The Alexandria Blizzard came away with three out of four possible points this weekend but walked away from the Runestone Community Center with an empty feeling.
The Willmar WarHawks erased four Blizzard leads to win in overtime on Saturday night to steal a point in Alexandria's home opener. Willmar's first lead came 27 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime session to take home the 7-6 win.
"We didn't play a full game tonight," Nolan Westra said. "I think we showed we were the better team at times, but outcomes like this happen when you don't play a full game. They're a good team that's going to fight for a playoff spot, and we gave them too many chances tonight."
The Blizzard scored a pair of goals in the first period from Brandon Greeder and Cole Lehmann. However, they could've had more.
In the first 12 minutes of the game, Alexandria had four power plays but only came away with one special-teams goal. Leaving the door open for Willmar would come back to bite the Blizzard 17 seconds before the intermission. Cayden Sunde put home a loose puck after a defensive breakdown led to a WarHawk odd-man rush.
The WarHawks tied the game six minutes into the second off the stick of Jeremiah Konkel before Alexandria's captain, Dallas Duckson, scored two goals in the final four minutes of the second period to take a 4-2 lead.
"That's why he's our captain," assistant coach Jon Crouse said. "We're seeing our leaders come up big when we need them so far this season, and he got us two big goals. Guys like Dallas, Carter Rieland, Nolan Westra and all the returning players should set the tone for us in the early part of the season while the younger guys adjust to the game speed in juniors. Sometimes, it takes a week to build chemistry on the ice, but other times it takes a month. Until each line is clicking, we need guys to step up."
Tyler Corbid and Kaidden O'Connor each scored unassisted goals to kick off the third period and tie the game for Willmar. Just 11 seconds after O'Connor's tally, Westra regained the lead for the Blizzard only for it to slip away 32 seconds later when Elbridge DeKraai erased the third lead of the game.
Willmar's penalty woes continued through the third period. A checking-from-behind call put the Blizzard on the power play with under five minutes to play. Sean Kenny found a rebound off Andrew Revering's shot from the point to put the Blizzard up 6-5 with under four minutes remaining.
Alexandria's lack of discipline reared its head when the Blizzard had too many men on the ice in the final three minutes of the game. After killing the penalty, Alexandria had a chance to ice the game. Two Blizzard players found themselves on a 2-on-0 skating towards the empty net but entered the zone offside.
After the ensuing faceoff, Willmar's Ben Johnson carried the puck through the neutral zone and beat Alexandria goaltender, Bailey Rosch, with 11 seconds left in regulation. In overtime, a Blizzard turnover led to another odd-man rush where Jerimiah Konkel scored 27 seconds after the opening faceoff.
"It's obviously not the way we wanted to end things tonight," Crouse said. "If you look at this weekend as a whole, I think taking three out of four points puts us in a good position. If we do that every weekend, we're doing something right, but this one will sting for a bit."
With a slightly shorter schedule and only division teams on the docket, the Blizzard feel the importance of every matchup.
"We can't afford to leave points on the ice this year," Westra said. "We have a really competitive division, which makes for really fun hockey, but we need to take the wins when we can get them. We don't want to be on the outside looking in at the end of the year."
The Blizzard was 3-of-8 on the power play, but missed chances to put the game out of reach in crucial moments.
"This was one of those rare nights where if left like we missed a lot of chances on the power play even though we scored three times," Crouse said. "We have some things we need to look at this week, but it's still early. We have to start capitalizing on our opponents' mistakes when we get the chance."
Playing a complete game almost cost the Blizzard two more points on Friday at New Ulm. Alexandria came away with a 5-3 win after scoring four third-period goals.
"We were asleep for the first two and a half periods before the offense woke up," Crouse said. "We know we can beat any team we play this year, but we have to put it together. New Ulm had its chances to beat us, and Willmar capitalized on theirs tonight. It's just going to be competitive all season long."
BLIZZARD 0 1 4 - 5
STEEL 2 0 1 - 3
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- New Ulm- Joey Gimberlin (Parker Lawrence, Parker Dorn) 16:30; New Ulm- Corey Stormer (Gimberlin, Nathan Looft) power play, 17:54; SECOND PERIOD- Alexandria- Cole Lehmann (Caleb Strong, Wyatt Johnson) 19:22; THIRD PERIOD- New Ulm- Gimberlin (unassisted) short handed, 2:24; Alexandria- Cole Jacobs (Austin McNeil, Logan Stellmach) 8:23; Alexandria- McNeil (unassisted) 12:43; Alexandria- Cole Klingbeil (unassisted) 17:54; Alexandria- Strong (unassisted) empty net, 19:59; PENALTIES- Alexandria- 31 minutes on 5 infractions, New Ulm- 31 minutes on 5 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Bailey Rosch, W, 47 saves, 3 goals allowed; New Ulm- Griffin Foster, L, 26 saves, 4 goals allowed;
WARHAWKS 1 1
BLIZZARD 2 2
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- Alexandria- Brandon Greeder (Matthew Thompson, Watt Blahosky) 3:42; Alexandria- Cole Lehmann (Andrew Revering, Nikolai Rajala) power play, 12:15; Willmar- Jack Willis (Cayden Sunde, Louis Anders) 19:43; SECOND PERIOD- Willmar- Jeremiah Konkel (Michael Sweetland, Owen Thomas) 6:26; Alexandria- Dallas Duckson (Nolan Westra. Carter Rieland) power play, 16:10; Alexandria- Duckson (Westra, Blahosky) 18:36; THIRD PERIOD- Willmar- Tyler Corbid (unassisted) 3:24; Willmar- Kaidden O’Connor (unassisted) 7:23; Alexandria- Westra (Blahosky) 7:37; Willmar- Elbridge DeKraai (Corbid) 8:12; Alexandria- Sean Kenny (Revering, Strong) power play, 16:12, Willmar- Ben Johnson (Corbid, DeKraai) 19:49; OVERTIME- Willmar- Jeremiah Konkel (Ben Johnson) 0:27; PENALTIES- Alexandria- 20 minutes, 6 infractions; Willmar- 48 minutes, 12 infractions; GOALTENDING- Alexandria- Bailey Rosch, OTL, 30 saves, 7 goals allowed; Luke Weberg, W, 35 saves, 6 goals allowed;