Alexandria champs of Section 6A for first time since 2018 after fending off every Fergus rally in a 4-2 win
The Otters twice tied the game up in the second period after Alexandria had taken 1-goal leads, but the Cardinals had an answer each time. Gavin Olson's goal ends up the game-winner as he's part of a sophomore class that stepped up with three goals in the section title game.
ST. CLOUD — It had been too long for Alexandria’s liking since the last time the boys hockey program made the Class A state tournament.
The Cardinals lost 6A title games against St. Cloud Cathedral in 2019 and 2020. They were not about to let this most recent opportunity slip through their fingers on Thursday night.
Alexandria (19-6-2) controlled two games against Fergus Falls (18-10) during the regular season, outscoring the Otters 8-2 in those wins. Things were much tighter in game three, but the Cardinals made it a season sweep against the team that knocked them out of the 6A tournament a year ago, beating Fergus Falls 4-2 at the MAC in St. Cloud to secure the championship.
“This is my third section final, and I wasn’t going to go 0-3,” Alexandria senior forward Josiah Gronholz said. “Finally making it feels unbelievable. I’m pretty speechless right now.”
It’s the program’s first section title since 2018 and sixth overall after section championships in 1992 (II), 1996 (AA), 2010 (A) and 2011 (A).
Alexandria second-year head coach Josh Meyers grew up in Alexandria’s hockey program and made it to youth state tournaments as a player. He knows how special this moment is for athletes and coaches alike after coming up short of this goal as a varsity player himself.
“I’ve never been to a high school state tournament, and I told these guys earlier this week that I want nothing more than to experience that,” Meyers said. “Now it’s as a coach instead of as a player, but it’s still the same experience. This is just an awesome group to be a part of. Just so fortunate that these guys did the job tonight.”
It was a 2-2 game in the third period when sophomore forward Gavin Olson got the biggest goal of his career. He got free in space right of the net near the faceoff circle and fired a shot over the shoulder of Otters’ goalie Ben Swanson and under the top bar for a 3-2 lead with 12:46 left.
“It feels great, getting the game-winner, getting that third goal to give us the lead,” Olson said. “I was just skating and Leo (Kompelien) was battling for the puck. The puck just kind of bounced out in front of me, and I just shot it top shelf.”
It was the seventh goal of these playoffs for Olson. He had hat tricks in wins over Morris-Benson Area and Breckenridge-Wahpeton .
Olson was part of a group of sophomores who combined to score three goals against the Otters. Kompelien got his own goal with 30.4 seconds left in the first period as Olson sent the puck toward the net before it deflected off Kompelien’s skate and in for the 1-0 lead. Sophomore defenseman Jack Lamski added an empty-net goal with a minute left to finish off the win.
Gronholz lauded the play of all four sophomores on the roster and how Lamski, Olson, Kompelien and defenseman Gage Castle have provided depth for this team.
“All of them have been awesome for us all year,” Gronholz said. “There wasn’t a better game for them to show it off than tonight.”
Alexandria outplayed Fergus Falls for much of the two regular-season games between the programs, but the section title game was a much closer contest.
The Otters tied it at 1-1 with 12:56 left in the second period when Michael DeBrito snuck a puck over the shoulder of Teagan Pfeffer. Alexandria answered almost five minutes later when Gronholz scored off assists from Tyler Kludt and Brycen Berg.
The Otters came right back and tied it themselves on a power-play goal with 1:30 left in the middle period. Shane Zierden pounded home the puck in a scrum in front of the net.
The Otters then thought they had the go-ahead goal seconds later. A puck deflected off a Fergus Falls player’s chest and in, but referees waved the goal off, ruling the player directed it into the net with his body. That left it a 2-2 game going to the third.
“It’s everything you dream of. Scoring a game-winning goal, playing a tight game against a good team,” Gronholz said. “Everyone says beating a team a third time is the hardest thing to do in sports. It showed tonight. It was more back and forth than any game we’ve had this year. Everyone brought the intensity, and it was just an awesome game to be a part of.”
Everything about the game was evenly matched, except for the penalties. The Cardinals took four minors to none for Fergus Falls as the Otters went 1-of-4 with the man advantage.
Fergus Falls outshot Alexandria 28-26, but Pfeffer came up big with the 26 saves to earn the win. He stopped all nine shots he faced in the third period.
“I probably don’t even know to what extent they were until I watch the video, but it looked like he made a couple big saves,” Meyers said of Pfeffer. “He’s awesome. We’ve seen him play these games where he can be the difference maker. Tonight, he bailed us out in a lot of situations when we needed him.”
Meyers loved how resilient his guys were in responding each time the Otters tied the game up.
“We just kept digging. We were resilient, wanting that lead more and more and more,” Meyers said. “They all played great games. Gavin scores a huge goal, and he has been scoring goals for us of late. He’s got the puck luck, and it’s awesome. Everyone put in a great effort, and it was a team effort that got the job done.”
Alexandria is playing as well as anyone heading into the state tournament. The Cardinals are now 11-0-1 over their last 12 games. That has catapulted them all the way to No. 6 in the Feb. 23 Let’s Play Hockey poll.
“We’re peaking at the right time of the season, and this is what you hope for,” Meyers said. “It’s been perfect up to this point, so we have to keep pushing. We’ll watch video and learn from this game and keep going.”
Top-ranked Hermantown (26-2) dominated Section 7A, outscoring opponents 30-0 in three games to win that title. Second-ranked Warroad (24-3-1) did the same in Section 8A by outscoring teams 19-2 in its section title run.
Many around Class A hockey feel the traditional powers of Hermantown and Warroad are on a collision course for the state championship game. Alexandria is eager to be one of the teams trying to throw a wrinkle into those plans when the Cardinals get to the Xcel Energy Center for the quarterfinals on March 9.
“There’s no pressure on us,” Meyers said. “We’re not Hermantown that’s been the favorite since day one, or Warroad who’s right there. We’re Alexandria, kind of that small town outside the metro. People know of us, but they don’t really know what we’re capable of doing. There’s no pressure for us when we go down there. Now it’s one game elimination. You play your game and catch another team on their down day, you never know.”
ALEXANDRIA 1 1 2 - 4
FERGUS FALLS 0 2 0 - 2
SHOTS - Alexandria - 9, 9, 8 - 26; Fergus Falls - 5, 14, 9 - 28; FACEOFFS WON - Alexandria - 7, 14, 7 - 28; Fergus Falls - 5, 13, 9 - 27
SCORING - FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Leo Kompelien (Gavin Olson, Joe Lamski), 16:29
SECOND PERIOD - Fergus Falls - Michael DeBrito (unassisted), 4:04; Alexandria - Josiah Gronholz (Tyler Kludt, Brycen Berg), 8:55; Fergus Falls - Shane Zierden PPG (Kellen Stenstrom, Michael DeBrito), 15:30
THIRD PERIOD - Alexandria - Gavin Olson (Leo Kompelien), 4:14; Alexandria - Jack Lamski (empty-net goal), 16:00
GOALTENDING - Alexandria - Teagan Pfeffer - W, 26 saves, 2 goals allowed; Ben Swanson - L, 22 saves, 3 goals allowed