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Rivalry on the rise

By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor, 01/21/12, 10:00PM CST

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Freshman scores in OT as St. Thomas Academy topples Breck in Class 1A showdown


St. Thomas Academy celebrates its 3-2 overtime victory over Breck. Photo by Helen Nelson

St. Thomas Academy versus Breck doesn’t fit the classic rivalry template.

They don’t play in the same conference or section. There is no geographic connection. They don’t have a deep history of playing meaningful games in packed arenas.
 
Based on the teams’ latest confrontation -- and their history of state Class 1A domination -- this is rapidly becoming one of the state’s great annual matchups.
 
“With these guys, yeah, it’s a rivalry,” Breck coach Les Larson said after his Mustangs lost 3-2 in overtime to the Cadets on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Breck School Anderson Ice Arena in Golden Valley. “In (Class 1A), there are a handful of great programs. I think we’re one of them, and they are certainly one of them.”
 
St. Thomas Academy has won three state Class 1A titles (in 2006, 2008 and 2011). Breck has won four small-school championships (in 2000, 2004, 2009 and 2010).

Breck's Grant Opperman, left, is upended by St. Thomas Academy's Peter Krieger. Photo by Helen Nelson

Both teams are expected to reach the state tournament again this season, as Breck entered Saturday’s matchup No. 2 and St. Thomas Academy was No. 3 in the Hub’s latest state rankings.
 
“We’re both always in the top five teams in the state, so it’s always a good back-and-forth game,” said St. Thomas Academy senior defenseman Eric Schurhamer, who scored twice against the Mustangs. “Both teams are usually really skilled. So I guess the rivalry just comes from being top teams wanting to duel it out. 
 
“See who is the best.”
 
Schurhamer and the Cadets (11-4-0) can lay claim to the Class 1A bragging rights in the metro area -- for now. While top-raked Hermantown is the other member of the “Big Three” Class 1A teams, the undefeated Hawks do not play Breck (13-2-0) or St. Thomas Academy during the regular season.
 
So that leaves Saturday’s game as the one to overanalyze in an attempt to determine who might have the best chance at winning another state title. The conclusion: these teams are so evenly matched they are separated by a razor-thin margins.
 
Both teams had numerous scoring chances and solid goaltending. The biggest advantage went to St. Thomas Academy in the overtime period, when it outshot Minnesota 8-2.
 
“They are a very good hockey team, and so are we,” Larson said. “We’re pretty evenly matched. The one thing someone brought up was, ‘Who is going to get better between now and March?’ 
 
“We’ll see.”

Cadets drop the 'Hammer' on Breck


St. Thomas Academy senior defenseman Eric Schurhamer scored twice and added an assist in the Cadets' 3-2 overtime victory over Breck. Photo by Helen Nelson

Eric Schurhamer has been a workhorse defense for St. Thomas Academy since he was a sophomore.

Schurhamer has been through the wars, helping the Cadets win a state Class 1A championship last season and playing against most of the state’s top players regardless of school size for two years in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League.
 
A senior who has accepted a scholarship offer from Maine, it would be understandable if Schurhamer’s considerable game reached a plateau this season. After all, how much better can the kid get?
 
“He’s just a stud,” Cadets coach Greg Vannelli said about Schurhamer. “When we played Shattuck-St. Mary’s, he was the best guy on the ice, I thought.
 
“I think Maine has got a nice player coming. He’s just been getting better every game.”
 
Schurhamer displayed his knack for threading shots from the point through traffic against Breck, scoring twice in the 3-2 overtime victory. He also added an assist on the winning goal. Schurhamer has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) this season. Only forwards Alex Johnson and Peter Krieger, with 22 each, have more.

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Freshman Tommy Novak scored with 1 minute, 21 seconds left in overtime as No. 3-ranked St. Thomas Academy beat No. 2 Breck 3-2 on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Breck School Anderson Ice Arena in Golden Valley in a highly anticipated matchup of state Class 1A powerhouses.

Novak’s goal came on a one-timer from the high slot after taking a pass from the corner from Peter Krieger.
 
St. Thomas Academy (11-4-0) is the defending state small-school champion. Breck (13-2-0) won back-to-back state titles in 2009 and 2010.
 
Cadets senior defenseman Eric Schurhamer scored two goals, including one on a low shot from the point with 7:26 left in the third period to force the 8-minute extra period. 
 
Wes Iverson grabbed a loose puck and fired a shot under the crossbar, and Matt Colford scored a shorthanded goal on a pretty feed from Grant Opperman as Breck rallied from an early 1-0 first period deficit.
 
Schurhamer opened the scoring 4 minutes, 39 seconds into the first period when he drilled a low shot from the point through traffic and past Mustangs goaltender Jack Kenney.
 
David Zevnik made 26 saves for St. Thomas Academy. Kenny finished with 33 saves, including seven in the overtime period as Breck was outshot 8-2.

1. Eric Schurhamer, St. Thomas Academy
The senior defenseman scored two goals, assisted on the winner in overtime and was his usual rock solid self in the defensive zone, where he cleared the front of the net with authority and moved the puck out of the zone efficiently. 

Novak is a freshman, but he certainly isn’t timid. His call for the puck in overtime could be heard throughout the arena, and his one-timer for the winning goal was perfectly executed.
 
Kenney made 33 saves, including seven in overtime when he stopped several quality scoring chances. He had little chance on any of the Cadets’ goals, especially the two scored by Schurhamer, as they were long-range shots that found their way through heavy traffic.

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com