Section 6A sadness
The Alexandria boys’ hockey team was in close games all season long and more often than not, the Cardinals found a way to win those.
They were right back in that same situation last Thursday night – down one entering the third period with a trip to the state tournament on the line. Only this time, Alexandria couldn’t find one last comeback in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to St. Cloud Cathedral in the 6A championship.
“Every game, we’re either down one or up one,” senior defenseman Aaron Steidl said. “It’s always a tight game. I think we play better under pressure. You look at [the semifinals against St. Cloud] Apollo, it was the same exact situation, but this time we couldn’t pull it off.”
A flurry of action in the second period proved to be the deciding stretch in the game for Cathedral. Alexandria took a 1-0 lead on a goal from sophomore Jack Steffl when a shot from Kevin Finley on the perimeter deflected off his stick and into the net at 10:42 in the period.
It took less than two minutes for the Crusaders to answer. Cathedral pressured the net and Cardinals’ goalie Sam Goetsch made a couple saves but got caught out of position as he went to the ice. The Crusaders worked the puck around and found an open Logan Neu who buried a shot that tied the game at one apiece.
Alexandria had a chance to get that back when a high sticking penalty on Cathedral gave the Cardinals the first power play of the game at 13:54 in the second frame. Instead, the Crusaders gained all the momentum with a shorthanded goal off the stick of Logan Neu.
“We got outnumbered down low,” head coach Ian Resch said. “They got some skill players over there that if you give them some time in space, they’ll bury them, and that’s what they did. [Goaltender] Sam [Goetsch] didn’t have a chance with either one of those. They’re just guys who can shoot the puck.”
The Crusaders’ top line consists of the program’s all-time leading point scorer in William Hammer and three other 30-plus point scorers in Matt Fritz, Neu, and Dan Bailey. The Cardinals kept up with them for much of the night, but the quality chances they had, they were able to capitalize on.
“It thought we did our job,” Goetsch said. “We kept them to two. I mean, that’s our goal every game defensively. Two was just too many I guess. The ice didn’t lean our way tonight. You got to get a little puck luck to win, and we just didn’t have that.”
An inch here or there could have meant the difference between a win and a loss. Alexandria hit one pipe in the first and another off the stick of Parker Revering in the second that Cathedral goalie Zach Fritz seemed to never see. Revering fired the shot from the top of the left circle and could only throw his head back as it hit the pipe and caromed across the crease.
“That’s hockey,” Resch said. “It’s a game of inches, even less than inches. You got to get the bounces too.”
The Cardinals had to take some chances in the third period to try and get the equalizer, and it cost them two tripping penalties in the period. They fought off those Cathedral power plays and still outshot the Crusaders 11-6 in the final frame.
“We just told the guys that we lost tonight but we had an outstanding season,” Resch said. “I’m just proud of what we accomplished. Our goals were to win the conference and then win the section. We just came up short one game in the conference and one goal tonight.”
The loss left a lot of these players with tears running down their faces as they stood in line to accept their second-place medals. It was the end of the careers for eight seniors in Goetsch, Kevin Finley, Matt Resch, Brady Bast, Toby Helgeson, Andy Rentschler, Levi McFarlane and Steidl.
“I know for a fact I’m going to remember these boys,” Steidl said. “We’ve been together 14 years now. Same group and we always knew this year we were going to do big things. It’s been such a good ride with this team. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to play with.”
Alexandria’s 18-6-3 record gave the Cardinals their most wins since they won 21 games in the 2009-2010 season. Resch wants his guys to remember that success and also how hard they have to work if they want to get back there next winter.
“I want them to realize how special winning is and how special these opportunities are,” Resch said. “Getting to a section final, for some guys it never happens. For some guys it might be once, but it’s rare. Hopefully the guys coming back realize it’s hard to get there. It’s hard to get through, and hopefully that will motivate them to work hard in the off-season to get back and maybe make a run at it again next year.”
ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL 0 2 0 – 2
ALEXANDRIA 0 1 0 – 1
SHOTS – Cathedral – 9, 14, 6 – 29; Alexandria – 6, 12, 11 – 29
SCORING – FIRST PERIOD – No scoring
SECOND PERIOD – Alexandria – Steffl (Finley), 10:46; Cathedral – Neu (M. Fritz, Hammer), 12:20; Cathedral – M. Fritz (Phil Ruegemer), 15:08
THIRD PERIOD – No scoring
GOALTENDING – Cathedral – Zach Fritz – W, 28 saves, 29 shots faced; Alexandria – Goetsch – L, 27 saves, 29 shots faced