John’s Journal: St. Paul’s Hometown Team Gets The Job Done
One Year After Disappointment, Cretin-Derham Hall Wins At State
Posted: Thursday, March 9, 2023 - 6:41 PM
There are no home games at the boys state hockey tournament, but the team from Cretin-Derham Hall treated Thursday’s Class 2A state quarterfinal as just that.
The St. Paul school is only 3.6 miles from Xcel Energy Center, so distance was not an issue. The Raiders’ game with Maple Grove was scheduled for an 11 a.m. start, so the Cretin-Derham Hall players were able to rise around the same time as they would on a normal school day. Routine was important.
Another even bigger key was that they slept in their own beds Wednesday night instead of settling into a hotel in downtown St. Paul, as almost all teams do. The result was a 3-1 win by the unseeded Raiders over the second-seeded Crimson. Later in the day, they checked into a hotel for the rest of the tournament.
The Raiders will meet Edina in Friday night’s semifinals. The third-seeded Hornets led 6-3 in the third period before holding off unseeded Moorhead 7-6 in two overtimes.
A year ago, Cretin-Derham Hall ended a 13-year streak of missing the state tournament. That accomplished was celebrated with the usual hoopla, which was followed by a 6-0 loss to Prior Lake in the quarterfinals, followed by a season-ending 4-3 loss to Edina in the consolation bracket.
That 2022 quarterfinal game also was an 11 o’clock start, to this year’s Raiders felt they were in a good place coming into Thursday’s game. Add the motivation from last year’s state tournament and everything seemed right.
“We knew the empty feeling that we had,” coach Matt Funk said. “I've talked to all of my seniors from last year that graduated, and they all said the same thing, ‘Go finish what we couldn't do last year. Do it for us.’ And I knew with our leaders … they knew what we had to do. So when the draw came out, we saw the 11 o'clock game and we kind of smiled, but we know how to handle that game. We did a lot of things different this year. We had a lot of pomp and circumstance leading up to last year's game, with our community and having not been here for a while.”
Raiders senior Simon Houge said, “I feel like we came in with a little chip on our shoulder. We know how to play this 11 o'clock game and we were able to tell the new guys how that felt last year. Everyone kind of bought into it and we were willing to stick to the game plan.
“We didn't stay at the hotel so we all got to sleep in our own bed and get a good night’s rest. … I feel like last year we came in with a lot of confidence but this year it was controlled.”
Cretin-Derham Hall goaltender junior Leo Miller, who played behind three-year starter Marko Belak last year, made 20 saves Thursday against Maple Grove. Miller was injured in late December and was out until mid-February. He returned for the last game of the regular season, a 3-4 overtime loss to White Bear Lake that gave the Raiders a 2-5 record in the final seven games before the postseason.
“The last three weeks he really was committed, he got himself healthy and right now he’s mentally challenging the shooter,” Funk said of Miller. “He's calm and collected back there and it's what we need. He's confident with the group he has in front of him and the group is comfortable with him.”
After last season’s state tournament, Miller texted the coach with a simple message about 2022-23.
“Leo texted me and said, ‘Next year, we're coming back and we're going to do something special. And we'll be there on Saturday night.’ So I think he's in the right mindset.”
The Blowout And The Overtime
Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman noticed something during the Spuds’ game against Edina: Fans were leaving the arena.
Edina’s Bobby Cowan had scored his third goal midway through the third period to give Edina a 6-3 lead. It looked for all the world that the game had been decided, but the Spuds roared back to force a 6-6 tie at the end of regulation.
“They had reason to leave, right?,” Ammerman said.
Abe Carlson scored Moorhead’s fourth goal at 8:50, Caleb Alderson made it 6-5 at 14:11 and Colby Krier tied it 6-6 with 58 seconds remaining in regulation.
In the second overtime, Charlie Sandven scored to allow Edina to advance to the semifinals.
“Give these guys credit,” Ammerman said of the Spuds. “It was incredibly impressive. … There's no question we dug our own hole. We're not making excuses for that. There were a lot of things that we did to give them those opportunities and they were beautiful goals that they scored. But for our guys it was just grit and determination. I'm extremely proud of them.
“We're in the entertainment business and people got their money's worth.”
Win Or Lose, A Dream Fulfilled
Whether teams are successful on the scoreboard or not, coaches and players often express gratitude for the opportunity to fulfill a dream by playing at state.
“This is the event we dream of our whole life,” said Maple Grove senior Finn Brink. “We've been playing together since we were seven years old, I've known these guys since I was a youngster. And this is what you dream about. You dream of being in the winning interview. Obviously that didn't happen but it’s just a special event and I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here.”
Teammate and fellow senior Luke Margenau added, “Yeah, like Ben said, we grew up together. So the opportunity to play in the state tournament here with all those boys that you grew up with your whole life? It's pretty cool.”
--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]