On Jan. 9, the rock that is St. Thomas Academy hockey was showing some serious fissures. The Cadets had just lost 5-1 to Hastings, a third consecutive defeat during a 1-5-2 stretch that dropped their record to 5-7-2.
It’s safe to say that’s not what Trent Eigner had in mind when he left Lakeville North to take over the Mendota Heights School that had become a state power under coaches Tom and Greg Vannelli.
“To be honest, six weeks ago we were dead to rights,’’ Eigner said. “We had a lot of work to do.’’
Turns out, that work produced an amazing 180-degree pivot, because on Thursday night at Braemar Arena in Edina, St. Thomas Academy defeated Burnsville 2-0 to win the Class 2A, Section 3 championship and secure the program’s fourth consecutive trip to the state tournament.
The victory was the ninth consecutive for the Cadets, who’ve been on a 13-1 roll since that loss to Hastings. “The kids were just amazingly resilient in what we were trying to accomplish,’’ Eigner said.
Thursday’s victory was a testament to the Cadets continuing to buy in to what Eigner is selling. With senior goalie Tommy Aitken making 29 saves for his second shutout in section play, St. Thomas Academy clamped down on Burnsville over the final two periods and used speed and tenacity to limit the Blaze’s chances. That formula has served the Cadets well during the hot streak. They allowed only one goal in section play, and during their 13-1 run, they surrendered more than two goals only twice.
Of course, getting to that point took work, from both Eigner and his charges.
“The reality is we needed to figure out our locker room and we needed to figure out our identity, and that does take time,’’ Eigner said. “For better or worse, some kids think of themselves as this type of player, and I see them differently. There’s a process that has to go on to massage that identity.
“… Sometimes by osmosis, they’re going to pull the ‘ST’ jersey on and think the magic’s going to happen,’’ he added. “That’s not reality.’’
With the growing pains in the past, the Cadets’ identity remains a state tournament regular. As the No. 5 seed in their section, they likely won’t be a title favorite next week at Xcel Energy Center. But that’s fine with Eigner, who has a dangerous team at the right time of year.
“When you come from where we came six weeks ago, we’re not concerned about the draw,’’ he said. “We’re grateful that we found ourselves halfway through the season and gave ourselves an opportunity, and we closed the deal tonight.’’