Hockey: Alexandria Blizzard hand Granite City its first regulation loss of the season
The Blizzard made the most of their opportunities on the attack early and held things down defensively to hand the Granite City Lumberjacks, the defending NA3HL Western Division, its first
ALEXANDRIA - The Alexandria Blizzard handed the Granite City Lumberjacks, the defending NA3HL Western Division champions, its first regulation loss of the 2022-23 season on Saturday at the Runestone Community Center with an all-around effort.
“They're the best team in the league, so it's nice to come out and get a pretty complete performance for the most part,” Blizzard assistant coach Jon Crouse said. “There were a lot of people in the building for military appreciation night, so it was good to put on a good show for those guys.”
Coming into Saturday’s game, Granite City’s only loss was a 4-3 shootout loss to the Mason City Toros on Oct. 14.
This win snaps a 17-game losing streak the Blizzard had against the Lumberjacks. The Blizzard’s last win against the Lumberjacks came on Jan. 31, 2021.
The Blizzard (9-4-1) won the game 4-1 and were led on the attack by Ashton Collings who had two goals and two assists on the night.
“We just had a lot of chemistry out there,” Collings said. “We just started moving the puck around and things worked out for us.”
The Williston, North Dakota native scored his first goal of the night midway through the second frame and his second towards the end of the period. Those two goals were the final goals of the game.
“We put two guys down low, had one guy up high and the middle was open so we just went for it,” Collings said.
Collings came into the night with only one other goal on the year, which came in a 10-2 win over Willmar on Oct. 15. Collings has eight assists this season, which is tied for the second-most on the team with Charlie Larsen, Justin Wasvick and Ryan Hadland.
Collings has been particularly effective for Blizzard at home as he’s scored in four of the five home games and 10 of his 11 points have come in those games.
This season is Collings's first with the team.
“I just want to get better and have fun with these guys,” he said. “I've never been on a team like this. I’m having a fun time. I’m hoping I can grow as a player and individually with these guys.”
Prior to Saturday’s game, Granite City had a 2.2 goals against average.
Along with Collings, Joe Gronholz had a big night for the Blizzard.
“I thought that line was buzzing all night long,” Crouse said. “They had some pretty good chances early on and that’s the only line that scored for us. Both of Ashton’s shots were perfect, I don’t know what goalie could’ve stopped those.”
Gronholz, an Alexandria native, scored four minutes into the game to put Alexandria up 1-0 and he had two assists later in the night as well.
“He did a lot of the little things that people maybe didn’t notice,” Crouse said. “Being the first guy on the forecheck, he stole a bunch of pucks from their guys and created turnovers that led to scoring opportunities for us. He was very engaged. It’s good coming from a hometown kid, it gives fans something to recognize and cheer more for.”
Gronholz is second on the Blizzard in points with 18 (nine goals and nine assists). Cole Klingbeil leads the team in points with 19 (12 goals and 7 seven assists).
The Blizzard’s other goal on the night came from Ethan Moerke with five and half minutes left in the first frame and that gave the Blizzard a 2-0 lead heading into the second frame.
Kyle Abrahamson earned the win in net for the Blizzard with 32 saves.
“He's been a little off in his last two starts, but he had a really good week of practice, he's kind of back to his normal self and that showed,” Crouse said. “You can tell he's pretty calm when he’s making saves that aren’t easy, look easy. We gave up I think three breakaways and he stopped two of them; that’s all you can really ask for. He made a couple of huge saves in front of the net. The guys are pretty confident in him and that makes playing a little bit easier.”
Granite City’s lone goal came a little over a minute into the second period (Jacob McPartland). Granite City finished with a slight edge in shots on goal, 33-32.
Abrahamson and the Blizzard defense managed to hold a Lumberjack team who came into Saturday’s game averaging 5.61 goals per game, to just one.
Abrahamson, a Cloquet native, has a 4-2-1 record in net for the Blizzard and 2.39 goals against average this season.
Wyatt Johnson, Matt Scribner and Moerke also had assists in the Blizzard’s win.
The Blizzard lost its season opener on the road against the Lumberjacks, 5-3, on Sept. 23, in Sauk Rapids.
Alexandria and Granite City met in the 2022 Fraser Cup Playoffs, when Granite City swept Alexandria 2-0 in the western division semifinals en route to making it to the cup championship.
The Blizzard are in a tie for the second spot (19 points) in the division with the Toros (9-8-1). The Lumberjacks are in first place in the division with 35 points.
“We're chasing Granite City,” Crouse said. “It’s nice to pick up a couple of points on them here.”
The Blizzard have played four fewer regular season games than the Toros and Lumberjacks this season (48 total regular season games).
The Blizzard are back at home on Wednesday, Nov. 23 for a game against the Willmar WarHawks (5-9). The Blizzard won the first two games they played against the WarHawks this season, but the WarHawks won the most recent meeting on Nov. 4, 5-2.
“We have a short week and it's nice to get a win, but we have to just enjoy it for an hour or two and then move on to the next one,” Crouse said. “You have to take care of business at home. It’s just going to be up to us here to refocus. Last time we played them down there, they beat us so we’re looking for a bit of a bounce back.”
The Blizzard are 4-1 at home so far this season. The puck drop for Wednesday’s game is at 7:10 p.m. The Blizzard are averaging four and half goals per game and have a 2.71 goals against average.