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Crusaders Squeak by Cardinals

Matt Fritz’ shorthanded goal is the difference in St. Cloud Cathedral’s Section 3A final win over Alexandria.

SAINT CLOUD—St. Cloud’s Mac Arena captured the essence of postseason high school hockey during the Section 6A championship between Alexandria and St. Cloud Cathedral on Thursday evening.

In a back-and-forth battle for the title, the Crusaders managed to capture their sixth championship in school history with a 2-1 win over the Cardinals, giving them a state tournament birth.

“It’s tough, last games of careers for many players,” Alexandria head coach Ian Resch said. “Hopefully after reflecting a little bit they’ll (seniors) realize it was a special night tonight.”

A well-balanced first period kicked off with seven minutes of uninterrupted fast, hard hitting, defensive hockey by both the Cardinals and the Crusaders.

“It was a great hockey game, and there’s got to be a winner and a loser,” Resch said. “The kids dream of this game their whole life.”

The scoreless first eight minutes included a few timely saves by Alexandria’s Sam Goetsch, including a toe save on Cathedral’s reigning all-time point leader William Hammer.

The Cardinals fed off the play by their keeper and found some offense midway through the first, hitting two posts in one shift on an essentially untested Zach Fritz.

Despite a few turnovers Alexandria played sound in the defensive zone, chipping pucks off the glass, keeping shots to the perimeter, and limiting the dominant top line of the Crusaders.

A huge glove save by Goetsch on a Crusader defenseman from the slot, helped the Cardinals escape the scoreless first period, after a flurry of offense produced by Cathedral.

Goetsch closed out the first stanza with nine saves on six quality-scoring chances and with the help of a pipe, Fritz kicked back six.

“Goetsch was fantastic for them,” “If you told me there were two better goalies than the ones that were on the ice tonight, I’d be hard-pressed.”

An almost identical start to the period as the one before, led to more hitting, end-to-end action, and much more scoring.

Back-to-back great shifts by Alexandria’s sophomore Jack Steffl and senior forward Brandy Bast seemed to spark some offense for the Cardinals.

Junior defensemen Parker Revering rang one off the blocker side post shortly after, followed up by a grade-a opportunity for Bast in the slot, that was gloved down by Fritz.

Goetsch was busy in the other blue paint as well, as the end-to-end action ensued, allowing few second chances and controlling his rebounds well.

The solid goaltending and defense by the Cardinals seemed to amp up their offense, with Steffl cracking the egg on a high tip in the slot off the face-off to put the Cardinals up 1-0.

There was no time to feel good about the goal though, with the Crusaders scoring just 1:34 later on an odd man rush.

Logan Neu managed to slip one by Goetsch, coming off of a slow developing three-on-two chance and tying the game at one-a-piece.

Assists were credited to Matt Fritz and William Hammer on the play.

The fight wasn’t out of the Cardinals, creating a two-on-one opportunity off the next faceoff with Chris Leary and Steffl rocking one off the crossbar for the team’s third post of the night.

An Alexandria power-play at the 13:54 mark, led to a shorthanded, and eventual game-winning goal for Fritz and the Crusaders.

Fritz received a stretch pass from Phil Ruegemer on the far side of the rink, catching the Cardinals on a change. After entering the zone, Fritz let a wicked wrister loose from the left face faceoff dot on a one-on-two, and beat Goetsch high-glove.

“I didn’t know it was going to go in, but it did, and I was fine with that,” Fritz commented on his goal.

The remainder of the entertaining battle went scoreless with Goetsch recording a two-period total of 21 saves and Fritz kicking back 17.

The third and final period kicked off with a monstrous blocker save by Goetsch, after Hammer dished a perfect pass to the far side on a three-on-two.

A tripping penalty on Alexandria’s Christian Canavati, led to the first Cathedral power-play of the contest, but a well defended penalty kill allowed just one shot and few chances.

Fritz came up with continuous timely saves, holding the Crusaders in the game.

Another tripping penalty on Alexandria at the 13:24 mark created the do-or-die atmosphere for both teams, which resulted in another scoreless Cathedral power-play.

In desperation mindset, Alexandria put on a beret of offense in the remaining three minutes of the game, but Fritz was up to the challenge.

“He’s better when he’s busy… Zach’s a very focused kid and has a fantastic demeanor for a goalie,” Johnson said. “He’s got the flat-lined mentality you need to be a successful goalie.”

In the final efforts, the Cardinal’s pulled Goetsch with just under :50 seconds remaining, the man-advantage wasn’t enough as the boys in blue and gold held on for the one-goal win.

Fritz recorded 28 saves in the contest, and Goetsch returned 27, in the great goaltending duel.

With the victory, St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders earned themselves the their sixth section championship in school history, all under the current coaching staff, headed by coach Johnson.

“We’ve been so close, so many times,” Johnson said. “The last few years we’ve been close and got beat by a very good Hermantown team.”

“We have good players, they come and work their butts off… and that makes our jobs easy as coaches.”

The Crusaders will be back in action March 5, in the MSHSL state tournament, held at the Xcel Energy Center.

“I can’t even put this feeling into words,” Fritz said. “It’s so surreal.”

Sports Editor at The St. Cloud State University Chronicle. KVSC 88.1 f.m. Sports Broadcaster. Host radio hockey talk show The Crease on KVSC Sports Stream.

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