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Josh French of Hill-Murray and Jack Ahcan of Burnsville fought for control of the puck Thursday in the Schwan Cup hockey tournament.

Mixed and matched with different teammates for the season opener against Burnsville, Hill-Murray's recently assembled top line showed in Thursday's rematch that they belong together.

Center Josh French and wingers Zach LaValle and Mitch Slattery combined for four goals in the Pioneers' 7-2 romp against the Blaze in the Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinal at Ridder Arena.

Hill Murray will face two-time defending Class 1A state champion St. Thomas Academy in the Gold Division final at 8 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena.

The Cadets edged the Pioneers 2-1 on Dec. 15.

In Thursday's semifinal victory, French and Slattery each scored as the Pioneers, ranked second in Class 2A, opened up a 3-0 lead against No. 10 Burnsville in the first period. LaValle gave his team a 5-0 lead with two goals scored less than two minutes apart in the second period.

This was the fourth time in the past five games the Pioneers (10-1) have scored six or more goals -- about the same span of time the top line has been united. Hill-Murray previously defeated Burnsville 2-1 on Nov. 29.

"It's encouraging," Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. "We wanted to see where our game has taken us, and I was proud of the guys early. We held a pretty good team down."

Burnsville (6-4) missed its best chance to fight back during the second period on a point-blank backhander from Cole Borchardt. Pioneers goaltender John Dugas held Burnsville without a goal until the third period.

"Our effort wasn't there the first two periods," Blaze coach Janne Kivihalme said. "You give a team like that time and space and they will capitalize on it."

Lechner credited his guys for rising to the challenge of high-level hockey during the Christmas break. The Pioneers started strong as French scored at 2:48 of the first period. A goal from Slattery at 9:36 and another from Willie Brown at 15:18 kept the momentum.

"We came out right away and got a lead and just tried to keep it going," Slattery said. "It was nice to see that we improved on what we did earlier this season."

St. Thomas Academy 2, Breck 1: For the Cadets, a big game means a tight game.

St. Thomas Academy (8-1) broke open a scoreless game with two quick second-period goals but was forced to sweat out a one-goal victory against the Mustangs in the second Gold Division semifinal.

"We've had a lot of one- or two-goal games against the best teams," Cadets co-head coach Greg Vannelli said. "We've played solid team defense and gotten good goaltending."

The Cadets, ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, got a goal from Matt Perry at 5:04 of the middle period, then went ahead 2-0 as Christiano Versich scored on the power play 1:46 later.

Breck (5-2), No. 4 among the small schools, cut the lead on Jack O'Connor's goal with 2:24 left in the period.

"We told the kids not to give up and they didn't," Breck coach Les Larson said.

 

 

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