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Cadets gun down Flyers

By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/07/12, 1:00PM CST

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Defending champ St. Thomas Academy eases past Little Falls in Class 1A tourney opener


St. Thomas Academy senior Andrew Commers fights for position with Little Falls' defenseman Spencer Fenske in front of Flyers' goaltender Michael Stumpf. Photo by Helen Nelson

To be fair, St. Thomas Academy’s 7-0 drubbing of Little Falls was a good two hours removed from the first period when Cadets coach Greg Vannelli made a postgame statement: His team didn’t play well in the opening 17 minutes.

Maybe he forgot that the Cadets scored 38 seconds into the game, eventually took a 3-0 lead and outshot the Flyers 20-3.

Still reason to nit-pick, coach?

Vannelli grinned.

“Coaches just look at things differently,” he said. “We were certainly happy with being ahead, but coaches are never satisfied.”

No. 2 seed STA scored on the power play, shorthanded and even strength in the first period and poured it on from there. The Cadets finished with a 42-15 shots on goal advantage over the unseeded Flyers, who were usually second to every corner and open space of the Xcel Energy Center ice.

“I applaud our guys; the effort was there the whole time,” Flyers senior Joey Hanowski said. “I think we were a little over-matched.”

It was evident from the drop of the puck, and Cadets freshman Tom Novak left little doubt when he scored a power-play goal before many fans settled into their seats. The state tournament newcomer tallied a second goal six minutes into the second and assisted on a pair of goals. Andrew Commers assisted on both of Novak’s goals, added another late in the second and scored twice.

For all that offense, the win was STA’s 12th straight while allowing no more than one goal.

“I like that fact better than scoring goals,” Vannelli said.

-- Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune 

Freshman Novak a star for St. Thomas Academy

Back in November, Tom Novak was so far down St. Thomas Academy’s depth chart that you needed to turn it over to locate his name.

By mid-March, the crafty freshman is front and center.

With a star. A big, gold star.

In the No. 2-seeded and No. 2-state ranked Cadets’ 7-0 victory over Little Falls (19-10-0) on Wednesday afternoon in a state Class A quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Novak paced the team’s first line with two goals and two assists, including the game-winner just 38 seconds into the contest.

All that from a player who started the season on the JV squad.

“He’s just got that natural gift to see the ice and it was more exposed as we watched him play,” St. Thomas Academy co-coach Greg Vannelli said, calling Novak’s considerable hockey prowess a “natural gift.”


When the season began, defending Class 1A state champion St. Thomas Academy (24-5-0) was looking for players to replace its graduated top line of A.J. Reid, Matt Kroska and Zach Schroeder. That trio powered the Cadets to last year’s state title, with a li

When the season began, defending Class 1A state champion St. Thomas Academy (24-5-0) was looking for players to replace its graduated top line of A.J. Reid, Matt Kroska and Zach Schroeder. That trio powered the Cadets to last year’s state title, with a little help from Andrew Commers, who scored a handful of big playoff goals.

Commers and longtime linemate Peter Krieger were clearly going to be part of the solution in their senior seasons. But finding a third player to complement them was key.

Novak? He wasn’t even an afterthought.

Early in the season, the Vannellis went with size and ruggedness at the spot. But the line struggled to score goals, so much so that Greg Vannelli called them his “checking line” during the Schwan Cup Gold Division tournament. They remained effective defensively, but the Vannellis wanted more offense.

“The first line started struggling scoring, so the chemistry wasn’t working right,” Vannelli said.

Meanwhile, Novak had jumped up off the JV’s first line to the varsity’s first. From there he took a more regular third-line shift.

“He was just making guys around him better, so we thought, ‘Is it possible that this kid could actually help our first line?’ ” Vannelli said.

Vannelli gave the kid a chance in a Jan. 7 game at Mahtomedi – and hasn’t looked back.

Since placing Novak with the two seniors, the Cadets’ top line has been blazing. In 21 games, St. Thomas Academy is 19-2-0, losing only to Hill-Murray and prep school powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s. Novak, Commers and Krieger have combined for 46 goals and 118 points in those 21 games.

“Novak’s making them better players,” smiled Vannelli. “They’re not frustrated because when they’re open, they know the puck is going to be there.”

“They were pretty accepting,” Novak agreed, likening Commers and Krieger to his big brothers. “But it was tough getting used to the speed (of the game). The first game I played with them, it was very fast.”

Novak, who played Bantam hockey with the Wisconsin Fire last winter, shows an uncommon calmness on the ice for such a young player. He doesn’t panic with the puck, taking his time to find an open teammate with the pass.

