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Hockey: Poised for an upset?

Alexandria's Caleb Strong fires a shot in a game against Willmar on Oct. 19. Strong played with the Blizzard before the high school season started practice and is back with the team heading into the postseason. (Echo Press file photo)

Alexandria Blizzard players weren't sure they would even be playing the third weekend in March a few weeks ago. Now they have their eyes set on a first-round upset.

After winning seven consecutive games, the Blizzard successfully hopped the New Ulm Steel to snag the fourth and final playoff spot in the NA3HL West division.

"I didn't even realize we had the win streak until I looked at the stats," Blizzard head coach Jeff Crouse said. "I think the big thing is we are playing with so much confidence right now. We think we can go out there and compete with anybody."

The Blizzard ended the season by beating its upcoming opponent — the Granite City Lumberjacks. Alexandria took home a 6-3 road victory that showcased its depth on Sunday.

"Right now, I feel comfortable putting four lines and six defensemen out on the ice at any time," Crouse said. "I think we have a ton of depth and you need that in the playoffs."

Alexandria strengthened its roster by adding two familiar faces. AAHS senior Jack Westlund and junior Caleb Strong were added to the roster to finish out the season.

Strong scored a goal in a win against Willmar on Friday night. Westlund has yet to play due to recovering from an injury suffered in the Alexandria Cardinals' section championship game against St. Cloud Cathedral in late February.

"They are a nice add for us. We just have to get them adjusted to the speed of the game," Crouse said. "Jack has been practicing and I'm hoping he can play for us on Friday. Both of these guys know this team and know the system, so I trust they can fit in with us at this point in the year."

The Blizzard played Granite City six times throughout the year. Even though they only won two of those matchups, they were the last two games in the season series.

One of the losses to the Lumberjacks also came in a shootout. Sunday's road win further instilled the belief that the Blizzard can pull off this upset.

"We hadn't played a game in that building in a couple months," Crouse said. "I think it was big for us knowing what we are getting into and just preparing ourselves for a hard series. It's going to be a battle and we need all of our guys to compete."

Alexandria will head to the Armadillo Deck Sports Arena in Sauk Rapids for game one of the three game series on Friday night at 7:30. The Blizzard are guaranteed a home game on Saturday night for game two at 7:10. Game three, if necessary, will be back in Sauk Rapids on Sunday at 5 p.m.

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