St. Thomas Academy sophomore Tommy Novak scores late in the third period in the Cadets' 3-0 victory in the Section 4A finals over Totino-Grace. Photo by Adam Crane
It's one of the oldest cliches in sports.
Defense wins championships.
Getting high school hockey players to buy into blocking shots, backchecking and perhaps settling for a dump in instead of a low-percentage, fancy between-the-legs highlight reel move can be a daunting task.
St. Thomas Academy defenseman T.J. Samec completes a check in the first period. Photo by Adam Crane
Not for No. 1-ranked (Class 1A) St. Thomas Academy.
If anything, the Cadets are taking one of sports oldest terms to the extreme.
Top-seeded St. Thomas Academy cruised to a 3-0 victory against No. 3-seeded Totino-Grace in the Section 4A finals on Friday March 1 at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
It's the third consecutive time the Cadets have defeated the Eagles in the section championship and they will make a run for their third straight state title and fifth overall.
An impressive feat to reach the Class 1A state tournament in itself, but the way the Cadets rolled through Section 4A was picture perfect.
When was the last time St. Thomas Academy allowed a goal?
"That's a great question," Cadets' coach Greg Vannelli said.
It has been almost two weeks and close to four total games.
To be exact, it has been 183 minutes, 41 seconds of game time since St. Thomas Academy had to red light go off from its net.
"It's been a while," Cadets' goalie David Zevnik said. "We've played really well on defense all year and it got better in sections."
Last season the Cadets had one of the strongest defensive teams in the state and only let in 39 goals in the regular season.
They were even better this year.
"We came into section allowing only 32 goals, seven better than last year," Vannelli said. "To have a group of guys come together and break that is something special."
On the blue line the Cadets are led by experienced veterans in Jack Dougherty, T.J. Samex, Wyatt Schmidt and Tony Bretzman.
A collective group that is so unselfish that it is humbling.
In an era where goal celebrations are anxiously waited to be had, this group is determined and more often than not are successful in not letting those happen.
"Defense, defense, defense," Cadets' senior captain Alex Johnson who scored the first goal in the opening period said. "We talk about it all the time and preach it. We have a pretty good group back there."
St. Thomas Academy's defense shut down the Eagles top line of Derek Lodermeier, Carter Roo and T.J. Roo, a trio that combined for 183 points in the regular season.
"They might have the best defense in the state, regardless of what class they are in," Eagles coach Mark Loahr said.
The few times teams have been able to crack the Cadets defense, there is one more obstacle.
A two-time state championship starting in goal.
"David is one of the best out there," Vannellli said. "He is great back there."
Cadets' goalie David Zevnik makes a save on Totino-Grace's Kai Barber in the third period. Photo by Adam Crane
Zevnik only saw 21 shots on goal, but a goalie that is used to the big stage and now holds a perfect record of 15-0 in the postseason, he came up with a handful of huge saves in the third period.
The Cadets had a 2-0 lead in the third period and a desperate Eagles team threw everything they had at Zevnik.
When Totino-Grace was fortunate enough to get through St. Thomas Academy's defense there was Zevnik to take away any hope of a comeback.
"He's amazing," Semac said. "We see this everyday from him."
"You don't want to give them a breath of life only being up 2-0," Vannelli said. "So those saves he made late in the game were really big because you never know what will happen in a championship game and a one-goal lead."
The Cadets will now head to St. Paul and for the final time as a Class 1A team.
Next season it will move up to Class 2A, but there is still business to be taken care of.
There have been great Cadet teams before and ones that have been stellar defensively, but has there been a unit as good as this one?
"I've never had a group like this before," Vannelli said. "From our goalie and our defense, they make the right plays almost all of the time and it's one of the best groups we have had."
St. Thomas Academy celebrates its Section 4A championship. Photo by Adam Crane
David Zevnik made 21 saves and recorded his third straight shutout in No. 1-ranked and top seeded St. Thomas Academy's 3-0 victory against No. 3-seeded Totino-Grace in the Section 4A finals on Friday, March 1 at Aldrich Arena.
The Cadets advance to their third straight Class 1A state tournament and will have a chance to win it for the third consecutive season before it moves up to Class 2A next year.
Senior captain Alex Johnson struck first with a slapshot from the left circle to beat Eagles' goalie Michael Larson.
Christiano Versich made it 2-0 with 1 minute, 27 seconds left in the first period.
Sophomore Tommy Novak capped off the scoring in the third when he found the upper shelf with 1 minute, 21 second left in the third.
This was the second meeting this season between St. Thomas Academy and Totino-Grace. The Cadets won 6-1 on Jan. 29 at St. Thomas Ice Arena.
The Eagles and Cadets also matched up for the third straight season in the Section 4A championship.
St. Thomas Academy beat Totino-Grace 2-1 in overtime last season and won 5-3 in 2011.
Totino-Grace finishes with a 21-7-1 record.
The Cadets will begin its quest for a third straight title on Wedensday, March 6 in the quarterfinals of the Class 1A state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.
1. Alex Johnson, St. Thomas Academy
The senior captain scored in the first period on a slapshot from the top of the left circle that blew by Eagles' goalie Michael Larson. It ended up holding as the game-winner as well. Since being switched over to the same line as sophomores Tommy Novak and Christiano Versich, Johnson has been on fire.
2. Tommy Novak, St. Thomas Academy
The sophomore sensation entertained the crowd yet again with his silky smooth hands. The skill set and hockey intelligence he has already at this stage in his career might is simply remarkable. Novak recorded and assist on Johnson's goal in the first and tallied a goal himself late in the third period.
3. T.J. Semac, St. Thomas Academy
One of the experienced blue liner's, Semac had it all going in helping the Cadets to their third straight trip to St. Paul. Early in the first he set the tone with a bone-crunching hit at center ice and providing suffocating defense.