ST. PAUL - Losing their last game in the Class 1A state hockey tournament was not an option for the Little Falls Flyers.
After defeating Virginia 6-2 in the quarterfinals, the top-seeded and unbeaten Flyers were dealt a devastating 6-1 setback by Breck in Friday's semifinals.
In Saturday's 9 a.m. third-place game, the Flyers got off to a sleepy start, falling behind 3-0 after one period against the second-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders.
Ben Hanowski (9) of Little Falls brought the puck around the net in Saturday's Class 1A third-place victory over St. Cloud Cathedral. Hanowski scored seven goals in the tournament.
Their slumber preceded a three-goal Flyers' second period. Ben Hanowski's goal with 22 seconds left resuscitated Little Falls and gave the Flyers a 4-3 victory at the Xcel Energy Center.
Third place is the highest finish in program history in five consecutive trips to state for Little Falls.
To do it with this group of kids is very special, Flyers coach Tony Couture said. (Assistant) coach (Jon) Majerle always talks about finishing on a win, and that's what we wanted to do down here. Whether it was consolation, third or the championship, we wanted to win. We knew it would have been a lot tougher if we would have lost the last game.
Hanowski, who finished his standout career as the leading scorer in state history (196 goals, 209 assists, 405 total points), scored his seventh goal of the tournament, the game-winner, off a pass from Wesley Waytashek, who flipped the puck in front and Hanowski steered it through the 5-hole of Crusaders goalie Nick Maiers.
It was just a great play by Wesley to get the puck to the net and I was fortunate to get a good bounce and get it on my stick, Hanowski said.
St. Cloud Cathedral 3
The key: Ben Hanowski of Little Falls scored with 22 seconds remaining.
Overall: LF finishes 30-1-0.
Flyers goalie Michael Sperl came up big to stymie Cathedral in the third, making a cartwheel save on his back with about eight minutes left and making a prodigious glove save on Crusaders standout defenseman Nate Schmidt with 1:17 to play.
That was acrobatic, that was tremendous, Couture said. Michael's been solid all year. The play that he made you don't see too much from the bench but I know he did a cartwheel.
Cathedral's Jordan Palusky scored a natural hat trick within 12 minutes in the first period. His first goal was after a turnover deep in the Flyers' zone, his second was on a rebound and scored his third when he poked it past Sperl from the doorstep.
Trailing by three goals Couture decided to shake up his lines and challenged the 11 Flyer seniors to respond to Cathedral's intensity.
I talked about maybe having to go with some of the kids who will be back next year if the seniors didn't want to do it, he said. I kind of challenged them a little bit.
I guess that's been my mind game all the time with these guys, challenge them to get better. I know we can do it, but I was just trying to get into their heads a little bit. It was an awful slow start for us.
After getting outshot 15-8 in the first, the Flyers responded in the second to tie it as they outshot Cathedral 14-4.
Ben Nelson scored on a low shot at 6:16 of the second and Hanowski buried a high wrist shot. Hanowski later snapped a pass from the side of the net to Izaak Berglund who tied it 3-3.
St. Cloud Cathedral 3 0 0 - 3
Little Falls 0 3 1 - 4
First period: StC-Jordan Pulasky (Jon Larkin, Nate Schmidt) 2:28; StC-Palusky (Nate Schmidt, Larkin) 4:48; StC-Palusky (Larkin, Sam Lommel) 11:40
Second period: LF-Ben Nelson (Jordan Gosiak) 6:16; LF-Ben Hanowski (Riley Hirsch) 9:44; LF-Izaak Berglund (Hanowski, Wesley Waytashek) 16:44
Third period: LF-Hanowski (Waytashek, Berglund) 16:38
Shots on goal: LF 8-14-14-36, StC 15-4-10-29
Goalies: LF-Michael Sperl (26 saves), StC-Nick Maiers
Power-play opportunities: LF 0-3, StC 0-3
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com and at 855-5861.
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