It's rare for a hockey fan to see a hat trick in person. For Alexandria Blizzard fans, they got to see two of them on Friday night in the 14-2 pummeling of the Milwaukee Power.
Brandon Connett and Austin McNeil combined for seven goals in the Blizzard's third-straight win. Over the last two games, Alexandria has scored 24 goals on 148 shots.
"I think the guys see the end of the line and where we are in the standings," assistant head coach Jon Crouse said. "We've always been a second-half team where we start to pick it up more at the end of the year. Now, we are just rolling. We've gone a lot of the year, where we didn't score as much as we wanted to. It's nice to score more than you need to."
McNeil scored the first goal of the game in the opening three minutes. Connett gave the Blizzard a 3-0 lead with two goals before the break. Through one period, it looked like Milwaukee goalie Ty Barnhill was going to provide the Power a chance to stay in the game. He made 25 saves and allowed only three goals.
The Power found some life at the beginning of the second period. Ryann Butt scored 45 seconds after the opening faceoff. However, Nolan Westra scored 14 seconds later to answer for Alexandra. Milwaukee answered again when Wesley Knutson cut the lead to two 23 seconds after Westra's goal, but the Power's luck ran out.
Connett completed his hat trick midway through the second period before adding a fourth goal with 26 seconds until the intermission. The Blizzard's top line combined for five goals on the night.
"We gelled earlier in the year when the coaches put us together," Connett said. "Derek and I have really good chemistry. We've played together for a majority of the season. We are at the point where we don't need to yell at each other out there. We know where each other are at, and none of us care who scores. We just want to make the right play."
The Blizzard scored six more goals in the third period in dominating fashion. They finished the game leading shots 80-27. Westra had a big night with two goals and three assists. After breaking his ankle in the second game of the season, he's starting to find his stride.
"He's getting in a rhythm," Crouse said. "Every time we've played at home since he's been back, he's usually one of the three stars of the game. He's been healthy, and he's picked up his game. Westra has been a pleasant surprise."
The Blizzard acquired Mcneil in a trade with North Iowa midway through the season. After time to fit into the system, the coaching staff has a role for him that's working.
"We are starting to see that he's a goal-scorer," Crouse said. "He's putting the puck in the back of the net, and it took him a little while to adjust to the guys when he got here. Now he's doing what we brought him here to do, and that's score."
The Blizzard are three points ahead of the Willmar WarHawks (17-20-2-2) for the fourth and final spot in the West Division playoffs. With seven games left in the regular season, Alexandria is looking for a second-straight playoff berth.
"We really turned it around after the Willmar game," Connett said. "We realized that this is too special of a group to miss the playoffs. We changed some things, and we are really starting to come together as a team."
MILWAUKEE 0 2 0 - 2
ALEXANDRIA 3 5 6 - 14
SCORING- Alexandria- Austin McNeil (Dallas Duckson) 2:07; Alexandria- Brandon Connett (Jered Sanborn) 13:04; Alexandria- Connett (Michal Trejbal, Derek Dropik) 18:52; SECOND PERIOD- Milwaukee- Ryan Butt (unassisted) 0:45; Alexandria- Nolan Westra (Cole Lehmann, Jack Taylor) 0:59; Milwaukee- Wesley Knutson (Garrett Alton, Butt) 1:22; Alexandria- Connett (Wesley Johnson) short handed, 8:22; Alexandria- Westra (Cole Jacobs, Carter Rieland) 15:33; Alexandria- McNeil (Sanborn, Mathias Branton) 16:31; Alexandria- Connett (Dropik, Trejbal) 19:34; THIRD PERIOD- Alexandria- Chayse Haberman (Johnson) 4:13; Alexandria- McNeil (unassisted) 7:38; Alexandria- Lehmann (unassisted) 9:58; Alexandria- Val Popowski (Westra) 10:31; Alexandria- Jacobs (Westera, Wyatt Blahosky) 15:09; Alexandra- Lehmann (Westera) 17:27; PENALTIES- Alexandria 6 minutes on 3 infractions; Milwaukee 6 minutes on 3 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Ville Hyttinen, W, 25 saves, 2 goals allowed; Milwaukee- Ty Barnhill, L, 49 saves, 10 goals allowed; Zach Piehl 17 saves, 4 goals allowed