The Alexandria Blizzard got off to a slow start that it couldn’t recover from in its much anticipated game against the Russian Red Stars on Monday night.
Russia jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening period and went on to win 5-1 in front of an announced crowd of 1,166 fans at the Runestone Community Center. That set a new Blizzard single-game attendance record on a night when fans were excited to see how Alexandria could hang with an all-star team from Russia’s top junior league.
The Red Stars took advantage of some early mistakes to grab the lead. Roman Lubimov scored on his team’s first power play of the game before his team added another goal on a breakaway by Yuri Skvortsov after a Blizzard turnover. They then caught a break when the puck deflected off the stick of a Blizzard defender and into the net for a 3-0 lead.
“I think the first one was a very skilled play from behind the goal,” Alexandria head coach Doc DelCastillo said. “The second one was a breakaway. That’s our own fault for giving up a breakaway. The third one, that’s a territorial goal where you’re in your own zone and a couple bounces here or there and it ends up in the back of your own net. If we were going to win this game, that’s not the start that we needed.”
The Blizzard calmed down after the initial flurry and played right with Russia over the final two periods. Zach Woodman played well despite seeing limited minutes during the regular season for Alexandria. He took over in goal in the second period and allowed just one goal, while racking up 16 saves.
Down 4-0, Alexandria gave its home crowd something to cheer about early in the third period. Thomas Williams charged the net on a shot from the perimeter and gathered in a rebound before putting in a backhand on an open net. He grabbed the front of his USA jersey and celebrated in front of the fans before his teammates mobbed him along the boards.
“It was definitely a great feeling,” Williams said. “But mostly it gave the team a little boost, and we had things rolling for a little while. We knew we were going to have to chip away at the lead and get one early if we were going to get back in the game. We did it, but we just had some plays that didn’t end up going our way, and they end up getting another one.”
Russia’s final goal of the night came shorthanded after the Red Stars’ Stanislav Zabornikov was given a game misconduct after fighting the Blizzard’s Rodney Lalonde with a taped hand. Alexandria had the five-minute power play to work with but Russia quickly scored its fifth goal of the night to erase any idea of a Blizzard comeback.
It marked the first win of the Red Stars’ tour this winter. The junior all-star team, consisting of mostly 19-21 year olds, will play eight exhibition games over a three-week period. Included in that are six games against Division I teams across the United States. They dropped their first game against the University of North Dakota 5-1 on December 17.
“We know that all the teams are very strong,” head coach Alexander Semak said through a translator. “We understand that this is the best experience for our players to bring back to Russia. We will try to do our best to beat them.”
The Alexandria players came into the night knowing they would have their hands full. The Russian roster was noticeably bigger almost everywhere on the ice and had speed to go with it.
“I think they’re definitely bigger and more skilled than what we normally see in this league,” Williams said. “But for the most part, we gave them a good game…I thought that was the best we’ve played all year and the guys just gave it their all.”
That kind of effort is what DelCastillo was looking for out of his team. He said before the game that he wanted his players and the community to enjoy an opportunity to go up against a talented team like the Red Stars. Along those lines, the night was exactly what he expected.
“I think it was a great game,” DelCastillo said. “I think our staff did an unbelievable job of running a real well-run operation tonight…I think the community enjoyed it. I had a lot of people come up to me afterward and say, ‘What a great experience. That was a lot of fun.’ Outside of wins and losses, it’s just a fun night to be a part of.”