Northfield caps dominant run to state with shutout in Section 1A championship game
Northfield scored four goals in the first 15 minutes of Wednesday's Section 1A boys hockey championship game and won the second section title in program history, beating rival New Prague.
ROCHESTER — Cayden Monson was sitting high atop the bleachers at the Rochester Recreation Center six years ago.
He remembers the feeling of sheer joy that night, seeing the helmets, gloves and sticks of Northfield’s boys hockey players scattered across the ice after Grant Sawyer scored on the first shift of the second overtime to send the Raiders to the state tournament for the first time ever.
Monson, who was in elementary school at the time, remembers dreaming of a day when he and his friends could celebrate the way that Northfield team did on March 1, 2017.
“That was so much fun to watch,” Monson said late Wednesday evening, standing on the same ice where the 2017 Northfield team won a section title. “I wasn’t sitting in the student section, I was still pretty little. That’s stuck with me, though, seeing those guys celebrate the way we just did. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m never going to forget that.”
That day came for Monson and his teammates on Wednesday, six years to the day after Northfield won its first ever section championship. The Raiders won their second on Wednesday night — March 1, 2023 — thanks in large part to a hat trick from Monson and a 24-save shutout from standout goalie Keaton Walock in a 6-0 victory against New Prague at the Rochester Rec Center.
“I think I was in fifth grade then,” Monson said of watching the 2017 section title game, “but I haven’t forgotten one piece of that night.”
Now a junior, Monson was a catalyst Wednesday in a game that Northfield took control of in a hurry.
The Raiders showed off all the traits that make them great in Wednesday’s game: Speed, depth, shooting on the move, the ability to possess the puck, outstanding goaltending.
And that was in just the first six minutes.
Defenseman Mike Fossum started the scoring just 2:10 into the game. Monson scored his first of the night at the 5:31 mark of the first period, finding a shooting lane before snapping a quick shot from the right circle past New Prague starting goalie Cole Murphy for a 2-0 lead. On the next shift, Jake Geiger entered the zone with speed and fired a shot from the left circle that hit the back of the net.
Monson added his second of the game with 2:17 to go in the first, beating a Trojans defender wide through the right circle, cutting to the net and zipping a quick shot past Murphy’s blocker for a 4-0 lead.
“We’ve been talking so passionately about what this step would mean for our program,” Northfield head coach Mike Luckraft said. “It’s been five years since we’ve been (to state). We thought we have a team that could do it this year, but you have to go out and do it on the ice.
“To get that kind of quick start was almost unsettling. Pucks were going in left and right … I thought we actually played better in the second half of the first period.”
Brayden Olsen scored 2:50 into the second and Monson capped his hat trick, and the scoring, with 1:03 to go in the second, when he scored his second power-play goal of the game.
The result was a year in the making for the Raiders, who let a two-goal lead slip away in the third period of a 3-2 section semifinal loss against New Prague a year ago. The Trojans scored twice in the final seven minutes of regulation, then scored the game winner on a power play 2:57 into overtime.
“We took out of that game that nothing is given,” said Walock, who has been lights-out this season, with a 23-4-0 record, a 1.30 goals-against average, a .930 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He allowed two goals in 153 minutes in the section tournament. “We went into that third period last year (up 2-0), thinking that we were outplaying them. With six minutes left we were still up two, then the tables turn, a couple of penalties and just like that we were watching this (celebration) from the other end.
“It really drove us over the summer and throughout the whole year, this has been our goal.”
The victory is the biggest of the season and one of the biggest in program history.
Unlike 2017, though, there was no drama and there was no doubt this time about who the top team in Section 1A is. The Raiders went 10-0 against section opponents this season, including winning their three games in the section tournament by a combined score of 20-2.
Walock improved to 42-9-1 over the past two seasons, with a 1.61 goals against and a .925 save percentage.
“Great for Keaton. What an unbelievable talent in goal he is,” Luckraft said. “A 24-save shutout, totally incredible. … There were about three really critical plays in the first period and at the start of the second where, if (New Prague) gets that next one, it could’ve changed the momentum of the game.
“Keaton came up with some big saves, and no rebounds. That’s what was amazing, he had such unbelievable rebound control. There were no second chances; anything that came his way, he was steering it to the side. … He’s been an elite leader for us for three years.
“As a coach, that makes you feel really good that now these guys to get to go to the unbelievable stage of the Xcel Energy Center.”
Northfield will open play at the state tournament on Wednesday, March 8. It will learn its quarterfinal game time and opponent this weekend, after all of the section championship games are completed.
NORTHFIELD 6, NEW PRAGUE 0
New Prague 0-0-0 — 0
Northfield 4-2-0 — 6
First period — 1. N, Mike Fossum 4 (unassisted) 2:10. 2. N, Cayden Monson 17 (unassisted) 5:31. 3. N, Jake Geiger 25 (Brecken Riley 11, Griffin Kennelly 6) 5:52. 4. N, Monson 18 (unassisted) 14:43 (pp). Second period — 5. N, Brayden Olsen 16 (unassisted) 2:50. 6. N, Monson 19 (Kamden Kaiser 25, Geiger 34) 15:57 (pp). Third period — No scoring.
Shots on goal — NP 9-9-6—24; N 17-14-4—35. Goalies — NP, Cole Murphy, 19:50 (L, 5-6-0; 15 saves-20 shots); Oskar Pomerenke, 31:10 (ND; 14 saves-15 shots); N, Keaton Walock (W, 23-4-0; 24 saves-24 shots). Power play opportunities — NP, 0-for-3; N, 2-for-6. Penalties — NP, 6-12 minutes; N, 3-6 minutes.