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Cadets lift the curse

By Michael Murakami, Hockey Hub staff and Andrew Baker, Star Tribune, 03/04/11, 9:30PM CST


After two frustrating years, St. Thomas Academy wins elusive section title

St. Thomas Academy celebrates its first Section 4A title since 2008 after defeating Totino-Grace, 5-3, in section championship on Friday, March 4. Photo by Adam Crane

Three years.

It must have seemed like an eternity for St. Thomas Academy since the last time the Cadets played in the State Tournament.

The wait ended on Friday, March 4, as St. Thomas Academy defeated Totino-Grace 5-3 in the Section 4A championship game.

St. Thomas Academy senior forward A.J. Reid celebrates his second-period power play goal against Totino-Grace in the Section 4A championship game on Friday, March 4. Photo by Adam Crane

“We’re so relieved,” St. Thomas Academy coach Greg Vannelli said. “To be in the final three years in a row and lose two of them, this is great. I’m so proud of these guys but it’s about them, not me.”

After winning the Class 1A title in 2008, the Cadets had failed to return to the tournament after being upset by Mahtomedi in the 2009 and 2010 Section 4A championship games.

St. Thomas Academy spent those disappointing years watching the tournament from the stands which increased their aspirations to return to the Xcel Energy Center.

“I think they worked harder,” Vannelli said. “Our dry-land this year after every practice, these guys worked as hard as we could. It just paid off.”

Leading the Cadets to the 2011 Section 4A title were senior forwards A.J. Reid and Zach Schroeder.

“This is really special for the seniors because we’ve lost two section finals,” Vannelli said.

Exhilaration had already settled in for the upperclassmen.

“I’m real pumped,” Schroeder said. “We were dedicated to get back and I’m really excited.”

“I’ve been there once before and it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Reid said. “Our team played with confidence today and I think we got a lot more confidence going into the games at the X.”

St. Thomas Academy is heavily expected to be selected as the tournament’s top seed in Class 1A.

Regardless of the seeding, the Cadets have a simple game plan.

“Don’t change anything,” Vannelli said. “We’ve had a good year and hopefully we can continue.

“You just take it one shift, one period at a time. If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

-- Michael Murakami, Hockey Hub

St. Thomas Academy senior goaltender David Zevnik (right) makes one of his 23 saves on Totino-Grace forward T.J. Roo (left) during the Section 4A championship game on Friday, March 4. Photo by Adam Crane

Additional Coverage: Cadets avoid third straight upset

When the puck dropped Friday at the Class 1A, Section 4A final between No. 1 seed St. Thomas Academy and No. 2 seed Totino-Grace, the Cadets student section immediately began chanting “This one’s over,” displaying substantial hubris — or confidence, depending on your perspective — for a school that has been upset two years in a row in the section final.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s immaterial now, as the Cadets earned their first state tournament bid since their championship run in 2008 with a 5-3 victory at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.

The Cadets struck first 4 minutes, 49 seconds into the first period, when senior forward A.J. Reid flicked the puck past Totino-Grace goalie Nick DeMuth from just outside the crease.

“That probably was really huge,” Cadets coach Greg Vannelli said of scoring first, “because the last two years we didn’t score first, and it just seemed like it put a lot of pressure on us.”

 The score was tied 2-2 when St. Thomas senior Zach Schroeder scored the first of the game’s four third-period goals — all of which came with under seven minutes remaining — with 6:37 left.

Less than a minute later, on a two-on-zero opportunity, sophomore Alex Johnson scored on an assist from Schroeder to make it 4-2. The Eagles struck back for one more goal, but so did Schroeder, icing the game.

“[Schroeder] really put the team on his back tonight,” Reid said, “getting those important goals. He just knows what to do in tough situations.”

Andrew Baker is a University of Minnesota student on assignment with the Star Tribune.

Totino-Grace senior goaltender Nick DeMuth (No. 1) can't quite snag a shot from St. Thomas Academy junior forward Andrew Commers (No. 21) in the third period of the Section 4A championship game on Friday, March 4. Photo by Adam Crane

Totino-Grace hangs tough, finishes season with pride

Totino-Grace traveled to play St. Thomas Academy on Feb. 1, this season.

That night, St. Thomas Academy prevailed 6-0 as the Eagles could not figure out a way to beat Cadets’ sophomore forward David Zevnik.

In the Section 4A championship game on Friday, March 4, Totino-Grace found a solution as the Eagles scored the only three goals against St. Thomas Academy in this year’s postseason.

“I thought our kids played really, really well,” Totino-Grace coach Mark Loahr said. “We just couldn’t get the bounces tonight. They’re good enough that if you give them the chance, they put them away.

“We didn’t give up either. We came back and made it 4-3 when we could have just given up.”

The Eagles headed into the third period tied 2-2 with the section’s top seed before surrendering three St. Thomas Academy goals in 4:55 -- Totino-Grace also scored in that time.

“We thought we could skate with them and we did,” Loahr said. “We kept putting pressure on them. I couldn’t ask my kids to do any more than what they did, they were absolutely great.”

As far as the Eagles’ opponent, Loahr predicted success for the Cadets in the state tournament.

“We’ve played Edina and Benilde (St. Margaret's) -- these guys (St. Thomas Academy) are as good as those teams,” Loahr said. “They’re going to do pretty darn well.”

-- Michael Murakami, Hockey Hub

Statistics, Summary

Photo Gallery

Game Recap

A.J. Reid scored twice and Zach Schroeder had a goal and an assist as St. Thomas Academy won the Section 4A Championship on Friday, March 4, with a 5-3 victory over Totino-Grace.

Alex Johnson and Andrew Commers also scored for St. Thomas Academy and sophomore goaltender David Zevnik made 23 saves as the Cadets improve to 22-6-0 on the season.

St. Thomas Academy advanced to its first state tournament appearance since winning the Class 1A title in 2008.

Nick DeMuth made 29 saves for Totino-Grace and Eagles' forwards Derek Lodermeier, T.J. Roo and Andrew McDonald scored goals the first goals in the 2011 postseason against St. Thomas Academy.

Totino-Grace finishes the season with a record of 21-6-1.

Next up for St. Thomas Academy depends on its seeding in the Class 1A State Tournament bracket but the Cadets are heavily expected to receive the No. 1 seed.

-- Michael Murakami, Hockey Hub

St. Thomas Academy senior forward A.J. Reid. Photo by Adam Crane

Three Stars

1. A.J. Reid, St. Thomas Academy
Reid scored the first two goals for the Cadets in the Section 4A championship game. The two goals gave the senior forward eight postseason points (five goals, three assists) in three games.

2. Zach Schroeder, St. Thomas Academy
It seemed like whenever the Cadets were pressing in the Totino-Grace zone and gaining momentum, Schroeder was on the ice. The senior forward scored a pretty goal by walking a defender and putting a quick deke on Eagles' goaltender Nick DeMuth. Schroeder also assisted on Andrew Commers' third-period goal.

3. Nick DeMuth, Totino-Grace
Although DeMuth surrendered five goals to the Cadets, three of those goals were scored on odd man rushes -- all two-on-one or two-on-none chances in the third period. The senior goaltender made 29 saves including several flurries of shots from the slot by St. Thomas Academy and kept the Eagles in the game until the third period.

-- Michael Murakami, Hockey Hub

Totino-Grace senior goaltender Nick DeMuth (No. 1) makes a pad save on St. Thomas Academy forward Andrew Commers (No. 21). Photo by Adam Crane

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