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Luverne falls, 4-1, in Section 3A boys hockey final

Luverne's NIck Harder puts a shot on goal Wednesday night. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)1 / 5
Declan Beers races forward with the puck for the Cardinals. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)2 / 5
Daniel Tofteland (30) holds the second-place trophy while teammates look on following Luverne's sectional final defeat. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)3 / 5
Luverne's Trey Roberts (33) is comforted following Wednesday's game. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)4 / 5
(Tim Middagh/The Globe)5 / 5
  1. PETER -- The dream of a second straight berth in the Minnesota state Class A boys hockey tournament ended a win short for Luverne High School Wednesday night. In the Section 3A championship game, a defensive-minded Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato team with a hot young goalie turned the Cardinals away, 4-1.

The game at Lund Arena on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter matched Section 3A’s top seed, Luverne -- armed with a 20-6 record -- against the second-seeded Dragons of LDC. In a Jan. 27 meeting between the two teams in Litchfield, Luverne came away with a 4-2 victory.

But Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato won the all-important rematch.

LDC head coach Chris Olson chalked it up to attention to detail.

“You take a look at the skill level Luverne has. If you give them an inch of space, you saw what can happen,” he said.

“We had to be solid on the blue lines,” he continued. “On the blue lines we had to chip out. And the times we didn’t do that, we got in trouble.”

Rarely do the fast-skating Cardinals score just one goal in a game. But despite the fact that they put a lot of pressure on the Dragons’ defense, the Dragons’ defense held firm. Much of that was due to freshman goalkeeper Darby Halonen, who played like an experienced senior.

“He controlled the pace. And for a 15-year-old, that’s pretty impressive,” Olson said.

Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato played LHS to a draw in the first period, scored the lone goal of the second period and upped the lead to 2-0 early in the third before the Cardinals answered. The Cardinals were unable to breach the Dragons’ wall a second time, however.

“We knew coming in, this was going to be a battle,” said Luverne head coach Phil Paquette. “It’s a tough team from top to bottom, and we knew they were going to give it everything. We threw everything at ‘em. We didn’t quite have that mojo. We weren’t hitting on all cylinders.”

Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato’s Corey Benda scored the first goal of the section championship Wednesday as 9:15 elapsed in the second period. It came on the heels of a breakaway stopped by Luverne goalkeeper Daniel Tofteland just a few feet from the net. But the ricochet could not be controlled. Benda was assisted on the goal by Caleb Keith.

Just 44 seconds into the third period, the second goal came from Orrin Grangroth, who took the puck on his own side and skated deftly through the Luverne defenses.

Luverne got on the scoreboard three minutes later on a power play. Gaige Nath got the goal after taking control of a loose puck near the LDC net, and the sizeable Luverne crowd was suddenly energized.

The energy was finally sapped, however, with 4:24 remaining in the game, when LDC’s Blake Johnson tallied his team’s third goal from about 40 feet away on the left side. A final goal with just 47.8 seconds remaining, by Brandt Pedersen, on an empty Luverne net, made the final 4-1.

The big game began as the theme from “Rocky” blared on loudspeakers, and it was scoreless throughout the first period. Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato got on the offense quickly, but at 15:05 showing on the clock, a 2-minute penalty on the Dragons’ Ben Lindquist for elbowing gave the Cardinals an advantage. They managed to put two shots on Halonen, but at 14:17 Luverne’s Nick Harder garnered his own 2-minute penalty for interference.

Later, with both teams at full strength, a short, hard shot by Luverne’s Coy Gonnerman bounced squarely off the chest of Halonen. The Cardinals were getting into their offense much better midway through the period, but still no goals.

Twice with about four minutes remaining in the opening period, LHS senior forward Kasyn Kruse -- the top goal-scorer in Minnesota Class A -- made smooth moves with the puck toward the Dragon net and caused Cardinal fans to hold their breath. But no goals. With 2:22 left in the period, Luverne had a man advantage again for two minutes, but the Cards and Dragons went into the second period still scoreless, with LHS attempting 11 shots and LDC eight.

Luverne, speedier than LDC, was countered in the second period by physical play from Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato. The green-clad Dragons out-shot the Cardinals in the second period 18-11.

“We had to (get physical),” said Olson. “It didn’t have to be good, strong body checks. We just had to get them to go parallel.”

Even the prolific goal-scorer, Kruse, was held scoreless -- though he was able to attempt many good shots that Halonen was able to turn away.

“They knew who our top guys are. I’m sure that was their game plan, to limit our opportunities,” Paquette said.

A second straight state berth was what the Cardinals were shooting for all season long.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Paquette. “We got such a great group of seniors.”

For the game, Luverne out-shot LDC 36-35.

Luverne 0 0 1 -- 1

Litchfield/D-C 0 1 3 -- 4

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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