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State hockey: Cardinals dethrone the Hawks as a state title sits a win away

For eight years, Hermantown withstood every other team's best shot as opponents tried to knock the Hawks from their annual ritual of playing in the Class A state championship game.

Powell
Alexandria senior captain Jack Powell interacts with the Cardinals' student section after one of his three goals on the day that helped Alexandria to the 6-1 win over top-ranked Hermantown in the Class A state tournament. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
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For eight years, Hermantown withstood every other team’s best shot as opponents tried to knock the Hawks from their annual ritual of playing in the Class A state championship game.

It never happened. Those eight straight trips to a championship game are a state record. The Hawks, back-to-back state champions, had not even lost to a Class A team since 2015.

Alexandria knew all about that coming into Friday’s semifinals game, and the Cardinals relished the opportunity to be the team that would actually end that run. Players talked about it heading into the game. Then they went out and proved it.

Alexandria dethroned the champs in emphatic fashion with a 6-1 win that puts the Cardinals into their first-ever state championship game on Saturday at noon when they face third-seeded Orono at the Xcel Energy Center.

“Really, I don’t know what to say,” senior goaltender Jackson Boline said. “We just beat the best team in the state, for how many years, 6-1. Like we say every time we talk after these last six games, we weren’t even supposed to win the (section) semis against Sartell. Now we’re going to the state championship. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

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Call them underdogs, and the Cardinals smile. They feed off it.

Alexandria head coach Ian Resch said he saw a quiet calm in his guys in the pre-game locker room ahead of beating fourth-ranked St. Cloud Cathedral for the section title.

“Same approach tonight,” Resch said. “There was just a quiet confidence, a quiet calm. Even going out for the third, I thought I’d see a bit more excitement, but it was just one level, business-like attitude. The kids have done a great job of just controlling their emotions.”

Captain Jack Powell said afterwards that they knew they were going to win this game as they went into it. He then went out and led the charge by playing the best game of his life on the biggest stage of his career to this point.

“Our game plan coming in was to get a body on him,” Hermantown’s 70-point scorer, Tyler Watkins, said. “Try to hit him every time to get him off his game, and he stayed in his game. Credit to him. I think he’s a really shifty defenseman and he played a heck of a game.”

Powell had never had a hat trick in a high school game. He doesn’t remember his last one at any level, but he’ll remember this one after scoring his third goal on an empty netter in the third period that made it 5-1.

“I just wanted to play with confidence,” Powell said. “Being the leader of the team, I can’t get frustrated or show emotion. I have to keep myself in check. I just wanted to do so much for the boys. They love me, I love them. We’re a family, and I just wanted to do my best out there and leave everything on the ice.”

The Hawks took a 1-0 lead in the first period on a Justin Thomas goal at 8:27. Almost two minutes later, the Cardinals got their first power play and Powell scored from out front on assists from Caleb Strong and Ben Doherty.

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Powell got the puck early in the third period of a 2-1 game and rushed the net before going to his backhand for a pretty goal that made it 3-1. His empty-netter all but ended things, but it was an assist to Strong in the second period that might have been his biggest play of the game.

“I just saw open ice and skated” Powell said. “I heard Caleb yelling and threw it to an area. Caleb is so good. He could stick handle out of a phone booth. He’s got the best hands, and he’s so accurate. I knew he would find the back of the net.”

Both Resch and Hermantown head coach Patrick Andrews called that goal the turning point in the game. The Hawks had dominated the second period to that point. They outshot Alexandria 17-5 in the middle frame, but it was the Cardinals who took a 2-1 lead into the intermission.

“I thought the second period, we took the game over,” Andrews said. “Totally took the game over. We couldn’t have played any better. We did everything but score.”

Boline made sure of that. He has been as hot as any goalie in this tournament and was at it again on Friday with 33 saves. In front of him, the Alexandria defense did its best to push the majority of the shots the Hawks (21-7-2) did get to the perimeter.

“They’re very talented,” Andrews said of the Cardinals. “That top line is very skilled. They make plays, they’re always looking to make the extra pass and they made it tonight. Defensively, they just packed it in. They made it really hard to get to the net. Credit them. They worked their butts off to do that.”

The Cardinals blew the game open in the third period with four goals. Junior Ben Jenson scored to make it 4-1 before Powell and junior Evan Lattimer added empty-netters to finish off the biggest win in this program’s history.

“You just got to believe,” Powell said. “We all knew it, nobody else believed in us. Everyone knew we were going to win this game, and it started with confidence from our goaltender, from our defense to our offense. Everybody was just doing their job.”

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With that, the Cardinals (19-10-1) became the talk of the Class A state tournament. Now an even bigger game awaits on Saturday as a team that once lost seven of nine games from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4 is a win away from its first-ever state championship.

Orono (22-7-1) is riding high itself after losing a 4-0 lead over second-seeded Mahtomedi in the semifinals, only to win it 5-4 in overtime.

The Cardinals might not be able to play the role of underdog in the title game. They have proven through two games that they’re as good as anyone in this year’s Class A field.

“I’m confident,” Powell said. “We’re turning around quickly. We’ll enjoy it for a little bit and just get back to business like usual.”

ALEXANDRIA    1 1 4 - 6

HERMANTOWN     1 0 0 - 1

SHOTS - Alexandria - 7, 5, 11 - 23; Hermantown - 5, 17, 12 - 34

SCORING - FIRST PERIOD - Hermantown - Justin Thomas (Brady Baker, Elliott Peterson), 8:27; Alexandria - Jack Powell (Caleb Strong, Ben Doherty), 10:44

SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Strong (Powell), 14:22

THIRD PERIOD - Alexandria - Powell (Shane Birkeland, Jakob Stender), 2:05; Alexandria - Ben Jenson (Stender, Birkeland), 7:55; Alexandria - Powell (empty net) (Strong, Doherty), 14:32; Alexandria - Even Lattimer (unassisted), 16:07

GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Jackson Boline - W, 33 saves, 1 goal allowed; Hermantown - Cole Manahan - L, 17 saves, 4 goals allowed

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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