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Boys hockey: Alexandria showing it can complete with the best in Class A after 5-1 win over 18-3 Little Falls

Brycen Berg's hat trick, Teagan Pfeffer's 35 saves help the Cardinals control their second matchup of the season against the 5th-ranked Flyers.

Alexandria boys hockey
The Alexandria boys hockey team celebrates Brycen Berg's first-period goal that gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead over Little Falls on Jan. 31, 2022. Berg had a hat trick in the game as he helped the Cardinals to a 5-1 win over the fifth-ranked Flyers.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

The Alexandria boys hockey team has believed all season that at its best this group can play with almost any Class A program in the state.

The Cardinals showed that with a 5-1 win over Little Falls on Monday night.

The Flyers, now 18-3, hold Class A’s No. 3 ranking in the QRF through Minnesota-scores.net. They are ranked fifth in the Let’s Play Hockey poll from Jan. 26. Alexandria built a 3-0 lead on them and expanded it in the third period to get one of its biggest wins of the season.

“I feel like when we’re playing well in all three phases, there’s not a team in Class A that can play with us,” senior goaltender Teagan Pfeffer said. “I feel like we have a ton of talent on our roster. We got two goalies in me and Gabe (Evink), we got our defense, our forwards. Everyone works hard in practice, and I think the sky’s the limit for us.”

The Cardinals were the aggressors early and were rewarded for that with two first-period goals. Two seniors connected when Josiah Gronholz assisted on a Brycen Berg goal at 3:14. Gronholz then got one himself as he created a turnover near center ice and got out on the breakaway. He buried the puck past Richie Varriano to make it 2-0 less than 8 minutes into the game.

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Josiah Gronholz
Alexandria senior forward Josiah Gronholz fires in a goal that made it 2-0 in the first period during the Cardinals' win over Little Falls on Jan. 31, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“I get out there and we score one goal, and I feel like we’re going to win that game,” Pfeffer said. “I feel like I’ve worked hard enough to be in the position to close out those games. But when we have such a high-powered offense, it’s absolutely awesome. It takes a lot of stress off me.”

It was 3-0 less than 4 minutes into the second period thanks to a beautiful assist by junior Tyler Kludt. Nicholas Peterson came in on a line change, and Kludt saw it unfolding as he sent a long pass down the ice.

The puck hit Peterson’s stick almost the second he stepped on the ice as Peterson did the rest with a breakaway goal that made it 3-0.

The Cardinals let a big lead slip away in a 7-6 overtime loss when these two teams met in Little Falls on Dec. 7. The Flyers were looking to write a similar script on Monday as sophomore Carter Oothoudt scored with just 4.6 seconds left in the second period to make it a 3-1 game at the second intermission.

Mason Stennes hockey
Alexandria senior forward Mason Stennes gets a free run at the net during the first period on Jan. 31, 2022 against Little Falls.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Instead of folding, the Cardinals returned the punch. Berg scored less than 30 seconds into the third period to shift the momentum back in his team’s favor. He finished off the hat trick with 23 seconds left to put the finishing touches on the win.

“I think we kept our heads level,” Berg said. “We didn’t come out slow in the second and the third after what happened last time. We came out strong. Going back in the locker room I heard Teagan say, ‘They’re not losing confidence over there after they came back on us last time.’ I think that was smart by him. That was essential. It felt better coming off a goal right away in the third.”

The Flyers are the highest scoring team at the Class A level, averaging 6 goals per game. Junior Matt Filippi has 67 points on 34 goals and 33 assists, and senior Hayden Johnson (58 points) and Oothoudt (47 points) make for a potent offensive punch.

The Cardinals held Little Falls to just one goal for only the second time this season. Pfeffer finished with 35 saves on a night when the Cardinals made good on their chances despite getting outshot 36-26.

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Teagan Pfeffer hockey
Alexandria senior goaltender Teagan Pfeffer watches the puck along the board during the Cardinals' game against Little Falls on Jan. 31, 2022. Pfeffer had 35 saves in helping the Cardinals move to 11-6-1 overall with a 5-1 win over the Flyers (18-3).
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

“We definitely stuck to the basics,” Pfeffer said. “Our forwards backchecked absolutely amazing. Defense kept the shots outside. It all starts in practice. We got Berg, (Gronholz), Tyler (Kludt) -- all these guys where I’m seeing awesome shots in practice. I’m ready to play these high-powered offenses like they had tonight.”

Alexandria took six penalties, including a 5-minute major in the second period on Mason Stennes for checking from behind. But the Cardinals penalty kill was strong all game as they kept the Flyers scoreless on the power play.

Alexandria head coach Josh Meyers said it was clear his guys learned from that earlier loss to the Flyers where the Cardinals saw 5-0 and 6-1 leads evaporate.

“Five-on-five we were the better team and showed it by controlling the play in the Flyer zone and getting chances,” Meyers said. “We knew we needed to play an entire game, every shift, every period for 51 minutes. Our defense as a team was very good. We didn’t allow too many point-blank opportunities in the slot. Our forwards did a good job battling on the boards, our defensemen did a really good job moving the puck and utilizing each other against the Flyer forecheck, and Teagan was phenomenal.”

Kludt finished with three assists against the Flyers as he had a helping hand in each of Alexandria’s last three goals.

The Cardinals are 11-6-1 now after starting the season 1-3. They have won eight of their last 10 games, with the two blemishes during that stretch coming against Class AA teams in Totino-Grace and Sartell-St. Stephen.

“Just keep turning it up,” Berg said of the focus for this group going forward. “Keep conditioning, keep working hard in practice every day. Keep believing.”

Alexandria has the rest of the week to prepare for its next big test with a road game at Duluth Denfeld (14-7) set for Saturday at 2 p.m.

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The Cardinals have accumulated some big wins in the last few weeks. Monday’s could be as big of a momentum boost as any as Alexandria tries to keep it going with the regular-season finale now less than three weeks away.

“We just need to build off it,” Pfeffer said. “This is right before a big playoff push. Josh keeps reminding us we got three, maybe even two weeks now until the playoffs. We want to be playing our best hockey at that point, so we’re going to just grind in practice this week and hopefully just keep building off this win.”

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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