“Having patience with the puck,” Novak described as his greatest strength.

Not to mention having patience with his progression up the depth chart. Because Novak has been just what the Cadets were waiting for.

-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Defense first for Schurhamer and Cadets


Eric Schurhamer (5) and Tom Novak (15) combined on a power play goal for St. Thomas Academy Wednesday afternoon. Schurhamer anchors the Cadets' defense and has committed to the University of Maine. Photo by Helen Nelson.

Inconsistency is always an issue for high schoolers.

One day, a team can be up, and the next down.

One shift is brilliant, the next a dud.

For Eric Schurhamer and his fellow St. Thomas Academy defensemen, a shutdown effort on defense is as expected as snow in a Minnesota winter.

To illustrate this, look no farther than the box scores from the Cadet’s season, up to their 7-0 win over Little Falls in the state tournament Class 1A quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Since a Jan. 26 loss to Hill-Murray, St. Thomas Academy hasn’t given up more than a single goal in any game. That’s 13 games in a row, a spotless 13-0 record and eight shutouts for those counting at home.

“More than one goal in a game, I’m really proud of that,” Cadet’s coach Greg Vannelli said after the win. “I like that in fact, better than scoring goals because you can count on team defense, but you can’t count on scoring four, five, six goals a game.”

In the middle of the effort is Schurhamer, the lone defeneman among this year's 10 Mr. Hockey finalists.

Schurhamer was noticed by Little Falls star forward Joey Hanowski, who quickly discovered he had no room operate in the Wednesday, March 7, game.

Hanowski entered the game with 57 points, an average of nearly two points per game, but was held scoreless by the Cadets while managing five shots on goal.

“Yeah their ‘D’ is tough,” Hanowski said. “We were trying to get across that blue line to cut to the middle and usually that’s been our bread and butter …

“We tried a lot of things at the end, we were just trying to poke those through. I think number five [Schurhamer] is going to Maine, I mean, they got some high-caliber guys on their defensive corps. They’re big, they play good gap control and it’s hard to get around them.”

Schurhamer and company take pride in getting things done on the defensive end, even if playing on offense can be more entertaining.

“I love my plus-minus,” said Schurhamer, who scored a second-period power play goal and finished plus-3. “I hate going minus in games but I love taking care of my defensive end first, that’s obviously the biggest thing for any defenseman...

“I love the offensive zone too, it’s where you can be creative and free and all that good stuff. First and most important though I’d say would be defensive zone.”

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

St. Thomas Academy freshman Tom Novak scored a power-play goal just 38 seconds into Wednesday's Class 1A quarterfinal against Little Falls to set a 7-0 rout in motion at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Novak and teammate Andrew Commers each scored twice as the defending state champion and No. 2 seed Cadets (24-5-0) moved on without much trouble.

Novak’s two goals give him four in the postseason. His 44 points rank him fourth on the team.

After Novak’s first goal, the Cadets got two tallies from Commers in the first period, the second one coming shorthanded.

Henry Hart kept the Cadets on track by snapping a wrist shot home at 2:03 of the second period. Novak scored on a rebound and defenseman Eric Schurhamer, one of 10 Mr. Hockey finalists, tallied a power-play goal later in the period.

St. Thomas Academy has allowed five goals in the past 13 games. Little Falls goaltender Michael Stumpf stopped 35 shots in the loss.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune

1. Tom Novak, St. Thomas Academy
Only a freshman, Novak looked like a grizzled state tournament veteran, scoring twice and adding a pair of assists. His first goal came just 38 seconds in when he planted himself in front on the power play, then he scored in the second period when he trailed an odd-man rush to finish off a rebound. Simply put, Novak showed great awareness for a young player, and he was rewarded on the score sheet.

2. Andrew Commers, St. Thomas Academy
Commers led all players with five points, including two first-period goals to set the early tone. Commers flashed some great speed in transition, showed off a quick release on his second goal and an all-around ability to take the game over by limiting the Flyers’ top line to almost nothing all afternoon.

3. Peter Krieger, St. Thomas Academy
Krieger may be buried on the stat sheet with only two points, but his game was sound. He won 12 draws, set up the Cadets’ shorthanded goal and absolutely buzzed around offensive zone. Krieger’s hockey sense was maybe most impressive, though, as he created tons of turnovers, got the puck to his speedy wingers quickly and always seemed to be in the right spot.

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff writer

Photo Gallery

Hub Prediction

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Regular Season Leaders

Section Playoffs Leaders

How they've fared

 Section 6A Playoffs

 Section 4A Playoffs

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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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