Alexandria boys hockey coach Ian Resch said leading up to the Section 6A championship that he didn’t like his team’s chances in a seven-game series against St. Cloud Cathedral. Give the Cardinals one chance, though, and he knew anything could happen.
It took two overtimes, but Alexandria made good on that one chance. The third-seeded Cardinals shocked the top-seeded Crusaders 3-2 when junior forward Jack Westlund scored 1:55 into a second overtime session. It capped off a thriller that sends Alexandria to its fifth state tournament in program history.
“It’s just so special for the kids,” Resch said. “You’re asking them to do things that they don’t know if it’s going to pay off or not. We’ve worked really hard since Christmas-time on, just on the details. It takes so much to get to this level and the the boys really committed themselves. I’m real happy for them.”
The Cardinals (17-10-1) withstood almost every emotion in a back-and-forth game at the MAC in St. Cloud. They led 2-0 midway through the second period, only to watch the Crusaders score one with 18 seconds before the second intermission. Cathedral’s James Anderson then tied it at 2-2 7:46 into the third.
“We just knew we had to get the momentum back,” Westlund said. “Nothing changed. We just had to play our game and put our heads to the grindstone and chip back at it.”
Neither team could gather much momentum in the first eight-minute overtime. Then 1:37 into the second overtime, Cathedral’s CJ Zins took a tripping penalty behind the net that set Alexandria up on the power play.
It took just 18 seconds for the Cardinals to capitalize. Ben Doherty rushed to the net and took the defense with him as Caleb Strong got the puck. Strong found Westlund wide open in the slot as he buried the game winner.
“I was just so excited,” Westlund said. “I had people grabbing me, I wanted to go over to the student section. I didn’t know what to do. It was just unreal.”
Westlund and senior goaltender Jackson Boline both said the Cardinals were a confident team coming into the night, despite what happened when these two teams met in the regular season. St. Cloud Cathedral beat Alexandria 7-1 on Dec. 12. The Cardinals played like they had nothing to lose in the rematch.
“We’re the underdogs,” Boline said. “Nobody thought that we would do this. They thought it would be the same game as the first time we played them. Cathedral has always been the top dog, and this year we are.”
Resch could see a good performance coming as players got ready to take the ice for warm-ups.
“Before the game tonight, there was kind of a quiet calm in our locker room,” he said. “I haven’t seen that all year. That told me these guys really believe, and they’re really committed to this.”
They showed it right away in the second period. Strong, a sophomore, positioned himself in front of the net where Doherty found him for a goal just 58 seconds in. At 12:14 in the second, freshman Jakob Stender got a stick on a puck in the crease and sent it past Cathedral goaltender Noah Amundson.
“They’re young kids,” Resch said of Strong and Stender. “They’ve been good all year, but as of late you can tell they’ve matured. They’re gaining confidence, they understand how to play. Those kids are around the net, and they know how to finish. They’re good hockey players.”
The momentum was shifting toward the Crusaders in the third period. Anderson’s goal tied it, and Cathedral had more chances to take the lead. The Crusaders outshot the Cardinals 14-5 in that period, but Boline withstood the flurry to get his team to overtime.
“With that kind of team, you just have to stay calm,” Boline said. “You can’t think of anything but the next shot. You can’t think of what happens if we win, what happens if we lose. That’s all I was thinking throughout that third period. This team deserves it.”
The win halts St. Cloud Cathedral’s two-year reign over the Section 6A field. The Cardinals will make their first appearance at state since 2011 when they take the ice at the Xcel Energy Center on March 7.
They will find out who they play this weekend. The Cardinals won’t change their approach no matter who that is.
“I think we’re going to go with the same approach we’ve had since the start of playoffs,” Resch said. “You take it one game at a time. As long as we play poised and play with structure and play as a team, anything is possible.”
ALEXANDRIA 0 2 0 0 1 - 3
ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL 0 1 1 0 0 - 2
SHOTS - Alexandria - 7, 12, 5, 5 - 29; Cathedral - 8, 10, 14, 3 - 35
FIRST PERIOD - No scoring
SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Caleb Strong (Ben Doherty, Jack Westlund), 0:58; Alexandria - Jakob Stender (Andrew Revering), 12:14; Cathedral - Jack Smith (Jon Bell, Jeron Hirschfeld), 16:42
THIRD PERIOD - Cathedral - James Anderson (Mack Motzko, Nate Warner), 7:46
FIRST OVERTIME - No scoring
SECOND OVERTIME - Alexandria - Jack Westlund (Strong, Doherty), 1:55
GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Jackson Boline - W, 33 saves, 2 goals allowed; Cathedral - Noah Amundson - L, 26 saves, 3 goals allowed