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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/9/2013 7:29:43 PM

By Luke Sleeper
John’s Journal Correspondent

Edina solidified itself as the standard for boys high school hockey in Minnesota Saturday night by winning its seventh state championship since 1969. The Hornets, who entered the title game with a record of 24-6-0, relied on a deep group of forwards and stellar goaltending during its championship season. After taking care of Lakeville North 9-3 in the quarterfinals and escaping with a one-goal victory over Duluth East in the semifinals, Edina had to face the tournament’s No.1 seed, Hill-Murray, a hockey powerhouse in its own right.

The Pioneers came out strong, taking an early lead with a goal by junior forward Josh French. The goal was one of the only mistakes made by Edina goalie Willie Benjamin, who brought his A game. Benjamin stopped 25 of Hill-Murray’s 27 shots.

“Willie Benjamin is the reason we won this championship,” coach Curt Giles said. “He’s probably one of the most underrated goalies in the state; our team was great, but Willie is the reason we made it this far.”

Dylan Malmquist got the scoring going for Edina; the sophomore winger darted in with the puck from the mid-line and wrapped it around a diving John Dugas for the goal. Junior Cullen Munson scored twice for the Hornets, the first coming after a Parker Reno shot bounced off the leg pad of Dugas with Munson in perfect position for the rebound goal, giving his team a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

A couple minutes into the second period, senior forward Bo Brauer chased a puck into the corner boards and flung a backhanded pass to the slot and an open Munson, seizing momentum that the Hornets would carry on to eventual victory. Senior Anthony Walsh completed the scoring for Edina after intercepting a pass in his own zone, taking it the length of the ice and scoring a breakaway goal.

The Hornets came out with an aggressiveness that Hill-Murray forward Willie Brown and coach Bill Lechner said they might not have been ready for.

“They came at us really strong right away and I don’t think we’ve seen that kind of intensity and aggressiveness in the playoffs,” said Lechner.

“It felt like they had 100 guys on their bench,” Brown said. “Every line that came out on the ice came at us really, really fast.”

The Pioneers did their best to come back; French scored early in the third period to cut the deficit to two, though the score would hold until the final buzzer sounded. Five-year varsity stalwart and Mr. Hockey candidate Zach LaValle had two assists for Hill-Murray in his final game. With two consecutive state championship losses, an emotional Lechner told the media, “It’s just a game.”

“It’s really hard, especially for high school kids, to understand that there’s more you can tell about a team, about a game, than what it says on the scoreboard,” he said. “We’ve had some tough losses these past couple years. It might not be tomorrow, or a week, or a month from now, but at some point the sun will come up and we will all realize how lucky we are to have shared these experiences and memories.”

ST. THOMAS ACADEMY COMPLETES THREE-PEAT

It certainly wasn’t as easy as its first two state tournament games, but St. Thomas Academy found a way to defeat Hermantown on Saturday and win its third consecutive Class 1A state hockey title. After breezing through their first two games by outscoring their opponents 23-0, the Cadets spent much of the championship game behind. It took three St. Thomas goals in the final period to come out on top, including a power-play goal by sophomore winger Tommy Novak with just 6.1 seconds left.

When the Cadets took an early lead in the first period, it appeared as though things would be all-St. Thomas. After Hawks goalie Adam Smith lost his stick in an attempt to deflect a shot, senior forward Matt Perry seized the opportunity to give his team the 1-0 lead. Hermantown responded nearly a minute later, when Herb Brooks Award winner Chris Benson backhanded in a goal.

Benson’s goal was the first scored on St. Thomas in the playoffs and the first scored on senior goaltender David Zevnik in more than 300 minutes of play.

In the second period, Hermantown grabbed all the momentum and nearly all of the support from Xcel Energy Center fans who were not seated in the St. Thomas Academy section. Back-to-back goals by Scott Wasbotten and Ryan Kero gave the Hawks a 3-1 advantage.
Perry answered with his second goal of the day, but Hermantown’s Lane LeGarde followed it up by finishing off rebound to reclaim a two-goal lead.

Perry’s day was not over, though; the senior scored his third goal of the game to open the final period. Co-coach Greg Vannelli praised the unlikely hero afterwards, stressing the idea that great teams must rely on veteran leadership.

“Matt is not typically a big scorer for us, his job is to be a stopper against other teams’ top lines,” Vannelli said. “It’s nice to have talented young guys like we do, but in big games like this you need to rely on your seniors (like Perry).”

Fellow senior Henry Hart scored minutes later to tie the score 4-4, but it was the talented young Novak -- whose talents Perry called “limitless” -- who scored the game-winner with just 6.1 left on the game clock. The Cadets were on the power play after a controversial series of calls.

Before the Hawk players could blink, a dog pile of St. Thomas skaters were celebrating on the ice. For Hermantown, it’s the third consecutive season that has ended in a title game loss to St. Thomas. For a frustrated coach Bruce Plante, it was also the worst.
“This was probably the most difficult loss that I’ve ever had in my life,” the longtime coach said.

St. Thomas completed its run in Class 1A with its fifth state championship and a 28-2-2 season. Next year, the Cadets will compete in Class 2A and be a member of Section 3.



 


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