St. Thomas Academy defenseman Jack Dougherty acknowledged that Thursday's game against defending Class 2A state champion Benilde-St. Margaret's meant something special.

Winners of the past two Class 1A titles and four in the past seven seasons, St. Thomas will opt-up to play the big schools starting next season. The Cadets made certain they belong, clamping down on the Red Knights' explosive offense throughout a 3-1 victory.

"With us moving up to Class 2A next year, it was a good turning point in the season to show we belong up there with the big boys," Dougherty said.

As in victories over 2A powers Hill-Murray and Edina, St. Thomas won with strong defense and the goaltending of David Zevnik.

Scoring two goals before the game was five minutes old gave the Cadets a nice cushion.

The Cadets (No. 1 in Class 1A at 11-1-1) have allowed more than two goals in a game just once this season.

St. Thomas forward Alex Johnson gave the Cadets a 1-0 lead 49 seconds into the game. Defenseman Tony Bretzman made it 2-0 at 4:02 and forced Benilde-St. Margaret's (No. 3 in Class 2A) to call a timeout.

"They don't give up a whole lot," Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly said. "When they get two, you have to get three, and that's a long climb."

Red Knights freshman defenseman Peter Heimbold scored his first varsity goal and cut the lead to 2-1 at 3:49 of the second period. But it was the only time Benilde-St. Margaret's (9-4), which came in averaging 5.75 goals per game, could beat Zevnik.

"There's no one better," Dougherty said. "He's the best goalie in the state, and there's not a doubt in mind. He gives us confidence."

Cadets forward Tommy Novak gave his team momentum on a rebound goal with 36.8 seconds to play in the second period.

"That goal was a back-breaker," Pauly said. "When you're playing really good teams, critical mistakes at critical moments add up, and we've done that too much this year."

The Cadets were without second-leading scorer Christiano Versich, who participated in warm-ups but did not play due to a lower body injury.