Boys hockey: Alexandria overcomes adversity to win Section 6A title in overtime over Fergus Falls
The Cardinals fell behind early in Thursday's section title game, but with the determination that helped them turn their season after a 1-9 start, the Cardinals came back and captured their second straight Section 6A title.
ST. CLOUD - The two-seeded Fergus Falls boys hockey team had the lead for most of Thursday’s Section 6A Championship game against the Alexandria Cardinals.
But despite the deficits they faced all night, the Cardinals never gave in, and with a goal by senior forward Tyler Kludt with 3:52 left in regulation, the Cardinals tied the game at four and forced overtime.
The grit, resolve, and resiliency that Alexandria showed this season appeared in overtime as junior forward Leo Kompelien scored the game-winning goal on a backdoor pass from junior forward Gavin Olson 50 seconds into the period, which gave Alexandria its second-straight section title and a berth in the state tournament.
“To put that final shot in the net and back to the X was awesome for our team, our family, and it’s huge heading into next week,” Kompelien said. “This is awesome, and winning the section title twice brings a feeling like no other.”
Alexandria, the No. 1 seed in the section, didn’t have a lead on Thursday until Kompelien’s goal that gave Alexandria the 5-4 win.
Alexandria (14-12-1) is now making its seventh appearance in the state tournament. The 2023 MSHSL Class A Tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul starts on Wednesday, March 8. Seedings and matchups will be announced in the coming days.
Thursday's win, in many ways, is an example of the kind of season that the Cardinals had. Things didn’t go their way to start, but with a strong work ethic, team play, and hustle, the Cardinals rose above the challenge.
Alexandria trailed 2-0 in the first three and a half minutes of Thursday's game and 3-1 in the middle of the second period, but found a way to make the comeback and win in overtime.
Alexandria lost its first seven games of the 2022-23 season and had a 1-9 record through 10 games, but found a way to turn things around and win back-to-back section titles
“I'm just so proud of these guys for coming back,” Alexandria head coach Josh Meyers said. “We had so many team meetings early on just trying to figure out what was happening. Some doubt was starting to creep in, but we just refocused on believing in each other and each other. Slowly we started building momentum, and things started turning around. It was all kind of like this game. This game was kind of an image of our season.”
The Cardinals found themselves in a hole with a 1-9 record after a 3-0 loss to Chisago Lakes Area on Jan. 7, 2023. While the Cardinals' goal of repeating as section champions may have seemed out of sight to others at that point, they believed in themselves and bought in.
They put in the hard work to enter the hard work to go 10-3-1 in their final 14 regular season games, win all three games in the section playoffs, and get to the state tournament.
“We knew we had the talent to get it done,” Kompelien said. “We knew we had to get it together and get it done as a family.”
Fergus Falls jumped ahead 2-0 in the first period on Thursday with goals by Jack Welde and Colin Becker. Alexandria cut its deficit down to one at the end of the first frame with a goal by junior forward Caleb Lind.
Fergus Falls (14-11-2) swiftly responded as Brayden Nelson scored midway through the second period to push its lead to 3-1.
But this Alexandria team wouldn’t go away. Alexandria kept fighting, scratching, and clawing, leading them to score the game's final four out of five goals.
“This was such a hard-fought battle,” Kludt said. “I can’t even speak because I’m so excited. Josh was preaching to us about sticking to the process, and that's all we can really do. And it's really special doing it with this many seniors.”
Kludt, Kompelien, and junior defender Jack Lamski were a few of the Cardinals who made big plays to complete the come-from-behind victory.
Trailing 3-1 in the middle of the second, Lamski scored a goal to cut the Cardinals' deficit to one goal.
Kludt then scored his first goal of the game with 3:17 left in the second period.
“We were trying not to be negative,” Kludt said. “It’s an emotional game, especially in a section championship. On the bench, we were constantly preaching about playing our game and doing what we had to do to score those goals. Luckily, we got some lucky bounces, good offensive plays by many people, and on defense.”
Alexandria went into the final frame tied with Fergus Falls at 3, but it wasn’t a stress-free final 75 seconds of the second period as Fergus Falls had a power play.
Kompelien made a big defensive stop to help eventually kill that power play.
“He was bringing speed, competing, and you saw him on that power play at the end of the second period kill out the final 30 seconds of the period just by working hard down low,” Meyers said. “That's what he does. He works so hard, and he did on his goal. He beat the guy to the net, got the backdoor pass, and shipped it in.”
Alexandria has now won back-to-back section titles for the second time in program history (2010 and 2011 was the first time).
According to Meyers, a big reason for this turnaround is because of the leadership that the seniors showed.
“They were the voice of the team a lot of times,” Meyers said. “We do as much as we can as coaches, but in the locker room, when we're not there, those guys actually do the talking. They’re reiterating the same messages we’re telling them about buying in. To have those guys has been huge, and we’re very happy they get to celebrate their senior season this way.”
Kludt, who is one of 10 seniors on the team along with goaltender EJ Rasmusen, defensemen Henry Ramstorf, Mason Loch, Matthew Hornstein, and forwards Joe Lamski, Jack Breitzman, Zaven Noetzelman, Nick Peterson, and Keegan Lucy, said the team adopted the mindset of “it’s a brand new season” in the middle of the regular season and that it yielded success.
“It was just an opportunity to start fresh,” he said. “We didn't have that great of a start to the season, but we definitely took it to a new level.”
The Cardinals finished the game with a 46-32 shot on goal advantage. Rasmusen earned the win in net for the Cardinals and made 28 saves.
Alexandria and Fergus Falls have consistently been two of the top programs in recent years, as at least one of them has been in the section championship game.
During the late regular season turnaround this year, Alexandria managed to defeat Fergus Falls twice,
“Those first two games were one thing, but this was completely different,” Meyers said. “They were better, which we knew they were going to be. It’s all about outworking and out-competing them in every facet of the game. We didn’t get too many bounces in the first period, but then we started to after that.”
Alexandria beat Fergus Falls, 4-2, in last season’s section title game, and Fergus Falls has finished as section runner-up for the third straight year.
The Cardinals went 1-2 in the 2022 state tournament and placed fourth.
The Cardinals are confident heading back to the state tournament.
“We're obviously a top-eight team, and our confidence is at an all-time high,” Kludt said. “We believe in ourselves, and that's as much as you can get. We’ll see where we’re seeded and be ready to take on anyone.”
Kludt currently leads the team in points with 41 and is tied for the team lead in goals (18) with Peterson and in assists with 22 after Joe Lamski tied it up with him with three assists on Thursday.