On paper, it doesn’t look good.
The Little Falls Flyers hope to make things look better on the ice when they face the defending Class 1A state champions St. Thomas Academy at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
The second-ranked and No. 2-seeded Cadets enter this year’s state tournament with a 23-4 record. Their four losses were to 2A’s top-ranked Duluth East (5-4), fifth-ranked Edina and 10th-ranked Hill Murray twice. Take those four scores out and the Cadets have outscored their other 23 opponents 144-25.
In 17 games, St. Thomas’ goalie David Zevnik has allowed just 29 goals for a 90.9 save percentage. Ian West has a 93.2 save percentage in nine games. Combined, those two have nine shutouts, including a stretch of four straight to close the regular season.
“They’re a pretty stingy defensive team that can score goals,” said Flyers head coach Tony Couture. “Obviously, when you go against a team like that you have to play great defense and your goaltender has to hang in there with you and try to win a game for you. We need to get some breaks and put the puck in the net, plus, stay out of the penalty box.”
St. Thomas is returning its goalie and four of its top five defensemen from last year’s state title team. Offensively, they are led by first-line players Peter Krieger (14 goals, 46 points), Andrew Commers (22, 40) and Tom Novak (15, 38). Defenseman Eric Schurhamer, an All-Metro first-team player, has 14 goals and 41 points with Alex Johnson bringing in 20 goals and 43 points from the second line.
Joey Hanowski leads the Flyers with 31 goals and 57 points. Ben Newman has 21 goals and 45 points and Luke Majerle 14 goals and 43 points. Austin Bjorge has scored 25 points on the second line.
Michael Stumpf enters the state tournament with a 91.3 save percentage in 28 games.
“It’s all new for these guys,” Couture said of this year’s team. “We have all new kids since the last time we went to state (2009). We as coaches have to realize that they’re going to be a little jittery in that first period. They’ll be a little overwhelmed so we’ll have to get them ready and try to talk to them about everything.
“They hope they just settle down and not get any dumb penalties and try and play our game.”
The Flyers struggled to find their game early in the season as they started 2-4 and were 3-6 after nine games. They then rattled off 13 straight wins before dropping their last three games of the regular season. But Couture pointed out that last game, a 2-0 loss to top-ranked and No. 1-seeded Hermantown, was a turning point.
“We played very well that game and to go up to Hermantown on a Tuesday night, in the last game of the season, and only lose 2-0 we thought we played very well that game and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. They didn’t score a 5-of-5 goal against us.
“We took that game and went into our section tournament and played a very good tournament. We only allowed one goal in each of those games.”
Of the Flyers’ six trips to state they’ve faced the top-ranked or defending state champion in the first round four times.
Little Falls opened the 2008 state tournament against St. Thomas, losing 5-3 before going on to win the consolation championship.
The Cadets have won three state tournaments since 2006 and were third in 2007.
“They’re pretty good,” Couture said. “This is probably not an easy draw, but whoever you get is going to be good — 15 of the 16 section No. 1 seeds are here. We’ll have to play the role of underdog and try to knock them off.”
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5856.