Great teams -- the ones that are serious about trying to win championships -- often have a level of focus night in and night out regardless of who they play.
In that sense, the third-ranked Alexandria boys hockey team looked the part of a serious contender in Class A in the home opener on Tuesday night. The Cardinals never gave Sauk Rapids-Rice a chance. Five first-period goals made sure of that as Alexandria coasted to a 10-0 win over the Storm (0-2) to move to 3-0.
“I liked our pace and our movement,” Alexandria head coach Ian Resch said. “I thought we moved our feet well, I thought we moved the puck and really played as units. Each line played well together, the D-pairs played well supporting each other and moving the puck. Our forecheck was pretty aggressive. We outnumbered them a lot, won a lot of races and had a lot of puck time in the offensive zone.”
Junior forward Derek Pesta scored less than four minutes in and the goals kept coming. Matthew Carlsen, Josiah Gronholz, Ben Doherty and Zach Wosepka all scored before Sauk Rapids-Rice could get to the first intermission.
“Up and down, everyone trusts the guy next to him,” senior forward Ben Jenson said of this team. “It’s just nice knowing every guy is going to have your back out there.”
The Cardinals made the extra pass all night to set up scoring chances on open nets where Storm goalie Porter Siltman had no chance. Alexandria senior Alex Jost set up Gronholz’s goal with a no-look pass back in front of the net. Senior Evan Lattimer sent a pass from one side of the ice to the other to create an open net for a Joe Westlund goal. By the end of the night, senior Jack Westlund had two goals, while Jenson and Lattimer each got one themselves to make it nine different players lighting the lamp.
“I think it starts from a mindset,” Resch said. “When you care about the guy beside you and want him to have success, you see those little passes. You look for it and you make those plays and you end up with guys in an empty net..”
Alexandria outshot the Storm 45-11 as senior Bailey Rosch earned the shutout in net. Through three wins, the Cardinals have outscored Little Falls, Willmar and Sauk Rapids 20-1.
“With every team, we’ve been on top of them right away,” Jost said. “The forecheck isn’t giving them much room, and this year we’ve been scoring a lot more goals. That’s going to be huge. From top to bottom, we’re just solid. We like to move the puck a lot, which helps us bury it.”
Alexandria has controlled the puck so much that Resch said one of his main concerns early this season is how the Cardinals will fare when they are forced to defend their own zone. They simply haven’t seen it much through three games, but the Flyers (2-2), Willmar (0-2) and the Storm have just two wins between them.
“If you want to win a championship at the section and state level, you have to be solid in your own zone,” Resch said. “As we play teams that are a little better offensively, we’ll spend a little more time in our own zone and find out where we’re at. It’s a good start, but there has to be constant growth because it’s so hard to repeat what we did last year. The detail has to be there. We can’t assume anything, so we need to constantly get better.”
That includes cleaning up some penalty issues that Alexandria had on Tuesday. The Cardinals spent 27 minutes in the box on eight infractions. The Storm could do nothing with that as they went 0-for-7 on the power play.
“When you get up in a game like this, all of a sudden players get frustrated and things get chippy. I’m not real pleased where we took some penalties talking back to refs,” “Resch said. “That has to be cleaned up. We should have learned our lesson the last game in the state tournament where we took too many penalties. You’re going to take penalties, but our goal is six minutes a game in penalties, and we went way beyond that tonight.”
The tests for the Cardinals are about to get harder in the near future. Alexandria goes to River Lakes (2-2) on Thursday before going to second-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral (3-0) Dec. 11 and back home against St. Cloud (1-0-1) on Dec. 13.
“We’re pumped,” Jenson said. “It’s always fun playing our rivals like that. The Tech/Apollo team, we’ve always gone head-to-head with them really well and then obviously Cathedral. Last season, they beat us pretty bad the first time we played them and then we came back and beat them to go to state. It’s always fun playing them.”
Jenson said they will treat that Cathedral game just like any other regular season game. After a dominant start, the Cardinals will get an even better idea of where they stand within the next couple weeks in both the conference and section fields.
“We’ll definitely learn a lot about ourselves,” Jost said. “We got Cathedral and St. Cloud, and they’re tough. We’ll learn a lot more about how to really play defensively in our zone. It’s early in the season and we’re still working things out.”
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE 0 0 0 - 0
ALEXANDRIA 5 4 1 - 10
SHOTS - Sauk Rapids-Rice - 6, 2, 3 - 11; Alexandria - 20, 15, 10 - 45
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Andrew Revering - 1 assist; Caleb Strong - 3 assists; Josiah Gronholz - 1 goal; Derek Pesta - 1 goal; Joseph Bigger - 2 assists; Ben Doherty - 1 goal, 1 assist; Ben Jenson - 1 goal; Jack Westlund - 2 goals, 1 assist; Joe Westlund, 1 goal, 1 assist; Evan Lattimer - 1 goal, 1 assist; Mac Pfeffer - 1 assist; Carsten Wessel - 1 assist; Zach Wosepka - 1 goal, 1 assist; Shane Birkeland - 1 assist; Matthew Carlsen - 1 goal; Alex Jost - 2 assists