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Ready for the challenge

By Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff, 12/15/12, 12:45PM CST


St. Thomas Academy scores twice in the third to take down conference rival Hill-Murray

HIll-Murray forward Tyler Funk (26) came close to tying the game, but was unable to score in the third period as St. Thomas Academy and goalie David Zevnik beat the Pioneers 2-1 on Saturday, Dec. 15 at St. Thomas Ice Arena. Photo by Adam Crane

St. Thomas Academy forward Gunnar Regan (16) tries to elude Hill-Murray's Curt LaChappelle (12) in the Cadets' 2-1 win on Saturday. Photo by Adam Crane

St. Thomas Academy has been able to roll out quality players as if they were coming out of a factory line.

When graduation hits, the Cadets do not miss a step.

More top-notch players are waiting their turn and jump in right in tune.

If there is an injury, a fellow Cadet will be right there to fill the void.

But what if that injury is to Alex Johnson?

It's hard to sympathize for a team that has won the past two Class 1A state championships, but in one of its biggest games of the season St. Thomas Academy was without its star offensive threat.

A senior who had 19 goals last season to lead St. Thomas Academy, Johnson was scratched from the lineup against No. 2-ranked (Class 2A) Hill-Murray on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the St. Thomas Ice Arena.

With an experienced team equipped with a 12 seniors, the Cadets just filled that spot with another veteran, Gunnar Regan, who scored the game-winning goal on the power play in the third to propel St. Thomas Academy to a 2-1 victory against its Classic Suburban Conference rivals.

Cadets defenseman Jack Dougherty got the puck on net from the point, but Hill-Murray goalie John Dugas was able to make one of his 29 saves on his shot.

However, Regan was there and swatted in the rebound for his fourth goal of the year.

"He's been playing really well for us so we thought we would put him on that line," St. Thomas Academy co-head coach Greg Vannelli said. "I didn't even know he got the goal until now, but he has been scoring a lot for us this year, so I am not surprised to see that he did it. He is one of the harder working players we have."

Regan's hard work has not only paid off against Hill-Murray.

It is being noticed by teammates in just about every aspect of the game.

"He just goes to the net and is not afraid to be there," Cadets defenseman Tony Bretzman said. "As a defenseman, you love that because he is going to screen their goalie. If we as defensemen don't score on our shot, we know he is going to be there to clean anything up."

Goals have become so frequent for Regan of late that he is modest about even the big one he had against the Pioneers.

"It could have happened to anybody else on my team, and I would have been just as happy," he said. "I just happened to be right there and my teammates worked just as hard to get the puck there."

With Regan filing in admirably for Johnson, maybe he could spend a little bit more time recovering?

"Tell him to take his time," Vannelli said amusingly. "No, of course we want Alex back as soon as possible, but Gunnar has done a terrific job this season and even more so since Alex has been out."

"We want Alex back because he is just a great player," Regan said. "I was in a pretty good spot to play with some great players and was able to score tonight in a big game. I'm just happy we won the game and hopefully we can do it again at Aldrich later this year."

Making the move

For more than two years Hill-Murray been able to go through the Classic Suburban Conference unblemished.

The Pioneers came into their showdown with St. Thomas Academy with a 32-game conference winning streak, which included four against the Cadets.

The last time Hill-Murray lost a conference game was to St. Thomas Academy back on Feb. 6, 2010.

St. Thomas Academy has won the last two Class 1A state championships, proving to be so much of a state power that it will move up to Class 2A next season.

They might be hard pressed to still have something to prove after consecutive state titles, but the Cadets backed up the program's announcement of moving up a class after taking down their conference rival 2-1 at the St. Thomas Ice Arena on Saturday, Dec. 15.

"It feels so good to beat them," St. Thomas Academy goalie David Zevnik said. "We have't beaten them in a long time, since our seniors were freshmen."

"You have to go through them to do well in our conference," Vannelli said. "It is a nice win for our team and something that we can carry with us into our holiday tournament."

A week ago St. Thomas Academy announced that it will be moving up to Class 2A next season.

Two consecutive years of state championships and continued dominance at the Class A level, a bump to the higher level might have been inevitable.

Still, there was something the Cadets had to prove.

Could they beat Hill-Murray?

For the past two seasons Hill-Murray has gotten the best of St. Thomas Academy, and not by much.

All the games have been closely contested with tight defense and stellar goaltending similar to what was on display Saturday ngiht.

"There is a lot of talent on the ice for both team," Vannelli said. "Two great teams with great defense will keep those games close like that and on top of that, you have great goalies."

St. Thomas Academy has always been able to match up with Hill-Murray with talent.

Close, tightly contested games have been the norm in the rivalry of late.

"They are a good team and we didn't have our best game, but they had something to do with that tonight," Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. "They have a lot of depth, experience and I think sometimes people forget that they have a goalie that has won two state championships."

The Pioneers were able to win the last four matchups, but St. Thomas Academy proved it could not only take down a big school team, it could against one of the Class 2A's elites.

"I think moving up is good for our program and probably the right one," Zevnik said. "We believe we are a good team and can play with teams in 2A and this was one of the best in that class and we beat them."

"We beat them tonight and we want to beat them again," Bretzman added. "They are one of the best teams in the state and we believe we are, too. This is one of the bigger games of the season for us and the next one against Hill-Murray might even be bigger."

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Gunnar Regan's power play goal 5 minutes, 56 seconds into the third period propelled No. 1-ranked  (Class 1A) St. Thomas Academy to a 2-1 win against Classic Suburban Conference rival and No. 2 (Class 2A) Hill-Murray on Saturday, Dec. 15 at the St. Thomas Ice Arena.

The Cadets scored two goals in the third period just 3 minutes, 34 seconds apart to erase a 1-0 deficit heading into the final period.

St. Thomas Academy's win is the first over the Pioneers since Feb. 6, 2010.

That was also the last conference loss for Hill-Murray.

With Alex Johnson out of the lineup for the Cadets because of an injury, Regan took his spot on the top line a provided the game winning goal.

Hill-Murray scored first when Colten Greeder batted in a puck out of midair in the second period.

St. Thomas Academy came out in the third and scored quickly.

Jack Geiser was able to bury a rebound past Hill-Murray goalie John Dugas to tie the score.

Regan followed with his goal, also on a rebound.

Dugas finished with 29 saves while his counterpart, David Zevnik, made 23 for St. Thomas Academy.

The loss was Hill-Murray's first of the season. The Pioneers (5-1-0) play at White Bear Lake on Dec. 18.

St. Thomas Academy improved to 4-1-0 and will also be on the road for its next game, Dec. 20 at North St. Paul.

1. Gunnar Regan, St. Thomas Academy
Stepping in for the injured Alex Johnson, all Regan did was score the game-winning goal, ending more than a two-year stretch of conference dominance by the Pioneers.

2. John Dugas, Hill-Murray
Busy all night, Dugas made 29 saves. The only goals he allowed came off rebounds, where his only option was to kick away the initial shot. As usual, Dugas was technically sound in net for Hill-Murray.

3. Christiano Versich, St. Thomas Academy
The sophomore did not register on the scoresheet, but he had his chances. He just misfired on a few one-timers on the power play and could not capitalize on an odd-man rush, but he is creating the sort of opportunities that will only make the Cadets better.

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