Schwan Cup: Hill-Murray, St. Thomas to go for the Gold

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 27, 2012 - 9:37 PM

Hill-Murray and St. Thomas Academy advanced to play for the Gold Division title in the Schwan Cup.

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Mixed and matched with different teammates for the season opener against Burnsville, Hill-Murray's recently assembled top line showed in Thursday's rematch that they belong together.

Center Josh French and wingers Zach LaValle and Mitch Slattery combined for four goals in the Pioneers' 7-2 romp against the Blaze in the Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinal at Ridder Arena.

Hill Murray will face two-time defending Class 1A state champion St. Thomas Academy in the Gold Division final at 8 p.m. Friday at Ridder Arena.

The Cadets edged the Pioneers 2-1 on Dec. 15.

In Thursday's semifinal victory, French and Slattery each scored as the Pioneers, ranked second in Class 2A, opened up a 3-0 lead against No. 10 Burnsville in the first period. LaValle gave his team a 5-0 lead with two goals scored less than two minutes apart in the second period.

This was the fourth time in the past five games the Pioneers (10-1) have scored six or more goals -- about the same span of time the top line has been united. Hill-Murray previously defeated Burnsville 2-1 on Nov. 29.

"It's encouraging," Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. "We wanted to see where our game has taken us, and I was proud of the guys early. We held a pretty good team down."

Burnsville (6-4) missed its best chance to fight back during the second period on a point-blank backhander from Cole Borchardt. Pioneers goaltender John Dugas held Burnsville without a goal until the third period.

"Our effort wasn't there the first two periods," Blaze coach Janne Kivihalme said. "You give a team like that time and space and they will capitalize on it."

Lechner credited his guys for rising to the challenge of high-level hockey during the Christmas break. The Pioneers started strong as French scored at 2:48 of the first period. A goal from Slattery at 9:36 and another from Willie Brown at 15:18 kept the momentum.

"We came out right away and got a lead and just tried to keep it going," Slattery said. "It was nice to see that we improved on what we did earlier this season."

St. Thomas Academy 2, Breck 1: For the Cadets, a big game means a tight game.

St. Thomas Academy (8-1) broke open a scoreless game with two quick second-period goals but was forced to sweat out a one-goal victory against the Mustangs in the second Gold Division semifinal.

"We've had a lot of one- or two-goal games against the best teams," Cadets co-head coach Greg Vannelli said. "We've played solid team defense and gotten good goaltending."

The Cadets, ranked No. 1 in Class 1A, got a goal from Matt Perry at 5:04 of the middle period, then went ahead 2-0 as Christiano Versich scored on the power play 1:46 later.

Breck (5-2), No. 4 among the small schools, cut the lead on Jack O'Connor's goal with 2:24 left in the period.

"We told the kids not to give up and they didn't," Breck coach Les Larson said.

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