It’s hard to call a game a must-win situation just six games into a hockey season, but the Alexandria Blizzard were certainly eager to turn the tide after five straight losses to start the year.

The Blizzard almost got that first win in Granite City on Friday night, but the Lumberjacks (6-1, 12 points) pulled out a 3-2 victory on their home ice. Alexandria (1-5) played at the Runestone Community Center for the first time this season on Saturday and beat the Willmar WarHawks with a dramatic game-winner in overtime for a 5-4 final.

“The crowd was fantastic. That was probably one of the best crowds we’ve had for a home opener in a long time,” Blizzard assistant coach Jon Crouse said. “Then you mix last year on top of it where you could only have a certain number of people. The place was rocking, and I think the guys were definitely feeding off the energy being at home.”

Alexandria Blizzard forward Ryan Hadland releases a shot as Willmar's Ethan Mock tries to block it in the first period on Oct. 9, 2021. Hadland had a goal in that opening period to give the Blizzard an early 1-0 lead. 
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria Blizzard forward Ryan Hadland releases a shot as Willmar's Ethan Mock tries to block it in the first period on Oct. 9, 2021. Hadland had a goal in that opening period to give the Blizzard an early 1-0 lead. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Forwards Matt Scribner of Grand Forks, North Dakota and Prior Lake's Ryan Hadland gave fans one last reason to get on their feet as they put together a beautiful scoring play with less than a minute left in the 3-on-3 overtime.

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Hadland carried the puck toward the left boards and found Scribner wide open on a rush to the net on the back side as he received the pass and beat Willmar goalie Cooper Olson to send his team into a frenzy.

“I was out on the edge, and I saw him cutting back up top so I knew I had to get down low and try to find that backdoor tip-in,” Scribner said. “I was yelling for it. I knew he had his head up and saw me. He passed it right to me. Easy tap in.”

Matt Scribner
Matt Scribner

The Blizzard thought they had the win in regulation. Cole Klingbeil broke a 3-3 tie at 18:38 of the third when he gathered the puck from behind the net along the board. Klingbeil looked like he was trying to center it back to a teammate, but instead his shot deflected off of Olson’s pad and bounced in for the goal.

Willmar found itself down much of the night, but the WarHawks never quit. They were rewarded for that with 22 seconds left when Nolan Grier scored off a Max Cohen and Ben Luedtke assist to tie the game again at four apiece.

“That’s huge to get a win under our belt,” Hadland said of rebounding after the way things ended in regulation. “We haven’t had the best start so far, but it’s good. We’re rolling now.”

Willmar beat Alexandria in a 10-2 final on Oct. 2, but the Blizzard played a much better game in the rematch against their West Division rivals.

“We all wanted to come out and prove that we’re still a good hockey team,” Scribner said.

Alexandria's Joe Gronholz awaits a faceoff during the first period of the Blizzard's home opener against the Willmar WarHawks on Oct. 9, 2021. Gronholz had a second-period goal that gave the Blizzard a 3-1 lead. 
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria's Joe Gronholz awaits a faceoff during the first period of the Blizzard's home opener against the Willmar WarHawks on Oct. 9, 2021. Gronholz had a second-period goal that gave the Blizzard a 3-1 lead. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria led 1-0 midway through the first period when Hadland scored off assists from Alexandria's Joe Gronholz and Sean Kenny. Willmar answered right back, getting a goal from Jeremiah Konkel.

Two early penalties by Willmar allowed the Blizzard to take their biggest lead at 3-1 in the second period. Caleb Roehrich went to the box for a 5-minute major for kneeing before Ethan Mock added a high-sticking minor 50 seconds later.

The Blizzard capitalized twice during that 5-minute advantage. The first came on the 5-on-3 when Kenny got open and put it home from just left of the crease. Gronholz then scored at 10:23 of the second frame with the one-man advantage off an assist from Kaden Peterson.

Konkel got his second goal of the night at 16:36 of the third to make it 3-2, and that proved to be important right before the intermission. Willmar’s Enzo Tarducci tied the game at three apiece when he scored off a Tate Hammitt assist at 10:11 of the third.

“We’re a really young team, so as the year goes on we’ll be more experienced and get better and better as we go,” Hadland said.

Crouse echoed those sentiments. The 1-5 record is not how the Blizzard wanted to start the season, but there are a lot of first-year NA3HL guys on this team trying to play with each other for the first time.

Alexandria Blizzard defenseman Brady Goff fires in a shot during the Blizzard's home opener against the Willmar WarHawks on Oct. 9, 2021. 
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria Blizzard defenseman Brady Goff fires in a shot during the Blizzard's home opener against the Willmar WarHawks on Oct. 9, 2021. Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“There’s a lot of new faces,” Crouse said. “A very, very young team. Last year, probably half or more of our team were age-out kids. This year, I think we only have a couple. It’s an extremely young team. They’re learning as we go. All these kids who just came from high school and it’s their first year of juniors, we’re just throwing them to the fire. They’re getting the hang of it. I really like this team, and they’re bonding well as a team.”

Alexandria had been on the wrong end of a few close games to start the season. Finally back home, the Blizzard were able to get a win that they hope can ignite this group going into a two-game series back at home against the Milwaukee Power (4-2-0-1, Central Division) Oct. 15 and 16.

“We’ve lost three 1-goal games where we could have won any one of them,” Crouse said. “I don’t think the record is a 100% indicator of where we’re at right now, but at the same time you are what your record is. These guys haven’t got down on themselves. They’ve been working hard every day, and I just expect them to keep getting better.”

ALEXANDRIA 1 2 1 1 - 5

WILLMAR 1 1 2 0 - 4

SHOTS - Willmar - 11, 14, 11, 6 - 42; Alexandria - 16, 11, 8, 4 - 39; POWER PLAYS - Willmar - 0-2; Alexandria - 2-5

WILLMAR SCORING - Jeremiah Konkel - 2 goals; Caleb Roehrich - 1 assist; Max Cohen - 1 assist; Ben Luedtke - 1 assist; Enzo Tarducci - 1 goal; Nolan Grier - 1 goal, 2 assists; Tate Hammitt - 1 assist

ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Kaden Peterson - 2 assists; Matt Scribner - 1 goal, 1 assist; Ethan Moerke - 1 assist; Ryan Hadland - 1 goal, 1 assist; Benjamin Tschida - 1 assist; Joe Gronholz - 1 goal, 2 assists; Cole Klingbeil - 1 goal; Sean Kenny - 1 goal, 1 assist

GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Joey Greilich - W, 38 saves, 4 goals allowed; Willmar - Cooper Olson - L, 34 saves, 5 goals allowed