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Class 1A: Crusaders Are The Champs

St. Cloud Cathedral coach explains how his team left the Class 1A field in ‘Rubble’

St. Cloud Cathedral boys' hockey celebrates their Class 1A state championship in front of the glass near the student section at Xcel Energy Center. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

As St. Cloud Cathedral made good on head coach Robbie Stocker’s wish to win the final 15 games of the season, the Crusaders “scattered” a favorite player of the game trophy along the way.

Crusaders players cherished the Paw Patrol character Rubble plush dog for their “Dawg of the Game” award so much that senior goalie Nick Hansen brought it to the Class 1A state tournament championship postgame press conference. The dog and the state championship trophy adorned the Crusaders’ table as they talked about their 3-1 win over the Hermantown Hawks in the Class 1A boys’ state hockey title game on March 9.

“I think the whole team was dawgs today,” Hansen said.

Otherwise, the award “scattered” throughout the team, as Stocker said.

Cathedral goaltender Nick Hansen made 28 saves in the Class 1A championship game. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

St. Cloud Cathedral needed a full team effort against the Hawks, the last team to beat the Crusaders this season. It started with Andrew Dwinnell scoring at 3:48 of the game, assisted by John Hirschfeld and Joey Gillespie.

The Crusaders survived a defensive battle in the second period, which spilled into the first half of the third period before Dwinnell turned a behind-the-back pass into a goal for a 2-0 lead. Dwinnell said that they practiced that one.

“It’s a play we always work on in practice,” Dwinnell said. “We do lots of zone entry drills, and my linemates are usually the first ones on the puck and the first ones in the zone, so I feel like I’m trailing play a lot.”

Gillespie extended the lead, putting the Crusaders up 3-0 at the 12:18 mark of the third period. It marked the 10th straight game with three or more goals for the Crusaders and the 14th in the final 15 games of the season.

“They’re sneaky good. They don’t really overpower you, it’s just all of a sudden they have a three-on-two or a two-on-one from inside the dots,” said Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews.

Hermantown tried to chip away with an empty net late in the game, but the Hawks couldn’t muster more than a goal, which came from Alexander Francisco. That’s despite the fact that the Hawks outshot the Crusaders 29-21.

“Obviously, they have a good goalie and against any good goalie, you have to get to the paint,” Hawks forward William Esterbrooks said. “They kept us outside pretty much the whole game.

“We weren’t able to get inside in front of his eyes very well. We did end up scoring one, and it was in the paint. I would have liked to have done that a little more.”

Andrew Dwinnell fires a puck over Hermantown goaltender Dane Callaway. Dwinnell scored twice in the title game. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

Hansen simply dominated in goal with 28 saves and a .966 save percentage. He didn’t play in the previous meeting against Hermantown due to a shoulder injury, a time he called the most challenging in his young hockey career.

“It’s the longest break I took from being on the ice, probably since I started playing 10-12 years ago now,” Hansen said. “So it was really hard for me, but the guys around me made sure to keep my confidence up and get ready to go back in.”

That first Hermantown game back on Jan. 11 marked the turning point of the season. The Hawks beat the Crusaders 3-1 on that date, snapped a three-game winning streak for the Crusaders at the time. Hansen returned to goal after that loss, and the Crusaders never lost again.

“That set the tone, when he came back, what this group was going to be,” Stocker said. “I can’t speak highly enough of him as a leader on what he was able to do for this group.”

Cathedral bounced back quickly with a 13-1 rout of Mankato East followed by a 9-1 blowout of Princeton and a 7-1 win over Little Falls. The Crusaders kept winning and capped a Section 5 title run with a 4-1 win over Monticello.

A 5-1 win over Northfield to open the state tournament on March 6 had the Crusaders looking all the more confident, but No. 2-seed Warroad gave the No. 3-seed Crusaders everything they could handle in the state semifinals. Cathedral squeaked out a 4-3 overtime win over the Warriors to advance to the title game. Warroad took third place at the state tournament; Orono won the consolation bracket.

Top-seeded Hermantown had a similar path to the final with a 6-0 blowout of Alexandria followed by a 7-6 overtime win over defending champion Mahtomedi. Andrews acknowledged that it impacted his team for the championship game.

Vince Gebhardt and goaltender Nick Hansen embrace as the Crusaders celebrate their state championship. (MHM Photo / Rick Olson)

“I thought we got better and better as the game went on,” Andrews said. “We started to outshoot them. I really liked our second period, and the third period was fine. Yeah, they got those two goals, and it was kind of weird because I felt like we had the better go of it, honestly.”

In the end, the Crusaders won the Class 1A title for the second time since 2019.

“I think that it’s really good for our area,” Hansen said. “I know that sometimes we can struggle getting numbers out for the team, and to be able to attract more players to play hockey because of what we’re able to do right now, and being able to have more options makes better hockey teams, and better hockey teams win championships.”

Matthew Davis is an experienced Sports Reporter and has covered Olympic, professional, collegiate and high school athletes for various newspapers and websites. He won a North Dakota Newspaper Association sports reporting award in 2008. He has a degree in Mass Communication from North Dakota State University.

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