krieg (Adam Knochenmus, Craig Lindegard), 2:55
SECOND PERIOD - No scoring
THIRD PERIOD - Owatonna - Nick Widing (Ben Persian), 0:57; Alexandria - Mike Krieg (Jordan Nelson, Tucker Coborn), 4:50; Owatonna - Willie Faust (Branden Carney, Bryan Mitchell), 5:41; Alexandria - Rock Einersen (Thomas Williams), 8:33; Alexandria - Alex Altenbernd (Nardo Nagtzaam, Thomas Williams), 12:10
GOALTENDING - Owatonna - Charles Williams - L, 34 saves, 38 shots faced; Alexandria - Jake Williams - W, 13 saves, 15 shots faced
PENALTIES - Owatonna - 12 minutes on six infractions; Alexandria - 10 minutes on five infractions
WEEKEND AT HOME FOR THE BLIZZARD
The Alexandria Blizzard has three home games this weekend.
Friday is a St. Patrick's Day celebration during the game against Bismarck, featuring drink specials and a live jersey auction. Game is at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday is Anytime Fitness night, and players' parents will be honored during the first intermission. Game is at 7:30 p.m.
On Sunday at 5 p.m., Alexandria will play Owatonna.
It will Blizzard Collector Poster night, with free posters handed out during the game and an autograph session following play.