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St. Thomas Academy's T.J. Samec (3) and Tommy Novak (15) celebrated Novak's goal in the second period.

St. Thomas Academy defenseman Jack Dougherty acknowledged that Thursday's game against defending Class 2A state champion Benilde-St. Margaret's meant something special.

Winners of the past two Class 1A titles and four in the past seven seasons, St. Thomas will opt-up to play the big schools starting next season. The Cadets made certain they belong, clamping down on the Red Knights' explosive offense throughout a 3-1 victory.

"With us moving up to Class 2A next year, it was a good turning point in the season to show we belong up there with the big boys," Dougherty said.

As in victories over 2A powers Hill-Murray and Edina, St. Thomas won with strong defense and the goaltending of David Zevnik.

Scoring two goals before the game was five minutes old gave the Cadets a nice cushion.

The Cadets (No. 1 in Class 1A at 11-1-1) have allowed more than two goals in a game just once this season.

St. Thomas forward Alex Johnson gave the Cadets a 1-0 lead 49 seconds into the game. Defenseman Tony Bretzman made it 2-0 at 4:02 and forced Benilde-St. Margaret's (No. 3 in Class 2A) to call a timeout.

"They don't give up a whole lot," Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly said. "When they get two, you have to get three, and that's a long climb."

Red Knights freshman defenseman Peter Heimbold scored his first varsity goal and cut the lead to 2-1 at 3:49 of the second period. But it was the only time Benilde-St. Margaret's (9-4), which came in averaging 5.75 goals per game, could beat Zevnik.

"There's no one better," Dougherty said. "He's the best goalie in the state, and there's not a doubt in mind. He gives us confidence."

Cadets forward Tommy Novak gave his team momentum on a rebound goal with 36.8 seconds to play in the second period.

"That goal was a back-breaker," Pauly said. "When you're playing really good teams, critical mistakes at critical moments add up, and we've done that too much this year."

The Cadets were without second-leading scorer Christiano Versich, who participated in warm-ups but did not play due to a lower body injury.

 

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