NAHL Report: Blizzard back in business

Competitive but struggling to find the win column, the Alexandria Blizzard was rewarded for its efforts last weekend with two morale-boosting victories over the Southern Minnesota Express.

“It was a great weekend for our players’ confidence,” said Blizzard coach-GM Brad Willner, whose team improved to 6-14-2 on the season. “We’ve been playing well and not winning games. It’s nice to finally get a few bounces and get some wins.”

On Friday, Luke Nesper and Noah Nemgar each tallied a goal and an assist as the Blizzard doubled up the Express, 4-2. Michael Lickteig added two assists in the win, and goaltender Ryan Leets steered aside 18 shots.

The next night, Alexandria overcame a five-goal, third-period deficit to best Southern Minnesota in overtime, 9-8. Pawel Zurek and Lickteig each notched two goals and two assists in the triumph, with Garrett Grimstad striking for the game-winner in the extra session. RJ Heath picked up the win between the pipes.

“We’ve been playing well and just not getting it done in the third to win,” said Willner, whose team got December off on the right foot with a 6-2 win over Fargo-Moorhead on Dec. 1. “We finally have a calmness spreading throughout the team and playing to win instead of playing not to lose.”

The Blizzard’s top line of Lickteig, Nesper, who is on a seven-game point-scoring streak (13 points), and Jerry Freismuth has motivated the team in more ways than one.

“They’ve really been playing well together,” said Willner. “They’re all veteran leaders of this team, both on and off the ice. Those guys have kept the team positive during the tough times and have instilled a never-quit attitude in the locker room.”

Grimstead, Nemgar and Brandon Bahnemann have also proved to be an effective line combination upfront, along with the trio of Zurek, Jascha Pettit and Kyle Clement.

“Those two lines stepped up big on Saturday and spurred our comeback,” said Willner.

The Blizzard still occupies the last-place spot in the NAHL’s Central Division, but Willner in encouraged with the team’s renewed attitude the past few weeks.

“I thought we had a good team going into the season and I didn’t expect to be where we are,” said the coach. “We’ve played well enough to win games, but somehow found ways to lose them.”

“We were beating ourselves but we’ve finally broke out of that funk and are finding ways to win. We have a different attitude on the ice. I think we finally have the confidence to win.”

Still time to right the ship, Willner is confident he has the right pieces in place to mold a contender.

“I like our guys and think we have the talent here, it’s just a matter of adjusting to junior hockey and that’s starting to happen,” said Willner.

“You cannot take a shift off during the game. All the teams in our league are great and you have to be ready to play for 60 minutes if you expect to win in the NAHL.”

Despite Alexandria’s record, several players are receiving serious attention from colleges, including Lickteig, Bahnemann, Nesper and Freismuth.

“I think more interest will come if we can continue to win,” said Willner.

And for the Blizzard, that means a tough, honest effort night in and night out.

“We need to continue to compete and work our systems,” said Willner. “We just need to play smart hockey and not get too cute or try to make the pretty play. We just need play gritty hockey and score when we get chances.”

STANDINGS/LEADERS
North Division
TEAM GP W-L-OTL PTS PCT GF GA
St. Louis 25 19-5-1 39 .780 109 72
Mahoning Valley 29 18-8-3 39 .672 116 86
Marquette 26 16-9-1 33 .635 99 92
USNTDP 28 13-13-2 28 .500 97 103
Alpena 26 13-12-1 27 .519 79 85
Traverse City 23 9-9-5 23 .500 70 78

South Division
TEAM GP W-L-OTL PTS PCT GF GA
Fairbanks 28 17-9-2 36 .643 80 61
Wichita Falls 26 17-8-1 35 .673 89 75
Topeka 23 13-7-3 29 .630 73 56
Alaska 26 13-12-1 27 .519 80 99
Kenai River 29 6-17-6 18 .310 75 126
Texas 28 7-18-3 17 .304 66 98

Central Division
TEAM GP W-L-OTL PTS PCT GF GA
North Iowa 23 18-4-1 37 .804 89 46
Springfield 27 16-9-2 34 .630 106 86
So. Minnesota 26 12-9-5 29 .558 97 99
Bismarck 26 11-13-2 24 .462 72 89
Fargo-Moorhead 25 9-15-1 19 .380 81 96
Alexandria 22 6-14-2 14 .318 72 103

