Boys hockey: Northfield falls in quarterfinals to St. Cloud Cathedral

By Nick Gerhardt

Northfield’s return trip to the Class A state tournament has meant more than a quarterfinal game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Raiders fell 5-1 to third-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral after a big second period from the Crusaders. But the impact of making the tournament for the third time in school history will last longer than the temporary sting of a second straight loss in the first round.

“This venue obviously is so unique and special and when you’re a program that’s trying to build consistency of coming back,” Northfield head coach Mike Luckraft said. “This senior group has left its mark. Three conference titles and back to back state tournaments for the first time in program history that that’s happened.”

St. Cloud Cathedral (24-4-1) broke open a 1-1 game midway through the second period when Landon Swenson collected his own rebound in front of the Raiders goal to go ahead 2-1 at the 9 minute, 28 second mark. A little more than a minute later the No. 3-ranked Crusaders got a power-play goal from Joey Gillespie from the left circle on a snipe that found the short side of the net to make it 3-1.

St. Cloud Cathedral outshot No. 8-ranked Northfield 13-5 in the second period after the Raiders held an 8-6 shot advantage after the first period.

The Crusaders added a power-play goal at 6:29 of the second period as Andrew Dwinnell scored his 27th goal of the season for a 4-1 lead. St. Cloud Cathedral scored on both of its power play chances in the game.

Gillespie added his second goal of the game at 11:34 of the third after he knived his way through the front of the goal to make it 5-1 with his 31st goal of the season. John Hirschfeld and Griffin Sturm assisted on the goal.

Hirschfeld finished with four points after scoring a first-period goal 18 seconds into the game and assisting on three other goals. Hirschfeld intercepted a clearing attempt inside the Northfield zone for an easy one-time finish and a 1-0 lead.

The Raiders (22-5-2) responded at 3:56 of the period when senior winger Cayden Monson wrapped around the Crusaders goal and fired a shot from the slot that beat goaltender Nick Hansen, who played an otherwise flawless game. Hansen has not lost a game in goal this season for St. Cloud Cathedral.

“I thought we had some decent jump the first period, started getting some momentum there,” Luckraft said. “Obviously they scored two power-play goals that put a dent in our momentum. We didn’t get as many pucks to the front of the net as we did the first time we played them.”

The Raiders fell 4-2 in a Jan. 26 regular season meeting against the Crusaders. Northfield fell behind 4-0 after the second period in that game before making it a game late in the third period. The line of Hirschfeld-Gillespie-Dwinnell all four goals in that game. In the rematch they scored four times again.

“You definitely know they’re a great line,” Raiders senior winger Kam Kaiser said. “They have a lot of skill, a lot of speed. Be aware on the ice, have good angles coming through the neutral zone and try to get some stick kills and go back the other way and create some offense.”

St. Cloud Cathedral outshot 28-20 for the game with Northfield goaltender Max Frank stopping 23 shots.

The Raiders will face New Ulm Thursday in the consolation semifinals at 11 a.m. at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. The Eagles fell 8-1 to second-seeded and No. 4-ranked Warroad in the other quarterfinal. The Crusaders will play the Warriors Friday at 11 a.m. St. Cloud Cathedral defeated Warroad 3-2 in overtime back on Nov. 25.

The third state tournament appearance for the program, which only reached the state tournament for the first time in 2017 has helped Northfield gain prominence state-wide and it’s trickled down to the youth teams.

“You look through our program, our bantam team was a game away from state this year,” Luckraft said. “Our pee wee team was ranked in the top five all year long. There are some youth players who are feeding off of the success of what our high school program and that leadership. Again, they’re here today.”

Kaiser holds the school record for career goals and hat tricks. Monson sits in second place for career points. Monson paid tribute to the 2017 team with his bazooka celebration, emulating the celebration performed by assistant coach Nick Kvernmo when he skated for the team and scored against Mahtomedi. The senior group has helped Luckraft schedule tougher opponents and elevate the standard.

“It’s great seeing the success that Northfield hockey’s having,” Kaiser said. “We obviously play for the guys in the room but we play for the community too. Just having the success and the younger kids seeing that…it’s just something that we want to keep happening.”