It didn’t seem incredibly daring when I selected top-seeded Andover as the tournament’s team to beat.
Considering that the Huskies’ offense had only been held to two goals or fewer three times this season, there didn’t seem to be any way on paper for the defensively-disciplined yet unseeded St. Thomas Academy Cadets to hold them down. But that’s the State Tournament for you.
After Andover scored 30 seconds into the second period of Thursday’s quarterfinal to take a 2-1 lead, they wouldn’t score again despite doubling the Cadets in shots and attempting multiple power plays. While not having an abundance of high-end talent, the Huskies prided themselves on their depth, but in the final two periods they sorely needed a play-making goal scorer. UMD commit Wyatt Kaiser was a force on the blue line, but the forwards weren’t able to get much penetration late.
Credit first-year Cadets coach Trent Eigner for an impeccable coaching job. Just as the Cadets modeled in the section final against Burnsville, they completely locked the doors defensively the instant they grabbed a lead. After going behind 2-1 early in the second period, the Cadets scored twice in the next 3:25 to take the advantage that they never relinquished.
St. Thomas Academy used high school icings to their advantage, which allow the offending team to change personnel. But they didn’t rely entirely on cheap clearances. Goalie Tommy Aitken stood on his head and made some remarkable saves late in the game and withstood numerous goalmouth scrambles. He ended with 33 saves and a signature win. The game was scoreless for the final 30-plus minutes. Final: Cadets 3, Huskies 2.
It’s a rude awakening for Andover, making its State Tournament debut and looking to make noise. With 15 seniors graduating, they’ll have to hit the reset button next year and prove that they’re able to reload as opposed to rebuild — the mark of a powerhouse program.
(And pity for Moorhead, who has to face the top seed in their consolation semi.)
Now that there’s egg on my face for the inaccurate Andover tout, here were the other big takeaways from Thursday’s action.
- Blake 7, Maple Grove 5. This game was an absolute blast. For unseeded teams to win typically, they need to emulate what the Cadets did against Andover: grab a lead and try to hang on. Maple Grove took the opposite approach and wound up in a shootout, coming back from three deficits along the way, including a 5-3 hole in the third period. The Crimson scored from all corners of ice, and while they didn’t have as strong a net-front presence as the Bears, their marksmanship was a sight to behold. With the game knotted at 5-5, Blake cashed in on a power play in the closing minutes that originated from a questionable slashing penalty, the second straight game they’ve benefited from a late borderline call. In their section final, the Bears were awarded an overtime penalty shot on a breakaway that turned into an overtime winner. Props to the Bears, though, for capitalizing on the opportunities on both occasions.
- Eden Prairie 4, Lakeville South 0. Is Eden Prairie going to make it back to the title game? Veteran coach Lee Smith said last year’s overtime loss to Edina in the championship was one of the most difficult of his career, and his team looks determined to get back to the title tilt a year later. The Eagles were not challenged in their 4-0 win over Lakeville South, though the Cougars might’ve been a paper tiger all along after playing in a weaker conference and struggling against Hastings in their section final. Nonetheless, Eagles defenseman Luke Mittelstadt, not known as a goal-scorer, seems to come alive in the State Tournament. He was scintillating last year during their impressive run and looked the part of a Gophers commit on Thursday with a dazzling goal on a drive to the net. Ben Steeves is the real deal as well. The Mr. Hockey Finalist has nine multi-goal games this year and is headed to UMD, one of six D1 commits on the roster. Plus, goalie Axel Rosenlund won’t be fazed after everything he’s faced the last two postseasons. Eden Prairie versus Blake will be a thrilling semi-final.
- Hill-Murray 5, Moorhead 1. It’s not as shocking as the Andover result, but the dominance by Hill-Murray came out of nowhere. These two teams played a 4-3 game in Moorhead back on Feb. 15, which seemed to signal another dogfight in the State Tournament, but Hill-Murray wiped the floor with the Spuds and made this a third-period snoozer. Nick Pierre scored twice in the game and now has three multi-goal games in his career against Moorhead. The Wisconsin commit is having an awesome playoff run with six goals in four games and a short-handed game-winning goal in the section final versus White Bear Lake. He and senior Charlie Strobel are worth the price of admission, and goaltender Remington Keopple is a Frank Brimsek finalist. With Andover out of the picture, they draw Metro East rival St. Thomas Academy in the semi, who they’ve beaten 3-2 and tied 1-1 already this season. Should be a war between these two private school stalwarts.