By Nick Gerhardt
Northfield seized its shot at the state tournament.
The top-seeded and No. 8-ranked Raiders put together a dominating 6-0 victory over third-seeded New Prague Wednesday at the Rochester Rec Center in the Section 1A championship to earn a trip to the Class A state tournament for just the second time in school history.
Northfield (23-5) found redemption a year after getting upset as the top seed in the Section 1A semifinals 3-2 in overtime to a fourth-seeded Trojans squad in a game the Raiders lead 2-0.
Northfield junior winger Cayden Monson scored three goals, including two in the first period, to help send the Raiders to the state tournament for the first time since 2017. His three goals pushed his season total to 19.
Northfield used a little puck luck to get the game’s first goal Wednesday when senior defenseman Mike Fossum threw a puck toward the net that hit a New Prague player’s skate and deflected between the legs of Trojans goaltender Bryce Lowy into the goal just 2 minutes, 10 seconds into the game.
Fossum’s goal led to more in a dominating first period that saw the Raiders grab a 3-0 lead on six shots and a 4-0 lead by the time the period ended. Monson scored the first of his two goals in the period at 6:21 of the period with a shot from the edge of the right circle in the slot for a 2-0 lead.
Junior center Jake Geiger pushed the lead to 3-0 with a goal on a rush from the slot at 5:52. Northfield had three goals on six shots and actually trailed 7-6 in shots on goal at that time.
Monson scored a highlight reel goal on the power play with 2:17 left in the period when he skated in from the right side to the front of the net to bury a shot for a 4-0 lead. The Raiders held a 17-9 shots on goal advantage by the end of the period.
Northfield junior center Brayden Olsen made it a 5-0 game at the 2:50 mark of the second period with a coast-to-coast effort to pop a shot over Lowy’s glove side after Olsen stopped in front of the net on the left side. That led the Trojans to bring in goaltender Oskar Pomerenke for the rest of the game.
Monson closed out the second period with a power-play goal that he knocked home at the back post with 1:03 left in the period for a 6-0 lead.
The 6-0 lead meant the third period started with a run-time clock and limited any chance New Prague had to get back in the game. The Trojans finished with 24 shots and Raiders senior goaltender Keaton Walock earned the biggest shutout victory of his career to add to his state record total of 22. Northfield put 35 shots on goal against New Prague.
Northfield faced the Trojans (16-11) in the regular season where the Raiders picked up a 3-0 victory in New Prague. The Trojans came into the section championship with some momentum after rallying to beat second-seeded Albert Lea 7-5 by scoring the game-winning goal with 16 seconds left, but their luck ran out in the championship game.
Northfield played without winger Andrew Winter, who typically pairs with Geiger and winger Kam Kaiser. Instead sophomore Griffin Kennelly moved into Winter’s spot as Luckraft elected to keep his other lines intact.
In 2017, the Raiders made a mark, upsetting Mahtomedi in the first round before falling to eventual runner-up Monticello in a thrilling semifinal game. Northfield might have the team to go one step further this time. The top five teams get seeded and the final three get paired by random draw. The Raiders will open the state tournament next Wednesday either at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 6 p.m. or 8 p.m. depending on seeding.