St. Thomas Academy's Alex Johnson (19) tips in the first of his two goals on the night. (Photos by Tim Kolehmainen)
Commers to Perry to Krieger.
It doesn’t yet have the same cachet as last year’s Zach Schroeder to A.J. Reid to Matt Kroska unit, but St. Thomas Academy wouldn’t be in any position to defend its state Class A championship without the work of its top forward line.
While the graduated trio was a high-scoring group that combined for 65 goals and 143 points during the regular season – then racked up 16 goals and 38 more points during the Cadets’ six-game playoff run – the new first line has a different appeal according to co-head coach Greg Vannelli.
“They’ve become almost more of a checking line against really good first lines because they’re pretty big and fast,” said Vannelli of his new top line of seniors Andrew Commers and Pete Krieger and junior Matt Perry. “They don’t have to score, as long as they don’t give up a goal.”
That’s not to say the trio can’t dent the twine. Commers, with six goals and two assists, is second on the Cadets in goals.
He scored twice in a 9-3 rout of Holy Angels in the Schwan Cup Gold Division quarterfinals Monday, Dec. 26 at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
He also had 22 goals last year – behind only the powerful top line of Schroeder, Reid and Kroska. Commers, Perry and Krieger also give the Cadets’ their best defensive forward unit, one that’s capable of shutting down anyone.
Perry is a big player at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds; Krieger has grown into his frame and is nearly that weight himself; and Commers plays hockey “like a linebacker.”
“He’s probably the hardest working and physical wing that I’ve ever coached,” Vannelli said. “He goes in to knock guys down. That’s his mentality.”
“It’s been tough,” said Commers, who also admitted to feeling a leadership responsibility along with his linemates following the graduation of last winter’s top forward unit. And with that, comes the willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team win.
“Everybody wants to score,” laughed Vannelli. “It’s hard to get them to believe it’s okay not to score and to shut down (the other) first line.”
Commers played last season with Krieger and Alex Johnson on the Cadets’ second line, a unit that really clicked during the state tournament run. Commers scored a team-best five goals in the three state tourney games, including a pair in the 5-4 overtime victory over Hermantown in the final.
Commers admits it was an adjustment bringing Perry onto the line, but if the results are any indication, the transition has smoothed.
“It was tough at first with the chemistry, but I think we’re coming along great,” said Commers, who described himself as a speedy winger who drives hard to the net. His center, Krieger, is a “great passer. He’ll find anyone, anywhere, and Perry works very hard. He’s always the first man to the puck and he’s always the support man.”
“You have to always work hard as a team, and that’s passed on from team to team,” Vannelli said. “We’ve had some success the last five or six years and the seniors are really getting on the younger guys about how they have to play."
-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA
Brett Pierce made 45 saves for Holy Angels.
Hart of a champion
One of the players expected to step up this winter has certainly done so, as junior Henry Hart is currently third on St. Thomas Academy in scoring. With two goals against Holy Angels Monday afternoon, Hart pushed his totals to five goals and three assists.
“He’s a pretty dynamic player,” said co-head coach Greg Vannelli.
Hart saw limited time last season as a sophomore, but put on 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason. According to Vannelli, he’s always had the skills to be a top scorer, but was more easily knocked off the puck in the past. Now with the added weight, Hart has powered the Cadets’ second line with Austin Sattler and Alex Johnson.
“He slows the game down and guys go around him,” laughed Vannelli. “It’s fun to watch.”
He made 45 saves on 54 shots in the loss to St. Thomas Academy, keeping the Stars in the game until a flurry in the third period put the final score out of reach.
“I think he made the right choice,” said Holy Angels’ coach Greg Trebil. “On this team, we don’t have that many veterans.”
Henry Hart, Alex Johnson and Andrew Commers all scored twice, while six Cadets had multi-point games to help St. Thomas Academy storm past Holy Angels 9-3 in the first game of Schwan Cup Gold Division play on Monday, Dec. 26, at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
The No. 2-ranked (Class 1A) Cadets came out flying in the opening period, peppering Stars’ goalie Brett Pierce with 22 shots. Johnson’s tip-in from the edge of the crease gave St. Thomas Academy a 1-0 lead at the end of one.
After Jack Friendshuh scored 3 minutes, 34 seconds into the middle frame to pull Holy Angels back to even, it looked like the Stars were going to battle back and take the lead.
However, the Cadets exploded for three goals in just less than two minutes, putting the game out of reach.
Hart put St. Thomas Academy back on top with a one-timer from the slot off a quick play through center. Commers made it 3-1 just 35 seconds later with a power-play goal off a rebound to the left of Pierce, then Hart scored the eventual game-winner with a blast from the left circle to help the Cadets carry a 4-2 lead into the final period.
St. Thomas Academy added five more goals in the third to cruise into the semifinals at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center against Duluth East.
Johnson also added two assists, finishing with four points. Eric Schurhammer had a goal and three points for the Cadets (5-1-0). Tony Bretzman had three assists, and Peter Krieger had two points.
David Zevnik finished with 20 saves for St. Thomas Academy.
Mario Bianchi was the only member of Holy Angels to register more than a single point with a goal and an assist. Marshall Barnes scored the other goal for the Stars (1-6-0).
Pierce made 45 saves for Holy Angels, and he held the Stars in the contest until late.
Holy Angels plays Burnsville at 12 p.m. in the consolation semifinals at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff
1. Alex Johnson, St. Thomas Academy
Johnson had a four-point game, scoring twice and assisting on two others. His first goal got the scoring started, and his second was a beautiful end-to-end danglefest in the third period. Maybe the most impressive aspect of his game was his passing, though – he gave Henry Hart two perfect passes to help the Cadets blow the game open in the second.
2. Henry Hart, St. Thomas Academy
Because of the score, Hart’s two goals might get a little lost on the scoresheet, but his tallies were maybe the most important ones of the night for the Cadets. Hart scored twice in two minutes to change the game from a close contest to a St. Thomas Academy blowout midway through the second.
3. Eric Schurhamer, St. Thomas Academy
The rangy blue liner showed off his great puck skills with two assists and several nice moves around Stars’ defenders. He also added a goal, was strong on special teams and controlled the defensive zone.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff