Hockey: Blizzard upset top-seed Lumberjacks in first round
As the seconds ticked down on the clock at the Armadillo Deck Sports Arena, the thought of losing sunk in for Lumberjack fans. The groans of desperations grew louder as each minute passed. When the clock hit zero, the Alexandria Blizzard made history.
The Blizzard took the final matchup in a three-game series on Sunday night with a 4-3 win over top-seeded Granite City. The series win was the first ever for the Blizzard in the NA3HL. One player in particular was left with few words after the historic win.
“Honestly, I don’t really know what to say,” Brett Meister said. “I’ve never felt anything like this. All I want to do is feel like this again next weekend.”
The Blizzard did what they have done all season long – make a comeback. Granite city scored midway through the first period and got the home fans out of their seats. While some four-seeds would’ve crumbled under pressure, the Blizzard rose up and fought back.
“I think the key to beating (Granite City) is just being able to get their number,” head coach Jeff Crouse said. “They do a lot of things really well and it’s our job to game plan against that.”
The Lumberjacks held two leads on Sunday night. Both were answered by a Blizzard goal. Crouse expected his guys to battle back each time.
“We’ve done this all year,” Crouse said. “We know we are never out of it. Even this weekend we were down in the series. They handed it to us 6-1 on Friday night. Our guys knew what it took to beat this team and they did it. I believe we just knocked out the best team in the whole league.”
The game was tied 1-1 before Granite City took its second lead of the game with 10 minutes remaining in the second period. Meister was able to create another spark to tie the game.
“We know we aren’t the biggest guys on the ice,” Meister said. “I’m a third year guy and so is Tucker (Kruse). We need to go out there and lead by example and set a tone. If we play as hard as we do then size won’t matter. It hasn’t for us yet.”
Crouse paired forwards Caleb Strong, Tucker Kruse and Meister together on a line for the first time this series. At five feet, seven inches tall, Strong is the tallest kid on the second line.
“I put those kids together for a reason,” Crouse said. “They are the hardest working line on the ice every time they go out there. They do their job.”
After Meister scored the game-tying goal, he skated over to the Alexandria fans, leaped into the air and threw himself into the glass face first.
“I call it the pancake,” Meister said. “It started last year when some guys got it on video. Now I just do it all the time. It’s my signature celly. I can’t wait to do more of them next weekend.”
After Saturday night’s overtime win, Crouse wasn’t sure who was going to be the starting goalie. He ended up going with the 17-year-old from Finland.
“Ville (Hyttinen) won last night and that was a big reason why he got the start,” Crouse said. “It’s nothing against Kyle (Hayden). He probably had the best stats the entire second half of the season. I think after we lost 6-1 on Friday in this building, they wanted to see Kyle (Hayden) play again. And the loss really wasn’t his fault. I just went with the hot hand. The best part about this team is having the confidence in anybody on the bench. I can put either one of them out there and I trust they’ll make saves.”
Crouse’s decision paid off in several moments. At the end of the second period, Hyttinen made a glove save while a Lumberjack came streaking down the ice on a breakaway. In the final seconds of the third period, he also made a two sprawling saves to preserve the one-goal lead. Hyttinen stopped 37 shots in the win.
Even though it was a road game, the Blizzard fans packed the Armadillo Deck Sports Arena. Crouse was thrilled with the fan turnout.
“I think the overtime win last night got people more excited,” Crouse said. “They were great for us tonight. Every time we scored it felt like a home game.”
After the game fans rushed towards the Alexandria locker room. Meister, covered in sweat, gave a big hug to his billet mom.
“I love playing for this team and for these fans,” Meister said. “They have done so much for me and a lot of guys on this team.”
The Blizzard will hit the road on Friday for the second round series against North Iowa. The Bulls beat the Rochester Grizzlies in three games to advance.
“This week, we are going to get a lot of rest then get back to work,” Crouse said. “We had a lot taken out of us this weekend and I think we need to rest for a few days. But we will be ready. We know this team and we’ve beaten them a couple times this season. It’s about execution next weekend.”
ALEXANDRIA 1 2 1 – 4
GRANITE CITY 1 1 1 – 3
SCORING- FIRST PERIOD- Granite City- Zack DeBoom (Trevor Dummer, Matt Moran) 6:28; Alexandria- Dylan Giorgio (Dylan Mattson) 15:14;
SECOND PERIOD- Granite City- Bailey Sommers (Daymin Dodge, Hunter Schwehr) 10:04; Alexandria- Brett Meister (Joe Dokken, Caleb Strong) 13:15; Alexandria- Dylan Giorgio (Dylan Mattson) 16:34;
THIRD PERIOD- Alexandria- Val Popowski (Brandon Connett, Cole Lehmann) power play, 5:04; Granite City- Matt Moran (Grant Troumbly, Jack Fattum) 19:04