While proving on plenty of nights to be one of the most feared teams in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), struggles with consistency continue to haunt the Alexandria Blizzard.
Look no further than its 3-3-1 mark during February.
“I think that record mirrors how we’ve been playing the past month: up and down,” said Blizzard assistant coach Jeff Crouse, whose team is 23-18-5 on the season. “We’ve been really good at times and then there are times when we don’t even belong on the ice.”
Case in point: the Blizzard’s last four games - all of which were against Austin.
The Bruins handed Alexandria a pair of losses on Feb. 18-19 before the Blizzard returned the favor the very next weekend with a two-game sweep of its own.
“That’s was a huge confidence-booster for us,” said Crouse. “We went down there and played very poorly, but regrouped and got back home and played great team defense and let our playmakers and scorers take care of the offense.”
And goaltender Jake Williams took care of the rest. The 20-year-old from Montreal who played in last month’s NAHL Top Prospects Tournament allowed just two goals against in the sweep turning aside 48 of 50 shots he faced.
“Jake was really on top of his game,” praised Crouse. “He gained a ton of confidence in the last game in Ann Arbor (Mich., at Top Prospects in which he stopped all 15 shots he faced in Team Central’s 3-1 win over Team North) and it carried over into the weekend for us.”
Others rose to the occasion in the needed victories over Austin, much to the delight of Crouse.
“I thought our D core had a great two games and our top guns showed why they’re the best in the league when they show up,” said the coach.
The Blizzard is also reaping the benefits of the recent acquisition of forward Reid Sturos (three points in his first five games with the team), as well as forward Rock Einersen (seven points in six games), who was picked up from Texas.
“They’ve played very well for us and bought in right away,” said Crouse.
The remainder of the regular-season schedule is working in the Blizzard’s favor, too. Having played only 46 games - the fewest in the division along with Austin - Alexandria has the opportunity to pocket valuable points as it solidifies its position in the Central.
It also plays its last six games at home at a time of year when fan support in Alexandria is traditionally as its peak.
“It’s usually when we’re playing our best, too, so the fans really become more supportive in the community and really provide us with a great home-ice advantage,” said Crouse.
But first things first: three games on the road this weekend. The Blizzard travels to Aberdeen for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday before bussing to Coulee Region for a game on Sunday.
“We just want to keep playing our best hockey down the stretch here and hopefully go into the playoffs on a role like we did last year,” said Crouse.
“We know we can come out of our division; it’s just a matter of playing good hockey in March and hopefully continuing that into the playoffs.”
CENTRAL DIVISION NOTEBOOK
ABERDEEN WINGS: Aberdeen has lost four games in a row, but did pick up a point in a 3-2 shootout lost to Owatonna on Saturday. Forward Brandon Platt, a 19-year-old from Pittsburgh, came through with a goal in regulation and one in the shootout. The Wings have nine games remaining on their regular-season schedule, including a three-game homestand this weekend against Austin (Thursday) and Alexandria (Friday and Saturday).
AUSTIN BRUINS: Still fighting for a postseason berth, the Bruins dropped a two-game series to Alexandria last weekend. Forwards Alex Tesensky, from Cedarburg, Wis., and Jack Walsh, a Mahtomedi, Minn., native - both 19 - scored Austin’s only goals in the series. With 12 games left on their regular-season schedule, the Bruins bus to Aberdeen for a game on Thursday before returning home to host Bismarck on Friday and Saturday.
BISMARCK BOBCATS: Despite dropping a pair of games to Coulee Region last weekend, 20-year-old forward Matt Gates, a Palatine, Ill., native and the team’s leading scorer with 51 points through 46 games, lit the lamp three times. Situated in third place in the division, the Bobcats hit the road for a two-game series in Austin on Friday and Saturday.
COULEE REGION CHILL: Forward Zac Frischmon, who led last week’s NAHL Top Prospects Tournament in scoring with six points (two goals) in the three days, was encouraged with the scouting presence at the three-day festival. “The sense of urgency and desire to perform at the top of our game never ceases,” said Frischmon, a 20-year-old from Blaine, Minn. “We all strive to get to that next level and we know what's at stake.”
OWATONNA EXPRESS: Owatonna locked up a playoff berth last weekend after its two-game sweep over Aberdeen. Forward Lawrence Cornellier, an 18-year-old from Machesney Park, Ill., came through with two goals and two assists in the victories. With six games left in its regular season, Express welcomes Coulee Region to town for a two-game series on Friday and Saturday.