Scouting the Cougars (18-9-1)
Coach A.J. Bucchino said he felt good about his team as February rolled around but also knew good wouldn’t be good enough down the stretch. Coming off losses to Holy Family and rival Lakeville North, the Cougars prepared to play defending Section 1 champion Farmington. His team was battling injuries, yet Bucchino nevertheless challenged his guys. “I just told them, ‘It’s now or it’s not going to happen,’ ” said Bucchino, in his second year as coach. A 4-3 victory began a three-game winning streak, juice to propel the Cougars through the section playoffs. Senior forward Bradley Golant, the team’s smallest player at 5-8, 160 pounds, had two goals in the final vs. Lakeville North.
Scouting the Cadets (23-4-1)
Four years into his program’s jump to Class 2A, St. Thomas Academy co-head coach Greg Vannelli has found the formula for success. A tougher schedule and a deeper roster prepared his Cadets for the postseason. “Guys were fighting for spots until the end,” Vannelli said. “Our third line had two goals against Benilde-St. Margaret’s [in a 7-1 victory]. In the past, if our top line was off, we’d have to try to win games 2-1.” Sacrifice also played a role. Junior Chase Foley switched from top-line center to defense and bolstered the blue line corps. And junior goaltender Atticus Kelly, who split time all season, emerged as the Cadets’ playoff mainstay. He shut out two of three section opponents.
Lakeville South returns to state for the first time since 2012, when current Gopher captain Justin Kloos led a quarterfinal upset of No. 1 seed Duluth East.
david la vaque