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Luverne rolls Marshall to secure its second-ever state tournament appearance

By Loren Nelson, SportsEngine, 03/01/17, 10:15PM CST


Emphasis on defense pays dividends in the Cardinals' 5-1 victory over the Tigers.

Luverne goaltender Kaden Erickson delivers the Class 1A, Section 3 championship trophy to his teammates after Wednesday's 5-1 victory over Marshall. Photo by Loren Nelson, SportsEngine

During Luverne’s rise to prominence as that oh-so-rare southwestern Minnesota town that embraces hockey above all other sports, the Cardinals played a run-and-gun style that led to more than a few games ending in scores more fitting for, say, baseball or football.

Which is a polite way to say defense never has seemed to be Luverne’s overriding priority.

Until now.

“I think we were in the top five (actually tied for sixth) in the state for fewest goals allowed this year,” first-year Cardinals coach Phil Paquette said. “That’s a stat we’re proud of.”

After losing in wild, goal-a-minute shootouts in the previous two Class 1A, Section 3 championship games, the No. 1-seeded Cardinals parlayed a mostly airtight defense into a 5-1 triumph over longtime rival and No. 2 seed Marshall on Wednesday at Lund Arena on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter.

“We really turned it around this year and really kind of worked on a defensive game this whole year,” said Luverne senior goaltender Kaden Ericson, who needed to make just 15 saves against the Tigers. “We knew our scoring wasn’t going to be the best, but we got it done with defense this year.”

Ericson was in goal last year when the Cardinals lost 7-6 in overtime to Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato in the section final. He faced 41 shots that night and no doubt saw pucks in his sleep afterward during more than a few restless nights.

In 2015, Luverne lost 7-5 to New Ulm in the section championship.

“Right from the beginning our emphasis was to tighten the defensive zone,” said Paquette, an assistant coach on the Luverne girls’ hockey team that reached the state tournament last year. “We lost those shootouts the last two years, and we needed to tighten things up, and we did.”

Marshall managed just two shots on goal in the first period, which ended with Luverne leading 1-0. The Tigers biggest push came in the second period, when they fired nine shots on goal and scored to briefly tie the game at 1.

That’s when junior forward Kasyn Kruse, the Cardinals’ leading scorer who had been uncharacteristically quiet in their two previous playoff games (no goals, no assists), broke out of his mini scoring slump in the most boisterous of ways.

He scored with 2 minutes, 59 seconds left in the second to put the Cardinals ahead 2-1, celebrating wildly as he skated in front of the huge Luverne cheering section. The speedy Kruse added another goal and an assist in a dominating third period for the Cardinals, bumping his team-leading season totals to 33 goals and 60 points.

“I had to step it up tonight,” said Kruse, who was an eighth grader when the Cardinals made their only previous state tournament appearance, in 2014.

“I just remember being right up against the glass,” he said. “It was just amazing watching our team there. It was insane.”

Next week Kruse will be on the other side of the Xcel Energy Center glass, starring for a Luverne team that was ranked No. 20 in Class 1A in the latest state coaches’ poll and is unlikely to be one of the five teams to earn a seed despite the Cardinals’ sparkling 23-5-1 record.

No matter, Kruse said.

“Teams in other parts of the state don't give us a lot of respect, but we are going to come there ready to go.”

Photo Gallery

Luverne's Jesse Reed beat Marshall's Trey Nelson for a first-period goal on Wednesday in the Class 1A, Section 3 championship game. Photo by Loren Nelson, SportsEngine

First Report

Kasyn Kruse scored twice and Kaden Ericson stopped 15 of 16 shots as Luverne overpowered Marshall 5-1 on Wednesday at Lund Arena on the Gustavus Adolphus College campus in St. Peter to win the Class 1, Section 3 championship and earn the program’s second trip to the state Class 1A tournament.

Kruse, a junior forward, scored with 2:59 left in the second period to put the Cardinals (23-5-1) ahead 2-1 entering the third. Luverne’s leading scorer this season with 33 goals and 59 points, Kruse scored again with 7:49 left to put the Cardinals ahead 4-1 and all but punch their ticket to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

After a sluggish first period, Marshall (19-8-1) controlled play for much of the second and tied the score at 1 on a goal by Mason Plante with 7:30 left. That got the Tigers contingent of fans roaring, but only until Kruse silenced them less than five minutes later.

Ericson, one of just five seniors on the Luverne roster, made most of his best saves in the second period when he stopped nine shots.

The solid defensive performance came in stark contrast to the Cardinals’ section final appearances each of the previous two seasons. Ericson was in goal last year when the Cardinals lost 7-6 in overtime to Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato. New Ulm beat Luverne 7-5 in the 2015 section final.

Jesse Reed, Mark Sterrett and Declan Beers also scored for Luverne, which was ranked No. 20 in the Class 1A in the latest state coaches’ poll. 

Kruse added an assist on Beers' goal, which came with 52 seconds left and completed the scoring.

Marshall's Trey Nelson finished with 28 saves.

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