Max Coatta is buried in a sea of Skippers along the boards after scoring the winning goal in Minnetonka's 3-1 win over St. Thomas Academy. Photo by Katherine Matthews
St. Thomas Academy’s game is all about speed and finesse. Give the Cadets’ forwards an inch, maybe less, and they’ll strain the local power grid by lighting up every bulb on the scoreboard.
Minnetonka? These are not the barnstorming, run-and-gun Skippers of years past.
This is a team built more out of the mold of Jimmy Schuldt, a hard-as-nails senior defenseman who protects the Skippers’ net the way a timberwolf guards a scrap of meat.
“We were an offensive juggernaut last year, and this year it’s a total 180,” Minnetonka senior goaltender Paul Ciaccio said. “We’ve got guys like (senior Tommy Vannelli) and (Schuldt) backing up the defense. There are going to be a lot of gritty one-goal wins, just like today.
“It will be a grind this year. A lot different than what we’ve had in the past.”
One constant at Minnetonka, though, no matter the style of play, is Max Coatta scoring clutch goals.
Minnetonka's Max Coatta needs just six goals to tie the school's career goal-scoring record. Photo by Katherine Matthews
The precocious "Hat-trick Kid" who burst on the scene as freshman with a knack for finding the net, is a senior now. He’s a little bigger and a lot stronger. He’s also added an extra gear, which just leads to more big goals.
Coatta scored on a 2-on-1 rush in the third period – banking a shot in off the crossbar –to help propel No. 3 Minnetonka past two-time defending state Class 1A champion St. Thomas Academy 3-1 on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Pagel Activity Center.
“That was a phenomenal shot,” St. Thomas Academy coach Greg Vannelli said. “He hit the pipe just perfect.
“He hit a perfect shot when he had to, what can you say?”
The 2-on-1 was a rarity in a game notable for its clogged neutral zone. When either team did manage to get control the puck in the offensive zone, the shots were mostly limited to the outside. Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said he counted one odd-man rush allowed by the unbeaten and No. 3-ranked Skippers (5-0-0).
“We tried something new tonight, with clogging up the neutral zone,” Urick said. “We made sure we had a forward back at all times, taking away their speed in the neutral zone. For the most part our guys did well and kind of bottled them up.”
Meanwhile, the two-time defending state Class 1A champion Cadets’ lone glaring defensive breakdown was the one that cost them the game.
“Our D went up with the play,” Greg Vannelli said. “Typically in a 1-1 game you try to stay a little more conservative still. But he just made a decision, a quick decision and that’s how it turned into a 2-on-1.”
With the game hanging in the balance, Coatta made a decision, too. To shoot.
“(Ramsey) did a great job of going to the net,” Coatta said. “And he made the defenseman choose either me or him. And I just let ’er go.”
The goal was the Coatta’s sixth of the season and 66th of his career. Only Urick, with 67, and Jack Paul, with 72, have scored more goals for the Skippers. Coatta's 142 career points is second to Paul's 144.
“I was hoping he wasn’t going to try to pass it,” Urick said. “Ramsey was on his backhand, and the backchecker was catching Ramsey.
“So I was hoping (Coatta) would fire that one. That was a howitzer.
“Four years he’s been doing that.”
St. Thomas Academy defenseman T.J. Samec works the puck from behind the Cadets' goal. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Senior forward Max Coatta scored with 7 minutes, 7 seconds remaining to boost No. 3 Minnetonka past No. 1 (Class 1A) St. Thomas Academy 3-1 on Thursday, Dec. 6 in a defensive slugfest at the Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.
Coatta, a four-year varsity regular and a goal scorer from Day 1, raced down the right side and, with junior Jack Ramsey on his left, fired a shot over Cadets’ goaltender David Zevnik’s catching glove, off the crossbar and down into the net.
The loud clang that signaled Coatta’s goal touched off a wild celebration in the Skippers’ student section.
Defenseman Tommy Vannelli added an empty net goal with 36 seconds left on a 180-foot flip shot that sailed toward the rafters then bounced several times before skidding into the net.
Minnetonka (5-0-0) opened the scoring, as senior defenseman Joe Lindberg slammed home a rebound shot on a power play just 3:54 into the opening period.
Defense and goaltending took over from there, as both teams clogged the neutral zone and both goaltenders -- Paul Ciaccio made 24 saves for the Skippers, and Zevnik had 17 stops -- were sharp.
St. Thomas Academy (2-1-0), the two-time defending state Class 1A champion, tied it at 1 in the third on a rising shot from the point through heavy traffic by senior defenseman T.J. Samec. The power-play goal came 7:39 into the final period.
1. Max Coatta, Minnetonka
Don't look now, but the kid they call “Moose” isn’t a kid anymore. Coatta, a senior who has been scoring big goals since his freshman year, banked home the game-winner off the crossbar in the third period, a laser shot that standout goaltender David Zevnik – or any goaltender, for that matter – had no chance of stopping.
2. Jimmy Schuldt, Minnetonka
The rock of a defenseman remained unrattled despite taking on wave after wave of talented Cadets’ forwards. Schuldt’s breakout passes helped the Skippers routinely escape their zone, and he was his usual physical self while managing to stay out of the penalty box.
St. Thomas Academy sophomore Tom Novak. Photo by Katherine Matthews