LEADING SCORERS
PLAYER TEAM P GP G A PTS
Graham, Derek MVY F 29 23 20 43
Walters, Shea NIO F 23 12 30 42
Cardwell, Adam WIC F 24 13 24 37
Salazar, Luke WIC F 26 17 18 35
Pietila, Aaron MAR F 26 14 19 33
Peterson, Erik ALP F 26 8 25 33
Warda, Ben STL F 25 7 26 33
Everett, Grant WIC F 26 11 21 32
Bozoian, Sam STL F 24 11 21 32
Boeckman, Chad MVY C 29 6 26 32

LEADING GOALTENDERS
PLAYER TEAM GPI MINS W-L-OTL GAA SPCT
Moss, Robby NIO 20 1197:57 16-3-1 1.95 .938
Reichard, Cody FBX 24 1420:50 14-9-0 2.07 .932
Merriam, Bryce TPK 20 1205:15 10-7-3 2.29 .903
Jarboe, Mike WIC 22 1306:13 14-6-1 2.53 .919
Bartus, Garrett MVY 17 1010:38 11-3-2 2.61 .914

GOALS
PLAYER TEAM P GP G
Graham, Derek MVY F 29 23
OKane, Kyle STL F 22 19
Salazar, Luke WIC F 26 17

ASSISTS
PLAYER TEAM POS GP A
Walters, Shea NIO F 23 30
Warda, Ben STL F 25 26
Boeckman, Chad MVY C 29 26

PLUS/MINUS
PLAYER TEAM POS GP +/-
Jundt, Tyler NIO D 23 +22
Mobley, Max NIO F 23 +18
Morin, Matt NIO D 23 +18

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
North Division: Derek Graham - Mahoning Valley Phantoms
Mahoning Valley forward Derek Graham rang up three goals and two assists last weekend as the Phantoms fashioned a 1-0-1 record against Marquette. On Friday, the 19-year-old recorded a goal an assist in a 4-3 overtime loss. The next night, the Schoolcraft, Mich., native scored two goals and an assist as the Phantoms cruised to an 8-2 win over the Rangers. The Ferris State University recruit was also a plus-5 for the weekend.

“Once again, Derek was our leader,” said Phantoms assistant coach Curtis Carr. “He played very good offensively and defensively. He brought a lot of intensity and worked hard every shift. He competes in every zone, and he brings it every night.”

HONORABLE MENTION: Alpena forward Jimmy McCusker

Central Division: Mikael Lickteig - Alexandria Blizzard
Alexandria forward Mikael Lickteig struck for two goals and four assists last weekend as the Blizzard skated to a pair of wins over Southern Minnesota. On Friday, the 20-year-old registered two assists in a 4-2 triumph. The next night, the Little Falls, Minn., native tallied two goals and two assists as the Blizzard downed the Express in overtime, 9-8. He was also a plus-3 for the weekend.

“Mikael is a big part of this team, both on and off the ice,” said Blizzard coach-GM Brad Willner. “He works hard and brings a real positive work ethic to the rink every day.”

HONORABLE MENTION: North Iowa goaltender Austin Macginnis

South Division: Arthur Bidwill - Fairbanks Ice Dogs
Fairbanks defenseman Arthur Bidwill tallied two goals and two assists last weekend as the Ice Dogs celebrated a pair of shutout victories over Kenai River. On Friday, the 20-year-old scored two goals as Fairbanks blanked the Brown Bears, 6-0. The next night, the Fontana, Wis., native recorded two assists in another 6-0 Ice Dogs victory. He was also plus-5 for the weekend.

“Arthur has been very solid on the power play and steady night in and night out,” said Ice Dogs assistant coach Josh Hauge. “Our entire defensive core has been exceptional of late, and Arthur has played a big role for us.”

LAST WEEK'S SCORES/HIGHLIGHTS
Thursday, December 6
USNTDP 4 @ Alpena 3 (USA: Calabrese, GWG, A, +1)
North Iowa 2 @ Bismarck 1 (NI: Mobley, GWG, A, +1)

Friday, December 7
Southern Minnesota 2 @ Alexandria 4 (ALX: Nesper, G, A, +2)
North Iowa 5 @ Bismarck 0 (NI: Maginnis, 21 saves)
Kenai River 0 @ Fairbanks 6 (FBX: Reichard, 21 saves)
Mahoning Valley 3 @ Marquette 4 (OT) (MAR: Grogan, GWG, A, +2)
Texas 2 @ Springfield 4 (SPR: Globke, 3A, +2)
St. Louis 6 @ Wichita Falls 1 (STL: Rabbani, 3G, +3)

