Boys hockey: Experience, depth takes Cards into section final
ST. PETER — Boasting nearly all of the key pieces it takes to be successful in the game of boys hockey, the Luverne Cardinals will seek to once again put it all together — as they have for the past 27 games this season — in Wednesday night’s Section 3A championship against New Ulm at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
Luverne’s near-miss came against St. Michael-Albertville in the Schwan Cup Tournament Dec. 25 in Blaine. The Cardinals won the Southwest Conference this season, finishing 10-0 in the league.
New Ulm (17-10) returns to Gustavus after defeating Willmar 5-4 in overtime there in the semifinal round. The Eagles have won five straight games dating back to a Feb. 1 blemish against Mound-Westonka.
Luverne’s girls hockey team also finished a big season this year, but lost in a heartbreaker recently to New Ulm in their own section final.
While the boys haven’t played New Ulm yet this year, they’re quite familiar with their upcoming foe.
“There’s a rivalry there because in the youth programs they’ve grown up playing each other,” Luverne head coach Derrick Brown said. “They’ve won three of the last four sections.”
Last season, Marshall reached the state tournament out of Section 3A following a 3-2 overtime victory over Hutchinson. New Ulm was defeated in the second round of sections by Hutchinson. Luverne fell last season to Marshall in the second round.
Four players racked up greater than 50 points for the Cardinals in the regular season this winter, including goals and assists. Sophomore Chaz Smedsrud led the pack with 35 goals scored on 38 shots, as well as 45 assists. Logan Norman had 21 goals scored with 44 assists while Jaxon Nelson scored 26 regular season goals and handed out 36 assists. Gunnar Olson, a senior, scored 31 goals through the regular season and had 25 assists.
A mainstay for Brown’s club, he said, has been its depth of skaters and a trusty goaltender in senior Kendall Meyer. Meyer had 386 saves on 407 shots faced through the regular season.
“We’ve gotten good contribution from all three of our lines consistently and that depth helps in games to keep kids fresh,” Brown said. “We’ve also had great goaltending. Any time you get great goaltending, you feel good going into a game.
“Kendall has been huge for us. Every coach knows that success is built from the net out. He’s a four-year starter and has been through the playoffs and section finals,” Brown added. “We feel confident that he gives us a shot to win every night and have all the faith in the world that he’s going to stop every puck he sees.”
In advance of Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. game, Brown said that — on paper — it should be dandy of a tussle. The winner moves on to the Boys Hockey State Tournament, scheduled for March 5-8 at the Xcel Energy Center and Mariucci Arena.
“It will be a heck of a matchup,” Brown said. “New Ulm has two really good lines. Their first line is very, very good. We’ll have to play good defense. Their goalie, Brauch Krauss, has been for them what Kendall has been for us.”