St. Thomas Academy's Tom Novak fires a shot at Hill-Murray goaltender Sam Illgen. Photo by Jon Laqua
St. Thomas Academy goalie Charlie Hallett. Photo by Jon Laqua.
Tom Novak may play like the standout on the ice, but off it, he’s anything but.
Nestled in his locker Thursday night after a 4-2 win over No. 1-ranked Hill-Murray, the captain for No. 11 St. Thomas Academy preferred not to be the guy who attracts the media’s attention.
“Tom doesn’t really like talking to media, he gets kind of embarrassed because he’s always the one in the spotlight,” Cadets' co-head coach Tom Vannelli said.
Understandable. But it’s pretty hard to look past the Cadets’ leading scorer and clutch player night after night. In true Novakian fashion, the junior scored the game-winning goal for St. Thomas Academy with just more than a minute left in the second period.
“You couldn’t write it any better,” Vannelli said. “He’s a special player, and he’s playing really well lately.”
It took just under five minutes for St. Thomas Academy to take an early lead when Peter Tufto skated past a Pioneers defenseman, made a fake, and fired the puck through the five-hole of Hill-Murray goalie Sam Illgen.
“It was a great way to get the game started,” Tufto said.
Alex Broetzman converted on the power play for the Cadets five minutes later, and from that point on St. Thomas Academy goalie Charlie Hallett stole the show. Hallett made 29 saves and none was more spectacular than a sprawling glove save on Mitch Slattery. The Pioneers' senior forward thought he had a sure goal as he cut across the crease with a wide open net, but the puck miraculously ended up in the Cadet goaltenders' glove.
“I’ve gotta say, it was kind of a lucky save,” Hallett said.
Regardless, a save is a save, and for Hallett, it couldn’t have been more opportune. Coming into the season, the junior hadn’t ever started a varsity game, and attempting to fill former goaltender David Zevnik’s shoes was no easy task. Zevnik led St. Thomas Academy to three state Class 1A championships before graduating last spring.
“David is such an unbelievable goalie and trying to fill his shoes is obviously a challenge.” Hallett said. “But I’ve got his support and the support of my teammates.”
That support also translated to his coach.
“He’s kept us in a lot of games this year, and he was fantastic tonight,” Vannelli said.
Despite Hallett’s first-period heroics, the Pioneers managed to tie the game early in the second, But, like he always does, Novak came to the rescue. A bouncing puck in front of the net found its way on Novak’s stick like it so often does, and he made no mistake, launching it past Illgen with 1:04 remaining in the second period.
One-goal leads had been dangerous for the Cadets this season, and playing against the top team in state, they knew what was coming. With three blown leads this year, Vannelli told his team to strap down and outwork a tough Pioneers team in the third period.
“We’ve had some tough luck with leads in the third period this year,” Vannelli said. “We’ve had four one-goal losses and three of them we had the lead, so it was nice to get over the hump and get it done this time.”
Tufto echoed his coach’s remarks.
“We had some big blocked shots at the end, and managed to get the win, so it was huge,” he said.
Overall, it was a pretty good day for the Cadets: extremely cold weather gave them a day off from school, and a win over the No. 1 team in state would be the cherry on top.
“It was pretty fun,” Hallett said.
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