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Section 3A boys hockey: Luverne earns state berth

MANKATO — For the first time ever, the Luverne High School boys hockey team qualified for the state tournament Thursday.

Eighth-grader Jaxon Nelson scored the Cardinals’ first two goals and Gunnar Olson completed a hat trick as the top seed topped New Ulm 6-1 for the Section 3A championship at All-Seasons Arena in Mankato.

Luverne will compete in the state tournament Wednesday through Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis. Matchups will be drawn on Saturday morning.

The Cardinals were disappointed in their bid for a state tourney berth last year, but this time they made it all the way and bring a 27-0-1 record in with them.

“They battled every game. They never took a game off. To be undefeated heading into the state tournament says a lot about them,” head coach Derrick Brown testified about his players Thursday night.

Luverne and third-seeded New Ulm battled to a 0-0 tie through the first period. But the Cards outscored the Eagles 3-1 in the second and 3-0 in the third.

Brown said Nelson’s second score — a shorthanded goal on a breakaway at the 4:53 mark of the second period — was the “play of the game.” It broke a 1-1 tie.

“You could just tell after that, our guys were ready to believe,” said the coach.

Olson, a senior forward, scored LHS goals three, four and five and Andrew Verhey scored the sixth. Logan Norman, Toby Sengvongxay, Jackson Frankenhoff and Nelson were credited with assists for the game.

“I think both teams were just feeling each other out (in the first period),” Brown said. “Both teams had some nice chances, but nobody was able to bury the puck.”

Luverne’s depth was a big factor, said the coach. New Ulm came into the game with just two lines and Luverne had three. The Cardinals’ game plan was to trap the Eagles in their defensive zone to tire them out and open up the Cardinals’ scoring opportunities.

The plan seemed to work. “I really thought our depth was starting to wear them down,” Brown said.

Kendall Meyer, as he has done all season, played a strong game in goal for the top seed. On Thursday, the senior stopped 23 shots. As a team, Luverne out-shot New Ulm 34-24, with a 19-7 advantage in the first period and a 13-6 advantage in the second.

Luverne advanced to the championship game with a 4-0 victory over Hutchinson, which was highlighted by one more fine Meyer performance. New Ulm edged No. 2 Willmar 5-4 in overtime to get to the final.

The Eagles finished the year at 17-11.

Brown said the Cardinals approached this 2013-14 season differently than last year when they had another fine team and thought it was state-tournament caliber.

“The year before, we played that up and we got upset,” he said Thursday night. “So this year we just talked about always getting better.”

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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