Four first-period goals propel Blizzard over Steel in fourth-straight win
Four first-period goals lifted the Blizzard over the last-place New Ulm Steel on Wednesday night in Alexandria's fourth-consecutive win.
The NA3HL postseason is right around the corner, and the Alexandria Blizzard is hitting its stride.
Wednesday night's 6-3win over the New Ulm Steel (5-20-3-0, 13 points) was the fourth straight for the Blizzard (14-15-1, 29 points) dating back to Feb. 21. Three goals in the first 4:46 of the first period gave the Blizzard a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"We've struggled to get first-period goals," forward Colin Tushie said. "These past four games, we've been scoring one or two goals in the first each game. It helps a lot with our confidence. Giving up a goal when you have that two or three-goal lead is better than trying to crawl your way back into a game."
Caleb Strong kicked things off by finding a hole over the shoulder of Steel goaltender AJ Cohen 80 seconds into the contest. Just 21 seconds later, Tushie made it a 2-0 lead on a similar-looking shot. Alexandria created opportunities with its team speed early on.
"The lines that we have together have been clicking pretty well," assistant coach Jon Crouse said. "The (Sean) Kenny, Strong and (Nikolai) Rajala line has been together for a lot of the year, but we've tweaked the other lines. They seem to have some pretty good chemistry going on right now. They all feed off of each other."
New Ulm answered with a goal from Josh Delange before Cole Jacobs found the back of the net for Alexandria. However, New Ulm came back again with a power-play tally from Jacob Zowin.
"They're a tough team to put away," Crouse said. "They just beat North Iowa on Sunday and took us to overtime when we played them. They're not rolling over for anybody. We know they're going to give us their best effort every night. I think there's been a pulled goalie or overtime in almost every game we've played with them."
Dallas Duckson regained the Blizzard's two-goal advantage by deflecting an Austin McNeil shot on the power play.
The second period went at a much different pace than the first. Tushie scored his second of the game with assists from Duckson and Trent Sylvester. Tushie is third on the team in points with 10 goals and 10 assists in his rookie season.
"Throughout high school, I wasn't putting up these kinds of numbers," Tushie said. "Over the summer, I worked on my shot and strength so much. I wanted to get faster. That's helped me a ton, and it feels great to be putting up points like this."
New Ulm found some life in the third period when James Spaqrgaren made it a two-goal game before Alex Heidenreich clinched the win with an empty-net goal.
The Blizzard look like a different team than they were a month ago. Not only are they striking first to get out to early leads, but they're also playing with a lot more confidence. That's a product of the momentum gained in the four-game win streak.
"The locker room is a different vibe right now," Tushie said. "We are playing as a team. We are moving the puck around quickly and playing with a lot of energy. You can tell the swagger the guys have right now is different. We are making nice plays as a team instead of doing it on our own. When we went through that losing stretch, it seemed like nobody cared. It's different now."
Wednesday night's win helped the Blizzard hop over the Willmar WarHawks (14-15-0-0, 28 points) in the West Division standings. Sitting in third place, Alexandria still has ground to make up with 10 games left on its schedule if they want to get the second seed.
In front of them stands the Granite City Lumberjacks (17-8-0-1, 35 points). Alexandria's next four games are against Granite City in a stretch that could potentially launch the Blizzard into the highest playoff seed in the organization's history.
"We need to get three of them, if not all four," Tushie said. "Obviously, four would be ideal to keep the streak going. But if we can get three, that's big for us. We don't have to play North Iowa anymore. We are playing really good hockey. We need to take care of business."
NEW ULM 2 0 1 - 3
ALEXANDRIA 4 1 1 - 6
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- Alexandria- Caleb Strong (Nikolai Rajala, Sean Kenny) 1:20; Alexandria- Colin Tushie (Carter Rieland, Dallas Duckson) 1:40; New Ulm- Josh Delange (Noah Rauschenberger, James Sparrgaren) 3:54; Alexandria- Cole Jacobs (Austin McNeil, Jered Sanborn) 4:46; New Ulm- Jacob Zowin (Joey Gimberlin, Zch Maillette) power play, 12:44; Alexandria- Duckson (Rieland, McNeil) power play, 17:22; SECOND PERIOD- Alexandria- Tushie (Rieland, Duckson) 12:15; THIRD PERIOD- \u0009New Ulm- Spaargaren (Parker Dorn) 7:29; Alexandria- Alex Heidenreich (Wesley Johnson, Ben Tschida) empty net, 18:58; PENALTIES- Alexandria- 4 minutes on 2 infractions; New Ulm- 6 minutes on 3 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Bailey Rosch, W, 27 saves, 3 goals allowed; New Ulm- AJ Cohen, L, 46 saves, 5 goals allowed