Before Friday’s Class 1A boys hockey state semifinal games began, there was one pretty darn vital statistic standing tall for three of the four contending teams to contemplate: St. Thomas Academy had given up only five goals in its last 13 games, and eight of those games were shutouts.
But there was also another pretty important fact to consider. St. Thomas Academy’s opponent at Xcel Energy Center was Breck, and in the quarterfinal round the Mustangs had set a new school record for goals in a season.
Performing a pregame boil-down of those numbers left one pretty strong question: How would St. Thomas Academy’s six blocks of granite fare against Breck’s rat-a-tat attack?
The answer came 14 minutes, 6 seconds into the second period when Peter Krieger scored with an assist by Tony Bretzman. Both of those boys happen to be students at St. Thomas Academy. And that was that. Final score: Cadets 1, Breck donut.
This was quite a turnaround from the quarterfinals, when STA beat Little Falls and Breck defeated Duluth Marshall, both by 7-0 scores. But as Breck coach Les Larson explained during the postgame media interrogation, this stuff’s not always easy.
“There’s no magic formula for success,” Larson said. “When two teams are evenly matched, and when you get to this level, it’s hard. You’ve got to work, you’ve got to win the battles, you’ve got to hope for a bounce, you’ve got to shoot the puck, you’ve got to crash the net, get the puck over the goal line. It’s not easy. It’s a battle.”
Both teams had plenty of chances. There were a total of 104 shots attempted in the 51-minute game, with Breck getting 25 shots on goal and St. Thomas Academy 31. But only one single puck landed in the happy zone, and that’s what was counted because that’s all that really counts.
“We didn’t score any goals,” Larson said. “You can’t win unless you score goals. We hold a very good team to one goal and we don’t win? That’s our fault. We didn’t score any goals. And we’ve got guys who can score goals. There’s the game right there, in my mind.”
HERMANTOWN 3, THIEF RIVER FALLS 2
Saturday’s 1A title matchup will be second-seeded St. Thomas Academy vs. top-seeded Hermantown. The Hawks advanced with a 3-2 victory over Thief River Falls. Jared Thomas’ second goal of the game was the difference, coming at 11:45 of the third period.
Hermantown has been the state runner-up the last two years, losing to St. Thomas Academy 5-4 in overtime last year and to Breck 2-1 two years ago. The Hawks are the only undefeated team in the state, but they will be viewed as the underdog against the Cadets.
“Isn’t that something? We’re 30-0 and we’re the underdog,” said Hermantown coach Bruce Plante, who always speaks his mind.
“To win this game tomorrow we have to play our best game of the year,” he said. “We played our best game of the year last year and lost. Two years ago we played our best game of the year and lost. We have to play our best game and hopefully it goes our way.”
Plante was asked about matchups between private Twin Cities schools and outstate public schools. His response was honest and clear.
“No it’s not, it’s not a level playing field,” he said. “Even if we could draw every kid in northern Minnesota, that’d be like 100,000 people. And they can draw from, I don’t know, how big are the cities? Eight billion people? They can get players from anywhere, everywhere.
“It’s hard for us to compete with these kinds of teams. Any small school will tell you that.… Nine out of every 10 people will be cheering for Hermantown, probably. They know we’re the underdog.”
CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
In Friday night’s games – all involving uneeded teams that beat the four seeded teams on Thursday – Hill-Murray met Moorhead and Lakeville South faced Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Stories on those games will be posted this evening.
Derek Montgomery is a talented photographer who is shooting the tournament for the Duluth News Tribune. We all know hockey can be a dangerous sport, but Derek’s experience this week sheds a whole new light on what can happen even when you’re not on the ice.
In each corner of the glass at Xcel Energy Center, small holes for camera lenses allow photographers to fire away without worrying about the glass affecting their photos. Derek was photographing Wednesday’s Class 1A quarterfinal game between Hermantown and Rochester Lourdes when … well, let’s allow Derek to explain:
“I was covering the action from one of the corner holes. They were battling for the puck and one of the Hermantown or Lourdes players came skating around behind the net, and then another player did like a soft check. It wasn’t anything violent, but a stick went right into the camera and the camera went into my face. That’s kind of where my eyebrow opened up.
“I didn’t think anything was going on, and then I turned around and these girls from Hermantown were looking at me with this ghastly look on their faces. I touched my eyebrow and there was blood everywhere.”
Derek had been sliced in the eyebrow. No stitches were required, but medical personnel at the tournament patched him up and he kept shooting.
That’s called taking one for the team.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Lots of good questions are asked via Facebook and Twitter during these tournaments, and here’s a good one from Friday: “I noticed that the referees change pucks at the TV commercial time-outs. Do you know why?”
The answer was found via a phone call from the Xcel Energy Center press box to the timing/penalty box at ice level. A bucket containing ice and pucks is kept in the box, and the officials exchange pucks in order to have a “fresh, cold” puck in use. The same thing is done during NHL games.
Asked and answered.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The first game of the day Friday started 10 minutes late because of the large crowd that was waiting to enter the arena. The puck dropped at 11:29, which brings us to a point of great discussion during this tournament.
The game schedules always look like this: First game of early session starts at 11 a.m. and second game at 1 p.m.; for second session each day, starting times are listed as 6 and 8 p.m. But …
The 1 and 6 o’clock times are actually the times when the Channel 45 television coverage begins. The actual puck drop times are 1:19 and 6:19. That’s easy to explain. It’s tougher to figure out when the second game of each session will actually start. The listed times of 1 and 8 p.m. do not always have a strong relationship with reality. In fact, a pretty common phrase among the media goes something like this: “The 8 o’clock game is starting right on time at 8:45.”
I don’t have a major issue with the starting times of the first games listed at the top of the hour; that’s pretty common in televised sports. It might be better for the MSHSL, however, to list the starting times for the second game of each session as something along the lines of “approximately 30 minutes after first game ends.”
--Lots of photos from the tournament can be seen on the MSHSL Facebook page.
--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 18 for the tournament, 44 for the winter tournaments.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 405
*Miles John has driven: 6,733
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn