March 08, 2019 08:14 PM
In 74 previous boys' state hockey tournaments, a team from St. Cloud has never played in a state championship game.
On Friday afternoon, however, junior Jack Smith and his St. Cloud Cathedral teammates made sure that streak did not reach 75.
Smith, who has committed to play at Minnesota-Duluth, had a pair of goals as the second-seeded Crusaders knocked off third-seeded East Grand Forks 6-2 in the Class A semifinals at Xcel Energy Center.
With the win, Cathedral advances to the championship game at noon Saturday. The Crusaders will face Greenway, which beat Mahtomedi 3-2 in overtime in Friday's other Class A semifinal.
"It would be so big to bring a state title back to St. Cloud," said Smith, who now has 30 goals this season.
The school record is believed to be 40 by Keith Hoppe, who went on to play at Colorado College, in 1984.
"Not just for our school," he continued. "But for the youth program, and for everyone involved with hockey here.
"It would really mean a lot."
St. Cloud has been represented at the tournament over the years. St. Cloud Tech has made seven appearances, including qualifying for the very first state tournament in 1945. St. Cloud Apollo has been there three times.
And Cathedral, the city's third high school, has now made nine appearances - 1993 (Tier II), 1994, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017 and this season.
But no Crusaders team had managed to advance past the semifinals.
"There's so many people who have worked so hard to make Cathedral hockey what it is," head coach Derrick Brown said of a school that boasts alumni like Nate Schmidt, a defenseman with the NHL's Vegas Golden Knights.
(Cathedral activities director Emmett Keenan said Schmidt, who had been watching the game from his team's training room, sent a congratulatory text to assistant coach Tom Bruce afterward).
"This is big for them," the head coach continued. "It's big for St. Cloud. And it's big for (Section) 6A. This is the second-straight season we have a team in the championship game."
Last year, that team was Alexandria, which fell 2-1 to Orono in the title matchup. The Cardinals defeated the Crusaders in double overtime in the section championship game to advance to state.
And it was the lingering sting of that loss that led Smith to turn down a chance to play for the Team USA 17-and-under national squad this season and return to Cathedral.
"I have so much respect for that program, and it would have been an amazing opportunity to play for Team USA," he said. "It was hard to turn that down. But when it came right down to it, I wanted to come back here and play with these guys.
"After losing in double overtime the way we did last season, it felt like we had more to accomplish. Getting here has been our goal."
To take that final step, the Crusaders had to brush off a few odd occurrences Friday. Most notably during the pregame introductions when sophomore Jon Bell took a spill that got replayed on social media.
"It was the high school meme of the year," he joked good-naturedly afterward.
But that didn't stop Cathedral from jumping out to a 3-1 lead after the first period. And after each team scored a goal in the second, the Crusaders added two more unanswered in the third.
And now Smith and his teammates have just one step remaining in their quest to bring a state title back to central Minnesota.
"This was the goal," Smith said. "That's why I came back - to play in this game.
"We have one more to go."
* The Greenway hockey program is steeped in tradition. The Raiders have now been to 10 state tournaments and have three won three state championships.
But until this season, Greenway's last state tournament appearance came in 2001. And around 10 years ago, numbers dropped so low there were serious talks about merging with Grand Rapids.
"It was really close," Raiders coach Grant Clafton said. "We were losing a lot of players to Grand Rapids. And our girls teams are already merged. So it was discussed.
"But the community here (in Coleraine and the surrounding area) just had too much pride. No one wanted to see that happen."
And now Clafton and his team have a chance to add their own names to the program's list of legends.
The Raiders' Cinderella run - which included a 3-2 victory over perennial Class A power Hermantown in the Section 7A championship game - continued Friday when Ben Troumbly scored in overtime to lift his team past Mahtomedi 3-2 in the Class A semifinals.
The goal came after Troumbly had scored late in the third period to tie the score 2-2.
"There's a lot of pride that comes with playing for Greenway," he said. "It's an honor and it makes you want to give it all you've got.
"Knowing the program could have fallen apart just makes doing this feel that much more special."
Updated: March 08, 2019 08:14 PM
Created: March 08, 2019 02:42 PM
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