Hockey: Blizzard finish off Mason City in style to advance to western division finals
The Blizzard outscored the Toros 6-0 in the final period of its 9-2 win in game three of the western division semifinals. The Blizzard are now set to play in the division finals for the second time in the team’s 11-year history.
ALEXANDRIA - The Alexandria Blizzard and Mason City Toros played each other evenly throughout the whole NA3HL regular season and in their first two games of the western division semifinals.
They were 4-4 against each other in the regular season and 1-1 to open up the first round of the Fraser Cup Playoffs, which set up a winner-take-all game three on Sunday.
Sunday's game was evenly-played for the most part, until the final period.
The Blizzard scored six goals in the final period to win the win-or-go-home game three of the western division semifinals, 9-2, at the Runestone Community Center on Sunday and advanced to the NA3HL Western Division Finals.
"We bought in, especially in that third period, like we needed to," Forward Sean Kenny said. "In the third period, our game plan was to get the puck deep. We had to get everything deep. We didn't need to score any more goals, but obviously, we did that."
This trip to the division finals is the second in team history (the first came in the 2018-19 season).
"I've been here for three years, along with Klinger (Cole Klingbeil) and Wyatt Johnson, and all we've ever wanted to do is win," Kenny said. "Now we have the opportunity to do that. So it's a big deal."
The Blizzard's run in the third period started with a goal by forward Joe Gronholz with 12:55 left in the third period, the Blizzard outscored the Toros 6-0 in the final period to seal the series.
Moments later, Kenny completed the hat trick by scoring his third goal of the night with 8:57 left in the third period.
"It wasn't possible without my linemates and teammates," Kenny said. "Everyone did what they had to do."
Alexandria assistant coach Jon Crouse could tell in before the game that Kenny was locked in.
"He looked pretty focused and looked like he wanted to carry the team on his back," Crouse said. "That's exactly what he did. He's been here for three years, helped us get a series win, and will be with us to try to take down Granite City."
Kenny now has four goals and five points in the Fraser Cup Playoffs so far.
Following Kenny's third goal of the night, forward Cole Klingbeil scored two unassisted goals in the next 52 seconds, forward Ryan Hadland scored another with less than six minutes left, and forward Michael DeBrito scored with two minutes, which was the final goal of the night.
"We were playing pretty tight and tense in the first four minutes of the third period, but then we had a penalty kill," Crouse said. "That loosened the guys up, and Mason City made one mistake from there, and we got a two-on-one, and we were able to capitalize on it. I think that relieved some of the pressure off the guys. Never in a million years would I have thought that we'd go on a run like that, but we did."
Alexandria, who is the two-seed in the division playoffs, finished the game with a 41-31 shot on goal edge in its series-clinching win over three-seeded Mason City.
Kenny got going early as he scored seven minutes into the first period to put the Blizzard up 1-0, and with 1:20 left in the period, to put the Blizzard up 2-1 with a power play goal.
Forward Justin Wasvick got in on the scoring action with a goal 11 and a half minutes into the second period to put the Blizzard up 3-1.
Alexandria began the series with a 3-2 win at home on Friday but had a 3-1 loss on the road on Saturday.
"In the regular season and this series, things were tight against them," Crouse said. "This is the only game kind of all year that's been kind of a lopsided score-wise between us. We're two very evenly matched teams. They got a lot of firepower upfront, just like we do, and they got some good goaltending. So every single game with them all year has been pretty fun."
With the win, the Blizzard advances to the NA3HL Western Division Finals to face the top seed, the Granite City Lumberjacks.
Granite City swept its semifinal series against the No. 4 seed, the Willmar WarHawks, with a 7-1 win on Friday and a 4-2 win on Saturday.
Alexandria met Granite City in the playoffs last year. Granite City swept Alexandria and went on to make the Fraser Cup Championship last season.
Granite City hosts game one at Armadillo Sports Deck Arena in Sauk Rapids on Friday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m., and Alexandria hosts game two at the Runestone Community Center on Saturday, March 18 at 7:10 p.m. Game three, if necessary, is in Sauk Rapids on Sunday, March 19, at 5 p.m."
To beat them in a series, you can't get too high when you're winning, and you can't get too low when you're losing," Crouse said. "You've got to realize it's a three-game series. On Saturday, it was a long ride home from Mason City, and if guys sat there and sulked, it would've been a long night here. We just got to understand that there's a lot of shifts in each game, and there's going to be a lot of shifts throughout the series. You must take care of the puck and do your part."
Granite City won the regular season series 4-3 this season over Alexandria.
Granite City finished the regular season with a 39-6-2 record, while Alexandria was 32-12-3.
"Everyone has to buy in," Kenny said. "This third period that we had, showed what we can do, and we can't let the foot off the gas."
The winner of the western division finals advances to the Fraser Cup Championship Tournament with the four other division champions and one wild card team.
The championship tournament is in a round-robin format (two pools of three teams), with the top two teams from each pool advancing to the semifinals and will play one of the teams from the other division for a chance to advance to the championship.
This season's championship tournament runs from March 22-26, 2023, in St. Peters, Missouri.