St. Thomas Academy's Matt Perry opens the scoring for the Cadets in their 2-0 victory over Breck. Photo by Loren Nelson
As time was winding down in St. Thomas Academy’s 2-1 win over Breck in the Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinals on Thursday, Dec. 27, a Mustangs player cut into the Cadets zone and tried to throw something on net in hopes of knotting the score.
Instead, the two St. Thomas players surrounding him – one a forward, the other a defenseman – teamed to lock up his stick and send the shot harmlessly to the netting above the goal.
The Breck skater glided behind the net and gave a subtle look to the Ridder Arena rafters in a “what will it take” manner.
That lack of scoring gratification is nothing new for opponents of the Cadets, who pride themselves on playing disciplined, defensive hockey. Frustrating the other team’s offensive stars isn’t a once in a while thing.
St. Thomas Academy defenseman T.J. Samec loses his stick but still manages to block a shot. Photo by Loren Nelson
It’s a habit.
“We really take pride in our defense as a team,” said forward Matt Perry, who opened the scoring in the second period and played a huge role in the St. Thomas Academy's defensive scheme. “It’s our attitude.”
Attitude is key in the St. Thomas Academy's program, as state titles and endless success have led to expectations of similar results every year. And while the Cadets may have been known more for their wicked offensive attack in the past, the focus really seemed to shift – at least to spectators outside of the program – after last year’s state tournament.
Several key pieces are back in the defensive core for St. Thomas Academy from that championship team, including goaltender David Zevnik and big blue-liner Jack Dougherty.
Scary, especially when it could be argued that the Cadets are better defensively this year than they were last season.
“The way it's gone this year, in the first 10 games or so, we’ve been really good on team defense,” co-head coach Greg Vannelli said. “We’ve just been giving up one or two goals a game. We’re a low-scoring type team. The really good games we’ve had this year against top-five teams have been all one-goal, 2-1 types of game.
“We may end up being the team that does only get a couple goals, but wins the close games.”
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff
St. Thomas Academy broke open a scoreless game with two quick second-period goals and held on for a 2-1 victory against Breck in Thursday’s second Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinal at Ridder Arena.
The Cadets, ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, got a goal from Matt Perry at 5 minutes, 4 seconds then went ahead 2-0 as Christiano Versich scored on a power play 1 minute and 46 seconds later.
No. 4 Breck (5-2) cut the lead in half on Jack O’Connor’s goal with 2:24 to play in the third period but could not score the equalizer.
Two-time defending Class 1A state champion St. Thomas Academy improved to 8-1-0 and advance to play Hill-Murray in the Gold Division final at 8 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena.
The Cadets edged the Pioneers 2-1 on Dec. 15.
1. Jack Dougherty, St. Thomas Academy
The big defender figured in on the scoresheet with an assist, but his real impact was felt in the defensive zone and on the power play. He controlled his own end, locking up the slot while Breck players struggled to find any space. On the man-advantage, he controlled the puck well, took smart shots and put the pressure on Breck’s penalty kill.
2. David Zevnik, St. Thomas Academy
Zevnik wasn’t tested often, but when he was he stood on his head. That’s becoming a consistent thing for Zevnik, though, and his 17 methodical saves and single goal-against will boost his numbers even higher than they currently are.
3. Henry Johnson, Breck
In a game where Breck spent most of the time in its own end, it’s only fitting that Johnson was the Mustangs’ best player. If not for Johnson’s steady, calm play in the pipes, Breck doesn’t have a chance to tie the contest late.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff