Alexandria head boys’ hockey coach Scott Woods will be the first to admit that the level of competition was much different on Thursday night, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t happy with how his team bounced back from an 8-4 loss to Moorhead in the season opener.
The Cardinals were caught on their heels from the get-go against the 14th-ranked Spuds on Tuesday night. Moorhead jumped on them 4-0 after one period before Alexandria settled down and played them even over the final two frames.
Two nights later, the Cardinals were the ones who took an early lead and never looked back. Alexandria jumped all over Prairie Centre on Thursday behind first-period goals from Jack Wensman, Brady Bast, Tom Schmidt and Patrick Leary. It was exactly the kind of start this team was looking for to erase the memories of an ugly opener.
“I think it was totally different competition and I think we were on the other side of it where we were the team attacking most of the time,” Woods said. “That’s probably going to be the biggest factor for anyone who was here watching, it’s two different caliber teams. But I think we played a little better, played a little sharper.”
Alexandria wasn’t going to give Prairie Centre any hope in this one. Wensman and Bast scored less than three minutes into the game. Near the 10-minute mark, Schmidt and Leary scored less than a minute apart in a game that felt all but over after 17 minutes.
“We were pretty excited,” Wensman said about getting back out on the ice after giving up eight goals against the Spuds. “Moorhead is a pretty good team, and it was good to start against them, very fast paced. That led into this game where we got a bunch of goals in the first period.”
The offensive firepower through the first two games is what this team was most excited about after Thursday night. Woods came into the season a bit concerned with where his offense was at. He said he knew he had guys who were capable of scoring, but it was a matter of finishing off chances on a more consistent basis than they did a year ago.
So far, so good on that front. Toby Helgeson scored almost seven minutes into the second period to give Alexandria its ninth goal of the season. Perhaps most encouraging was seeing five different players score and eight total players finish with at least a point against the North Stars. Helgeson led the way with three points after adding two assists, while Bast, Leary, Wensman, Schmidt and Matt Resch each added two points apiece.
“Offensively, at least for the first two games, it seems like we have a lot more firepower,” senior goaltender Ben Allen said. “Defensively, we’re getting there. We need to do a little work, but offensively, we’ve really got it going a lot faster this year.”
Allen just smiled and shook his head when asked how it felt to post an 19-save shutout after the way things went against Moorhead.
“It really felt great,” he said. “Since we put four up in the first period, it was just a relief to know we could score and put up good numbers.”
It wasn’t always easy for Allen. He had to stop a flurry of shots in the opening period, thanks in large part to Alexandria spending eight minutes in the penalty box. The Cardinals had to fend off two 5-on-3 advantages for Prairie Centre on a night when Alexandria took nine penalties compared to one for the North Stars. That’s something they know can’t happen against better teams in conference and section play.
“A team like Willmar for example, if we take penalties like we did tonight with their power play, we’ll be in trouble,” Woods said. “Some of it is just bad habits. I had a hard time with some of the calls. I didn’t think they were great, but I’m the first to tell our guys when they take penalties that they shouldn’t. Some of it is that and some of it is just bad habits, things they think they can get away with that we’re trying so hard to get away from.”
Woods said some of those penalties have to do with the fact that a lot of these guys have gotten stronger through off-season workouts. He admits that there is a fine line between playing physical and playing smart. Alexandria needed to be physical against a strong team like Moorhead. The key will be harnessing that style of play to make sure they don’t put themselves at a disadvantage in closer games.
“We have a big team,” Woods said. “Sometimes they’re just trying to give a little push and the next thing you know, the guy’s down. They have to realize that and be smarter about how they take penalties.”
That was one of the only complaints the team had after an otherwise strong performance against Prairie Centre. This team has lofty goals for the rest of this winter. The Cardinals remember exactly what it felt like to get knocked out of the playoffs in the first round after a 4-3 loss to Willmar this past February.
Woods said he thinks that motivated a lot of the returning players in the off-season. He had almost perfect attendance from his varsity players in the summer program. It’s a group that wants nothing more than to get back to playing for a section championship. These first two games have given them a good indication of what they need to work on to get there.
“I think we have the right pieces if we play well and do the things we need to,” Woods said. “We got to be a little better defensively in our end and not give up opportunities. Obviously, we didn’t give up as many tonight, but we were playing Prairie Cenre and not Moorhead. It’s a different caliber of team. All in all, we do believe that if we continue to grow and get better throughout the year, we’re definitely expecting to contend for the title again.”