Hockey: Alexandria gets its shot at top-ranked Hermantown after win over Minneapolis
The Cardinals are a confident bunch as they get set to face the 27-2 Hawks on Friday at 1 p.m. back at the Xcel Energy Center with a trip to the Class A championship game on the line.
The Alexandria boys hockey team will get a shot at Class A power Hermantown on Friday with a trip to the state championship game on the line.
The Cardinals earned that right with a 4-1 win over Minneapolis in Wednesday night’s state quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“We feel like we’re an underrated group of guys,” Alexandria senior goaltender Teagan Pfeffer said. “Hermantown, they get all the media coverage, so we have a lot of guys with a lot of stuff to prove. We’re going to be ready for them.”
Senior Brycen Berg came into the state tournament as Alexandria’s top goal scorer with 27 goals, and he added two more in the biggest game of his career on Wednesday.
Berg got his stick on a Henry Ramstorf shot from the blue line late in the second period. That was enough to deflect the puck past Minneapolis goaltender Alex Lamont for a 2-1 Cardinals lead with 2:04 left in the period.
“Our top line played really well,” Alexandria head coach Josh Meyers said. “You can see they’ve been playing together for a long time this year. With that too, it’s also the two defensemen who are out there on the ice with them.”
Alexandria put the game away in the third. Pfeffer made a sprawling stop for his 19th save of the game with about 12 minutes left on a puck that he gloved just inches from the goal line after it got through his pads.
It was still a one-goal game at that point. Not long after that save, sophomore Gavin Olson scored for Alexandria to make it 3-1.
“Our defense was playing really amazing in front of me,” Pfeffer said. “That one got through, and I just kind of relied on my instinct to make that save. Once we scored that goal, I was like, ‘Oh, we’re going to win this game.’ I had total confidence that we were going to pull it out because we’re a third-period team.”
Olson did a great job of gathering the puck on a pass a bit behind him from Joe Lamski. Olson spun backwards and sent a backhand in for the two-goal lead. It was his eighth goal of the playoffs after scoring seven in the section tournament.
Joe Lamski put the finishing touches on the win with an empty-netter with 2:04 left.
Alexandria fell in a 4-2 game against Minneapolis during the regular season on Dec. 11 when Minneapolis jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Wednesday’s start could not have gone more differently for the Cardinals as Berg scored his 28th goal of the season just 2:31 into the first period to make it a 1-0 lead.
Berg was rewarded for crashing the net on a rebound attempt. He got free near the crease and got just enough of his stick on the puck to get it past Lamont in goal.
“Our team is so much different now, and going back to that (regular-season loss to Minneapolis), yeah we were down 4-0 going into the third period, but we also felt like we made four or five pretty tough mistakes that they capitalized on," Meyers said. "Tonight, obviously we didn’t make too many mistakes that hurt us too bad.”
Alexandria nearly scored again with almost 6 minutes left in the first period when Nicholas Peterson rang a shot off the right post. The Cardinals had just two shots on goal at that point, but they almost put them up 2-0.
Instead, Minneapolis’ pressure paid off with the equalizer with 2:35 left in the first. John Bebler handled the puck along the boards behind the net and sent a perfect centering pass to a wide open Zander Zoia in front of the net. Zoia buried it to make it 1-1.
The Cardinals were outshot 18-12 through two periods, but they had some great chances during that stretch. They almost scored within the first minute of the second period when Lamont got out of position trying to clear a puck.
Alexandria sent a shot in from near the blue line as Lamont scrambled back, and a deflected puck moved across the crease that went just wide of the post. The Cardinals also had a 2-on-1 opportunity come up empty about a minute later.
That pressure kept Alexandria’s confidence up and eventually paid off.
“We knew we were going to keep getting those chances,” senior Josiah Gronholz said. “We were getting them all game, it was just a matter of getting shots on net. We were getting outshot, but I think the play was fairly even considering zone time. I think it was pretty easy for us to keep going there and keep getting our chances.”
Minneapolis, a co-op made up of mostly kids from Southwest and Washburn schools, became the first public school program from the city to make the state tournament since 1994 when Edison qualified for its first and only state tournament in that program’s history. Minneapolis had a big and energetic crowd waiting for them with a lot of white shirts lining the lower bowl of the arena.
“I think it kind of fueled us, honestly,” Gronholz said. “It was pretty awesome for us to go out there and put on a performance like that. Obviously, they outnumbered our fans quite a bit. It was something where we went out there and proved a point to every team in this tourney that we’re here to play.”
Now the Cardinals have an opportunity to make the biggest statement of the tournament so far if they can get a win over Hermantown on Friday afternoon.
“We’re excited. We’ve been waiting for it all year,” Alexandria defenseman Pieter Mulder said. “We knew if we won this game that we were going to have them. We’re ready for them.”
Hermantown (27-2) won 5-1 over New Prague in the 6 p.m. quarterfinal game on Wednesday.
The Hawks feature some of the best talent in the state, led by Max and Zam Plante offensively. Max leads the Hawks in points with 68 (17 goals, 51 assists), and Zam is second on the team with 58 points (22 goals, 36 assists). Hermantown has five guys in all who come into Friday’s game with 31 points or more.
“It’s heart and passion. It’s winning the one-on-one battles and taking care of the puck as best we can,” Meyers said of what is going to give Alexandria a chance to beat the Hawks. “There’s no pressure on us. We weren’t the favorite from day one like Hermantown has been all season. We’re small-town Alexandria. Like Teagan said, we don’t have the big name guys on our team that are getting all the hype, that the NHL scouts are here to see. We’re just going to go play.”
Pfeffer quickly chimed in with a smile on his face after Meyers made that comment.
“I think we do have the big-name guys, we just don’t have the coverage,” Pfeffer said. “These guys are going to show that these next couple games. We got a ton of talent on our team, and we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong and a couple people right.”
Alexandria did that in 2018 when the Cardinals beat Hermantown in the semifinals to make the Class A state championship game. The same path awaits this group as the Cardinals face the Hawks at 1 p.m. on Friday at the Xcel Energy Center.
MINNEAPOLIS (21-7-1) 1 0 0 - 1
ALEXANDRIA (20-6-2) 1 1 2 - 4
SHOTS - ALEXANDRIA - 2, 10, 7 - 19, ; MINNEAPOLIS - 13, 5, 8 - 26
SCORING - FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Brycen Berg (Jack Lamski, Josiah Gronholz), 2:31; Minneapolis - Zander Zoia (John Bebler), 14:25
SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Henry Ramstorf (Tyler Kludt, Brycen Berg), 14:56
THIRD PERIOD - Alexandria - Gavin Olson (Joe Lamski), 5:57; Alexandria - Joe Lamski (unassisted) empty-net goal, 14:56
GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Teagan Pfeffer - 25 saves, 1 goal allowed; Minneapolis - Alex Lamont - 15 saves, 3 goals allowed