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Air of authority

02/27/2012, 2:43pm CST
By Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

St. Thomas Academy skates smoothly past South St. Paul after close first period

During the first period of St. Thomas Academy’s win over South St. Paul all signs pointed towards the Cadets cruising past the Packers.

Two wins in prior meetings? Check.

Dominating offense and shutdown defense? Check. 

A barrage of shots and an abundance of odd-man rushes? Check. 

Still, the Packers were hanging tough. The score board continued to read zeroes even while South St. Paul was being pinned in their own zone. If all went according to plan the Packers were looking to head to the lockers with a draw after one. 

The game even elicited memories of when St. Thomas Academy knocked off the Packers just 1-0 in early January. 

St. Thomas Academy ruined any and all plans for a similar game however when Andrew Commers crashed the net and put back a rebound in a hectic fray around South St. Paul goaltender Jeremy Balster.

Officially the goal was scored with one second remaining, but the in-house scoreboard showed just one tenth of a second left on the clock. Commer’s goal was as close to beating the buzzer as one can possibly be.

Up to that point, St. Thomas Academy had peppered Balster with 16 shots compared to the Packers’ three. The goal visibly deflated South St. Paul, and it audibly deflated a strong showing by the school’s student section.


St. Thomas Academy forward Andrew Commers

“I didn’t know how much time was left, I just jabbed it in,” Commers said after the game. “It was tough, they were bunching up the middle we couldn’t really get anything to the net. We had to take everything to the perimeter…  Once we got that first one in it just started flowing.” 

Commers described it perfectly. With the shutout ended, St. Thomas Academy had no trouble itself and scoring four more goals to end the Packers’ season with a 5-0 victory on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. 

Commers, a senior forward, has 20 goals this year, and in the eyes of co-head coach Greg Vannelli, he was the perfect candidate to get his team motivated during the stalemate.

“Andrew is our energy guy,” Vannelli said. “He puts himself in position to get lots of goals, lots of chances… He just energizes our team, he’s a great leader on and off the ice and I don’t know where we’d be without him.”

Since the Cadets are ranked second in the state, coming into each and every game, they play with a target on their backs, especially against conference opponents like South St. Paul. Everybody wants to beat goliath, and everyone likes an underdog. Both Commers and Vannelli agreed that those things don’t bother them, but help the team skate harder.

“At this time of the year in the playoffs, you try to have your ‘A game’ and play the way you’ve been playing all year – what got you there,” Vannelli said.

“It’s intense, we’ve got to come ready to play every game, gotta get the boys going before every game,” Commers said. “It’s just exciting, the atmosphere is always great. Playoffs, nothing better!”

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Senior forward Andrew Commers scored with just a tenth of a second left in the first period to break a scoreless battle for the Cadets, leading them to a 5-0 win over South St. Paul on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.

Despite dominating the first frame, St. Thomas Academy (22-5-0) wasn’t able to beat goaltender Jeremy Balster until Commers crashed the net and poked home a rebound.

The goal opened the floodgates for the Cadets who quickly jumped on the Packers (11-13-3) in the second period with goals by Tom Novak and Matt Perry.  After taking a three-goal lead, the Cadets shut the door on the defensive end, seemingly putting a lock on the entry to their defensive zone much less the net.

The Packers rebounded in the third by getting ten shots on net but South St. Paul still couldn’t muster a goal. St. Thomas Academy netted two more behind efforts from Henry Hart and Austin Sattler. 

The Packers were outshot 41 to 17 in the game and South St. Paul goaltender Jeremy Balster made 36 saves. David Zevnik of the Cadet’s stopped all 17 shots he faced but didn’t face much sustained pressure at any point in the game. 

St. Thomas Academy will play the winner of the No. 7-ranked Totino-Grace, Mahtomedi matchup in the Section 4A championship on Friday, March 2 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.

1. Andrew Commers, St. Thomas Academy

Commers opened up the scoring for the Cadets by crashing the net and giving a scrappy effort. The senior showed leadership by taking matters into his own hands and netting his third goal of the section playoffs. The senior forward has 38 points on the season (20 goals, 18 assists).

2. Tom Novak, St. Thomas Academy

Novak assisted on the first goal and scored the next one, giving the Cadets a death grip on the game. The senior forward was an active playmaker during the game, tallying points number 36 and 37 on the season (15 goals, 22 assists).

3. Jeremy Balster, South St. Paul

Even though he got blitzed for five goals, it wasn’t exactly his fault. Balster played a phenomenal first period, stopping point-blank attempts, odd-man-rushes and making some pretty diving saves. His 37 saves proved that without a strong performance from the senior in his last game, the score would have probably been more lopsided.

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