Alexandria ends Hermantown's run of eight straight hockey title-game appearances
ST. PAUL - The dynasty may not be over, but it's on hiatus this year.Hermantown's run of eight consecutive Class A state championship appearances came to an end Friday afternoon when fourth-seeded Alexandria Area upset the No. 1 Hawks 6-1 in a hi...
ST. PAUL - The dynasty may not be over, but it's on hiatus this year.
Hermantown's run of eight consecutive Class A state championship appearances came to an end Friday afternoon when fourth-seeded Alexandria Area upset the No. 1 Hawks 6-1 in a high school state tournament semifinal before 11,905 at Xcel Energy Center.
Senior defenseman Jack Powell scored three goals and assisted on another to lead the Cardinals (19-10-1) into today's noon championship game against Orono (22-7-1), which survived blowing a four-goal lead to beat second-seeded Mahtomedi 5-4 in overtime in the other semifinal.
Hermantown (21-7-2), the two-time defending state champion, will take on Mahtomedi (22-7-1) for third place at 9 a.m. today at Xcel.
"We just beat the best team in the state for however many years, 6-1," said senior goaltender Jackson Boline, who stopped 33 of 34 shots. "We weren't even supposed to win (the Section 6A) semis and now we're going to the state championship. It's an unbelievable feeling."
Alexandria stumbled through the early portion of its schedule, twice losing three in a row and going 5-7-1 in the first half of the season.
Those defeats included a 7-1 loss to St. Cloud Cathedral and 4-1 to St. Cloud. While they started off a holiday tournament by beating highly ranked Greenway in overtime, the Cardinals then lost 3-0 to Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl and 3-1 to Hibbing-Chisholm, a team Hermantown defeated 8-3.
"We got overconfident," Alexandria coach Ian Resch said. "We thought we had hit our stride and then we lost our next three. We had to regroup and talk about work ethic and commitment, all those things that go into a winning program. I think we grew up a ton going through those tough times."
It appeared the Cardinals would have a tough time Friday, as well, after junior wing Justin Thomas gave Hermantown the early lead.
Thomas opened the scoring at 8:27 of the first period when he took a pass at the red line, skated into the Alexandria zone and fired a shot between the defenseman's and goaltender's legs.
"Our coaches were harping on me to make one quick move and shoot the puck quick," Thomas said. "I pulled the puck back and shot it through the defenseman's legs and used him as a screen to pop it through the (goalie's) five-hole."
A little more than two minutes later on a power play, Powell beat Hawks goalie Cole Manahan stick side on a nice pass down low from Caleb Strong for a 1-1 tie.
Hermantown owned a 17-to-5 shots-on-goal advantage in the second period, but allowed the only goal of the frame.
"I thought we had an OK start," Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said. "In the second period, I thought we took the game over. We did everything but score, and I think that was the turning point."
Powell made the key play in the second period when he took the puck 1-on-3 into the Hermantown zone, skated behind the net and backhanded a pass out to Strong in the slot. The sophomore forward put it away for his 13th goal of the season and a 2-1 lead.
"I just saw open ice and skated in," Powell said. "I knew I wasn't going to get around that defenseman and I heard Caleb yelling to throw it to an area. Caleb is so good that he could stickhandle in a phone booth. He's got the best hands and is so accurate that I knew he'd find the back of the net."
It didn't mark the only end-to-end rush of the game for Powell, who acts more like a forward who has scored dozens of goals than a defenseman who now has 11.
"He's a great player and is very skilled," Hawks senior center Tyler Watkins said. "Our game plan coming in was to play the body on him and try to hit him every time and get him off his game. He stayed in his game, a credit to him. He played a heck of a game."
Powell delivered the signature moment of the contest when he took the puck off a faceoff in the Cardinals' end and raced down the left wing before deking Manahan and slipping in a backhand at 2:05 of the third period for a 3-1 lead.
"Jack is a heady player who has great speed and he found a hole and away he went," Resch said. "His speed is dangerous and he used all 85 feet of the rink. That's a great play by a great kid."
Hermantown, which rallied from two goals down in the title game a year ago en route to winning in double overtime and accomplished the same feat in the Section 7A championship game against Greenway, was unable to do so again. The last time the Hawks failed to reach the final was in 2009 and the last time they lost to a Class A team was to East Grand Forks in the 2015 title game, a span of 48 games.
The Cardinals added goals by Ben Jenson, who had stationed himself in front of the net to receive a pass from behind the net by freshman Jakob Stender, and empty-netters by Powell and defenseman Evan Lattimer to seal the deal.
Alexandria Area 1-1-4-6
First period - 1. H, Justin Thomas (Brady Baker, Elliott Peterson), 8:27; 2. AA, Jack Powell (Caleb Strong, Ben Doherty), 10:44 (pp).
Second period - 3. AA, Strong (Powell), 14:22.
Third period - 4. AA, Powell (Shane Birkeland, Jakob Stender), 2:05; 5. AA, Ben Jenson (Stender, Birkeland), 7:55; 6. AA, Powell (Strong, Ben Doherty), 14:32 (en); 7. AA, Evan Lattimer, 16:07 (en).
Saves - Jackson Boline, AA, 33; Cole Mahanan, H, 17.