St. Thomas Academy is back in the Class 1A hockey state tournament for the first time since winning the championship in 2008, bringing with it three requisite ingredients: talent, a championship pedigree ... and a whiff of disdain from those who believe private school hockey powers should play with the bigger schools in Class 2A.
All three became amplified during Wednesday night's quarterfinals, when the Cadets tied a state tournament record with a seven-goal first period on the way to a 13-2 victory over New Ulm.
It was New Ulm's second consecutive state tournament trip --and the second consecutive time the squad had faced the No. 1 seed and a private school metro power in the quarterfinals. Last year, the Eagles lost 11-1 to eventual champion Breck.
"The way they came out in the first period, we've never seen anything like that since last year we were here when we played Breck," New Ulm coach Erik Setterholm said. "It's a tough week because the emotions are high after winning your section, and the next day you find out you have to play the No. 1 team in the state."
St. Thomas Academy didn't lose to a Class 1A team all season and competed well against 2A powers such as Hill-Murray and Minnetonka in four losses by a combined five goals. New Ulm rarely gets teams like that on its schedule.
At the state tournament, though, they are equals in the same class.
"But are we?" Setterholm offered when that was mentioned to him, saying a lot with a few words while deftly not offering too much fodder for a public school vs. private school, Class 1A vs. Class 2A debate that fans love to banter about but which ultimately goes around in circles.
St. Thomas Academy and three nonmetro public schools make up the final four. The Cadets will face Thief River Falls -- a 7-5 upset winner over No. 4-seeded Breck on Wednesday -- in the semifinals, while Hermantown and Hibbing/Chisholm square off in the other half of the bracket.
"I think we can battle with any team in the state," Thief River Falls' Ryan Crosson said of St. Thomas Academy. "We're willing to take them on."
About this there is no debate: The Cadets can take your breath away with their skill. Their offense has an undeniable momentum about it, which showed against New Ulm with a three-goal burst during a two-minute span in the first period and three other pairs of goals within a minute of each other.
Forward AJ Reid, whose two goals Wednesday boosted his season total to 26, took the proper attitude into the matchup.
"We weren't really thinking about how the other team was going to react," Reid said. "Maybe just from their schedule, they don't see as tough of teams as we do. But it doesn't matter. You have to come out hard and play hard at the state tournament. That was our main focus."
Michael Rand • firstname.lastname@example.org