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Duluth Denfeld's Reid Lemker (14) watches a puck sail past his stick as Duluth Marshall goalie Caden Flaherty gets into position to make a save. Flaherty finished with 29 shots to lead the Hilltoppers back to the State tournament. Photos by Dave Harwig

Duluth Marshall goaltender Caden Flaherty is the first one to admit that he learned a lot from watching last year’s Hilltopper seniors operate, even if part of his observation came in the 2012 7A title game.

Flaherty was on the bench in that contest while then-senior Christian Coffman turned in a solid performance to put Duluth Marshall in the Class 1A state tournament. But Flaherty knew his time would come, and he knew he’d be ready when the opportunity presented itself.

Opportunity knocked. Flaherty answered.

In Wednesday’s 7A final against top-seeded Duluth Denfeld, the senior netminder was spectacular. He stopped 29 shots, controlled his rebounds almost perfectly and ended up backstopping the Toppers to their second straight state tournament.

“We learned a lot from our seniors last year,” Flaherty said. “They really took control of the team and performed in big games like this. I think that the rest of the team follows the seniors because they lead by example, and I think that’s what we did [tonight].”

What makes his effort even more impressive is the fact that just a month ago Flaherty was shelled by the Hunters, giving up five goals and getting an early shower in an eventual 8-3 loss.

That self-proclaimed low point of the season had a lot of similar characteristics to the play of Duluth Marshall throughout the year. The Toppers battled with themselves all season, often finding it difficult to get any momentum or consistency going. Injuries didn’t help, either.

But Duluth Marshall got healthy at the end of January, started to find their game and built some poise for the playoffs.

“We were in a bit of turmoil in January, let me tell you,” said coach Brendan Flaherty, who will coach Duluth Marshall at Xcel Energy Center yet again next week. “We gained a little momentum just in the nick of time. An overtime loss in Cloquet was when I really saw our kids come together, and then we beat a very good [St. Cloud] Cathedral team.

“We just kind of garnered come confidence.”

It’s funny what confidence will do for teams. In Wednesday’s game, the Toppers seemed to settle in right away, while the Hunters fought the big-game jitters right until the final horn.

Sophomore Cam McClure, who hadn’t played as well this year as he did as a freshman, scored the game-winning goal on a savvy play at the edge of the crease. Anthony Miller, who was moved to the blue line two weeks ago after spending his whole hockey career as a forward, looked like a lifelong defenseman.

The youth and inexperience in key spots didn’t show, and, according to the Flaherty that stands behind the bench, that’s all got to do with the senior leadership.

The seniors stayed positive. The seniors pulled Duluth Marshall out of its slump. The seniors led by example.

“We decided we were going to live or die with the seniors,” he said. “We went through a little frustration this year, and we decided in the end that we had to go with our seniors – five seniors in our top two lines and a senior in goal – and they deserve a lot of credit for pulling it together.”

Regular-season performances mean little come playoff time, and Duluth Marshall is showing what playing well when the chips are down can do for a team.

Now that they’ve stamped their ticket to St. Paul, the Toppers consider the regular season a distant memory, but a memory they’ve learned from.

“I think it shows right now,” Flaherty the goalie said. “We’re a playoff team.”

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff


Duluth Marshall forward Cam McClure (27) pulls the trigger what ended up being the game-winning shot on Wednesday night. Photos by Dave Harwig, ViewThroughMyLens.net

Summary, Statistics

Game Recap

Cam McClure scored the game-winning goal and senior goaltender Caden Flaherty backstopped the Hilltoppers with 29 saves to give the Duluth Marshall a 3-2 win on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

The first period got off to a quick start when winger Michael Damberg dug the puck out of the corner – without a stick – and moved it over to linemate Jeremy Lopez who fed out Klassen out front to put the Toppers up 1-0.

Duluth Denfeld struck just two minutes later with a goal from forward Levi Talarico. Duluth Marshall answered just one minute and twenty-one seconds later on the power play when a Kris McKinzie backhander snuck through Hunter goalie Zach Thompson to put the Toppers back on top 2-1. 

Talarico and the Hunters came out flying in the second, getting multiple point-blank scoring chances, but all were denied by Flaherty. Then, at the 6:58 mark of the second, Talarico let a shot go from the point that was eventually put home by Reid Lemker of the Hunters.

Duluth Marshall soon pulled ahead again at the 2:14 mark when a Denfeld turnover down low gave Jack Dodd the puck who then centered to McClure in front of the net. McClure went bar-down to put the Toppers back up 3-2 at the end of two.

Duluth Marshall held strong through a fury of Denfeld scoring chances late in the third to hold on.

The Toppers advance to their second Class 1A tournament in a row, and will open tournament play next Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

-- Morgan Nygaard, MN Hockey Hub staff

1. Cam McClure, Duluth Marshall
McClure secured the Section 7A championship win for the Toppers’ with the game-winning goal in the second period. McClure always seems to come through for the Toppers, as he also scored the game-winner in last years 7A title tilt.

2. Alex Thompson, Duluth Denfeld 
Thompson has been a leading point-scorer all year for the Hunters. Tonight was just another night for Thompson as he showed his prowess with two assists in the game. Thompson stood out all night for the Hunters, but they came up one goal short of the state tournament. 

3. Caden Flaherty, Duluth Marshall
Flaherty knew he’d have to have one of the best games of his career to stop the Hunters. That is exactly what Flaherty did with 29 saves for the Toppers. Thanks to Flaherty, the Toppers reign as 7A champions for the second straight season.

-- Morgan Nygaard, MN Hockey Hub staff

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