Saturday, December 8
Kenai River 0 @ Fairbanks 6 (FBX: Fuller, 31 saves)
Mahoning Valley 8 @ Marquette 2 (MV: Graham-Blakey, 2G, A, +3)
Alexandria 9 @ Southern Minnesota 8 (OT) (ALX: Zurek, 2G, 2A, +4)
Texas 2 @ Springfield 3 (SPR: Crowder, GWG, A, +2)
Alpena 3 @ Traverse City 2 (OT) (ALP: Grasso, GWG, A)
St. Louis 3 @ Wichita Falls 4 (OT) (WF: Everett, G, 2A, +2)

AROUND THE NAHL
MIDGET SHOWCASE GAMES ON B2: Select games at this week’s NAHL Midget Showcase Series tournament, which will be held December 13-16 in Chesterfield, Mo., will be video broadcast over the Internet through B2 Networks. Visit nahlmidgetshowcase.com for details.

TOP PROSPECTS DETAILS ANNOUNCED: Details on the NAHL’s first annual Top Prospects Tournament, which will be held February 17-19 at the Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., were announced last week. See more at nahl.com.

SCHROEDER TO WORLD JUNIORS: Sixteen (16) members of the 2008 U.S. National Junior Team, which was announced last week by USA Hockey, spent time with USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program, including current Under-18 Team forward Jordan Schroeder.

ST. NICKS: Alpena’s acquisitions of forward Nick Grasso, 19, and goaltender Nick Graves, 19, paid immediate dividends last weekend. Grasso, picked up from Columbus of the USHL, scored the OT game-winner in the IceDiggers’ 3-2 win over Traverse City on Saturday, while Graves, who was acquired in a trade from Southern Minnesota, made 20 saves in the victory, his first start with the team.

OUTLAW STRIKES FOR POLAND: North Iowa forward Krystian Dziubinski, 19, scored Poland’s lone goal in its 6-1 loss to Austria on Sunday in the opening game of the World Junior Championships (Division I, Pool A).

AUSTIN’S POWERS: North Iowa goaltender Austin Maginnis, 19, made the most of his third start of the season on Friday, recording his first career shutout (21 saves) in a 5-0 win over Bismarck. “Austin has waited patiently all year long to get his chance, and he played strong, made a few big saves and got the shutout,” said Outlaws coach Dave Boitz. “You can’t ask much more of a kid.”

HIGH FIVES: Fairbanks and Springfield are both riding five-game winning streaks after last weekend’s two-game sweeps of Kenai River and Texas, respectively.

WALTERS ON A TEAR: North Iowa forward Shea Walters, 20, recorded five more assists in two wins over Bismarck last weekend. The Bemidji State University recruit now has points in his last 10 games dating back to Nov. 2 (22 total).

GENERAL GRANT: Wichita Falls forward Grant Everett, 20, powered the Wildcats two a 4-3 overtime win over St. Louis on Saturday, scoring a goal and two assists, including one on Adam Cardwell’s game-winner in the extra session. “Grant is showing why he’s one of the better cornermen in the league,” said Wildcats coach-GM John Bowkus. “He consistently wins battles and, with his hard work, he’s being rewarded by scoring some big goals for us.”

FORMER PHANTOM HONORED: Army sophomore forward Owen Meyer (Mahoning Valley, 2005-06) was named the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Month for December.

THE WEEK AHEAD
Friday, December 14
Fairbanks @ Alaska, 7:00 pm
Fargo-Moorhead @ Alexandria, 7:00 pm
Marquette @ Alpena, 7:00 pm
Bismarck @ Southern Minnesota, 8:00 pm
North Iowa @ St. Louis, 7:15 pm
Wichita Falls @ Texas, 7:30 pm
Springfield @ Topeka, 7:05 pm
USNTDP @ Traverse City, 7:05 pm

Saturday, December 15
Fairbanks @ Alaska, 7:00 pm
Alpena @ Marquette, 7:30 pm
Bismarck @ Southern Minnesota, 7:30 pm
North Iowa @ St. Louis, 7:15 pm
Wichita Falls @ Texas, 7:30 pm
Springfield @ Topeka, 7:05 pm
USNTDP @ Traverse City, 7:05 pm

Sunday, December 16
Fargo-Moorhead @ Alexandria, 5:00 pm

(all times local)


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