Colin Tushie's line had several chances to score on Saturday night but came up empty-handed. That was until the final 30 seconds of the Blizzard's 3-2 win over the North Iowa Bulls.
Tushie caught the last pass of a tic-tac-toe sequence from Cole Jacobs and Austin McNeil to give the Blizzard its sixth win of the season.
"I thought that line was pretty good all night, and they finally got rewarded for it," assistant coach Jon Crouse said. "They caught them sleeping a little bit, but it's also tough to defend when you make three good passes in a row. You're probably going to get a chance no matter what in a situation like that, and those guys made the most of it."
Saturday's win comes in the middle of three games in three days, with two of them being at home against the West Division's top team. North Iowa (11-4-0-0) has a nine-point lead over the fourth-seeded Blizzard (6-6-1-0).
"Tonight was huge, especially coming off of a loss in Willmar last night," forward Caleb Strong said. "We needed these two points in the standings, and now we got some momentum heading into (Sunday)."
After the first period ended in a scoreless tie, both teams found the net twice in the second. Wesley Johnson scored the game's first goal off a pass from Andrew Revering. The lead was short-lived as Gavin Wendorf tied the game on a blue line shot while entering the zone.
The Bulls took a 2-1 lead 56 seconds later on a Kyle Heffron shot in front of the net. North Iowa forwards screened Greilich to put the Bulls up by one.
"After (North Iowa) scored their first goal, we went into a lull for about six or seven minutes," Crouse said. "We weren't playing well, and we looked deflated. Joey (Greilich) made some huge saves for us at the right time. Defensively, we didn't give up many odd-man rushes either. That helped us get back in it for sure."
The Blizzard got the momentum back late in the second with Caleb Strong's third goal of the weekend. On a broken play that featured a scrum in front of the North Iowa net, neither team gained control of the puck before it slid out to Strong on the open side.
"We never started pouting or anything, but we did feel the momentum swing with that goal," Strong said. "You're not going to get too many scoring chances in a game with these guys, so you have to make the most of them. I was in the right place at the right time, I guess."
Both teams peppered the net in the third period, but Tushie had the last laugh. His third goal of the season not only stole the first of two games this weekend against North Iowa but also helped put an ugly loss from the night before aside.
The Willmar Warhawks gave a rude awakening to the Blizzard on Friday night in the team's first game back since the state-wide shutdown. Three Willmar goals in the opening 12 minutes put Alexandria in a hole it couldn't climb out of.
"We did not play well in the first 10 minutes last night," Crouse said. "Willmar played great, and it was probably the best we've seen them play. Give them credit because they made us pay. We were down 3-0 halfway through the first period. Our rust came from stickhandling and making plays. I think our feet were fine, but we needed to get back to creating plays like we know how to. We did a better job of that tonight."
Strong was a bright spot in a frustrating loss. He scored both Blizzard goals to increase his team-leading total to eight.
"It was our first game back in like 60 days," Strong said. "It's not an excuse. We didn't play well. Tonight was way better for sure.
The conditions for the Blizzard's season resuming are the same for high school sports. The Runestone Community Center can hold no more than 150 fans along with a mask mandate for players, coaches, officials and spectators.
"The toughest part is definitely the masks and not having fans," Strong said. "We have to do what we have to do to play, and we are still getting used to the masks. I miss playing in front of packed stands. We are thankful to get some fans in here at least."
The NA3HL season was extended two weeks to allow teams to reschedule any games. All teams in the West Division went without games for six weeks, along with the Rochester Grizzlies in the Central. Because the NA3HL is doing only divisional matchups this season, North Iowa couldn't pick up extra games during Minnesota's shutdown.
The Blizzard had 10 days of practice before the first game back. Crouse talked about the struggle of finding the right balance with a loaded schedule down the stretch of the season.
"All of those games we missed are rescheduled," Crouse said. "Outside of the extra two weeks, we get to reschedule games at the end of the season. The rest have to be played on Sundays or during the week. That's why we are playing three games in three days, with three more later next week. There was a fine line for us in approaching practice. You want to get them back into game shape, but you can't over work them. That's what's going to kill you in the latter part of the season."
Crouse believes jamming the schedule with make-up games will test the mental and physical abilities of each member on the team. It's up to each guy in the locker room to find ways to produce when they feel like they have nothing left.
"We aren't worried about the legs or the heads of the guys playing right now because they should be fresh, but that's not to say it won't be an issue a month or two from now," Crouse said. "A lot of our success is going to depend on attention to detail. The guys are going to have to take care of themselves with their diets and their health. It's going to come down to recognizing what you can do and making smart hockey decisions."
NORTH IOWA 0 2 0 - 2
ALEXANDRIA 0 2 1 - 3
SCORING- SECOND PERIOD- Alexandria- Wesley Johnson (Andrew Revering) 4:20; North Iowa- Gavin Wendorf (Max Savaloja, Campbell Cichosz) 8:15; North Iowa- Kyle Heffron (Brayden Uttech) 9:11; Alexandria- Caleb Strong (Nikolai Rajala, Sean Kenny) 18:55; THIRD PERIOD- Alexandria- Colin Tushie (Cole Jacobs, Austin McNeil) 19:30; Penalties- Alexandria- 6 minutes on 3 infractions; North Iowa- 4 minutes on 2 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Joey Greilich, W, 32 saves, 2 goals allowed; North Iowa- Joe Daninger, L 28 saves, 3 goals allowed;
ALEXANDRIA 1 0 1 - 2
WILLMAR 3 2 0 - 5
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- Willmar- Cole Wigestrand (Jack Willis, Brady O’Brien) 5:06; Willmar- Ben Johnson (Michael Sweetland, Henry Andrews) 11:22; Willmar- Dylan Gajewski (Alex Kupka, Lewis Rowan) 12:04; Alexandria- Caleb Strong (Sean Kenny, Nikolai Rajala) 17:11; SECOND PERIOD- Willmar- Kupka (Rowan, Elbridge DeKraai) 6:37; Willmar- Jeremiah Konkel (Willis, Tanner Hallett) 11:37; THIRD PERIOD- Caleb Strong (Rajala, Kenny) 15:53; PENALTIES- Alexandria- 22 minutes on 7 infractions; Willmar- 20 minutes on 6 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Bailey Rosch, L , 27 saves, 5 goals allowed; Joey Greilich, 19 saves, 0 goals allowed; Willmar- Lukas Haugen, W, 29 saves, 2 goals allowed;