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Pumping them up

By Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/06/13, 10:00PM CST

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St. Thomas Academy senior Alex Johnson inspires teammates with pregame prayer ritual


St. Thomas Academy senior Alex Johnson, left, celebrates with teammate Christiano Versich (20) after scoring against St. Cloud Apollo in the state Class 1A quarterfinals. Photo by Adam Crane

St. Thomas Academy senior captain Alex Johnson has gathered his teammates for a pregame huddle before every game each of the last two seasons.

Johnson leads them in prayer before the do battle

The Cadets hang on their leader’s every word.

“He says some prayer, and I don’t know, he gets us pumped,” sophomore Christiano Versich said.  “I don’t know much of the details. I know there’s a name to it, but it gets us going.”

Whatever was said did indeed get No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Academy going in its 12-0 victory against St. Cloud Apollo in the state Class 1A quarterfinals on Wednesday, March 6 at the Xcel Energy Center.

The pregame prayer ritual was introduced when Johnson was a sophomore. St. Thomas Academy went onto to win a state championship that season with a 5-4 overtime victory against Hermantown.

It followed with another title last season, 5-1 over Hermantown.

“It’s an exciting experience,” Johnson said of the pregame prayer. “We started it when I was a sophomore. A kid that was a senior did it, and we have done it ever since. It really brings us together.”


Alex Johnson (19) from St. Thomas Academy works his way around a St. Cloud Apollo defenseman. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

Johnson not only led the pregame ritual, but he led by example on the ice as well.

“Alex, he plays his role perfectly,” Versich said. “He works incredibly hard.”

Johnson scored twice for the Cadets, both in the first period.

He has 18 goals this and has reached the 40-point plateau.

Johnson’s point production spiked midway through the sason when co-head coach Greg Vannelli decided to make a few changes. One of them was moving Johnson to a line with sophomores Versich and Tom Novak.

Some seniors might be hesitant to play with two sophomores, but Johnson has embraced it with open arms.

“I just want whatever is best for the team,” he said. “So if it makes the team better, everybody will like it. Obviously they’re very skilled, so I think I was pretty happy right when it started.”

The trio recorded a combined five points in the Cadets’ quarterfinal victory in what is becoming the norm for them.

There is some grit, finesse and, of course, plenty of goals.

“Those two work really well in the corners and I’ll sit in front of the net and maybe get some tips,” Johnson said. “They can do whatever they want and hopefully get some goals.”

For as much praise and recognition gives to playing with two gifted underclassmen, his linemate is just as gracious.

“I don’t think I could find myself in a better spot, to be honest with you,” Verisch said.

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com