Article written by Joseph Erickson
The St. Cloud Crush (6-11-3) are riding on a three-game win streak after a huge 8-0 win on Senior night against Willmar. They looked to extend it against another hot Central Lakes Conference opponent Alexandria (12-6-1) at the Runestone Community Center Tuesday night.
These two teams have played some barn burners in the past, Assistant Coach Paul Kenny stated before the game, “Whenever we come up here it’s always a great game, and we expect nothing other than that today.” Both sides settled for a 2-2 back in December, the anticipation was growing in a packed building and one team’s winning streak was coming to an end.
You could sense early in the first that this contest was going to be a track meet with the brisk pace the Crush and Cardinals played with. St. Cloud was coming off 12 goals in the previous two games and you could see the confidence starting to grow in the offense. Alexandria hasn’t had an issue with finding the back of the net, the Cardinals top 6 has good talent which can make plays at any moment. St. Cloud would get the first power play of the night five minutes into the period, but the man advantage was less than ideal for the Crush who only got one shot away. Play continued quickly with both clubs wanting to transition quickly and catch the opponent on its heels which eventually rewarded Alexandria. The Cardinals had numbers heading towards the St. Cloud net and Leo Kompelien drove down the right wing and released a wrist shot past the blocker of Senior Ben Condon for his 4th of the season (1-0). However, St. Cloud would punch back just over a minute later and it’s Junior Ben Eiynck who got loose for his 3rd of the season (1-1). The track meet would live up to the hype, off the ensuing faceoff, Alexandria put the puck in deep, created a turnover and Tyler Kludt found the Cardinals leading scorer Josiah Gronholz in front to net his 18th on the year (2-1). Alexandria held the one goal lead heading to the 2nd.
This is when things got dicey for the Crush, off the opening faceoff of the second on a power play, Reese Gronseth took an Unsportsmanlike Conduct major penalty that sent him to the showers early. With over four and a half minutes on the power play it was just a matter of time before the Cardinals capitalized. Kludt carried the puck from behind his net through neutral into the attacking zone and fired a laser far post to extend the lead (3-1). As the 5-minute major was concluding St. Cloud would take another penalty and make things go from bad to worse. Or would they? Some fortune played into the second goal of the night for St. Cloud. A clearing attempt by the Crush on the penalty kill rolled in on goaltender Teagan Pfeffer who elected to play the puck, but he played it right to awaiting forward Nick Matanich who ripped a one-timer for his 7th of the year (3-2). Four to six minutes passed by of even strength hockey until Alexandria was put back on the power play and Gronholz set up Gavin Olson with a great seam pass from the left circle to right who made the deposit into a wide-open net (4-2). The Crush were making it hard on themselves and the Cardinals continued to execute. With less than a minute to go in the period, Kludt picked up his second of the night right in front of the crease and they had their biggest lead of the night after two periods 5-2.
Well, for St. Cloud to extend their winning streak it was going to take an enormous effort to get the game back to level. Off the hop, it was obvious the Crush were not going to go away easily and for most of the period, they were the better team. Three minutes in Matanich potted his second of the night off a rebound in front to cut the lead to two (5-3). After getting the start they were looking for the pressure was not let up. Chance after chance was created and it was only a matter of time before they found the net again. This time it was an unlikely hero, Junior Blake O’Hara scored his first career goal on a backhand sweeper while falling to the ice to pull the Crush within one with 10 minutes to go (5-4). At points during the remaining time, Alexandria could only ice the puck to alleviate the attack of St. Cloud which rewarded them with more offensive zone draws. The Crush had a plethora of opportunities to tie the game but none bigger than a rebound sitting out a couple feet in front of the crease with Pffefer sprawling in desperation. Matanich came swooping in to hammer it home, but his blade did not cooperate, and the Cardinals escaped again. St. Cloud tried to get the job done with the extra attacked and made Alexandria bend but not break. The Cardinals hold on for a 5-4 win