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Boys' Hockey: Raptors fall to state-ranked St. Thomas Academy

Forward Tyler Johnson skates around a St. Thomas Academy defender Thursday. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)1 / 2
East Ridge's Joseph Dokken winds up to take a shot on goal during the first period of Thursday's game. (Bulletin photo by Blaze Fugina)2 / 2

Top-seeded St. Thomas Academy awaited the East Ridge boys' hockey team Thursday after the Raptors started the Class 2A, Section 3 playoffs with a win.

The Raptors made the trip to Apple Valley Tuesday and defeated the host Eagles 3-1 after scoring goals in each period. But with state-ranked St. Thomas Academy looming on the bracket, they knew Thursday's game would present an entirely different challenge.

"They're just good," senior Jaxon Bombardir said. "They've got so much skill on their team. It's so easy for them to move the puck from place to place. They're just a good hockey team."

East Ridge was able to stick with the Cadets through the first period, nearly delivering the same amount of shots on goal. St. Thomas Academy's Brendan McFadden netted the only goal in the first period, and Cadets goaltender Atticus Kelly needed to make a few saves to keep East Ridge off the scoreboard. One stop included a sprawling glove save on a Tanner Tasler wrist shot right before the first intermission.

But St. Thomas Academy opened up the game starting with a goal by Willie Reim just 12 seconds into the second period. Three more goals followed for a 5-0 lead after two periods, and the Cadets added two more in the third for the 7-0 victory.

Seven different Cadets scored goals in Thursday's win. Kelly preserved the shutout for the Cadets by making 17 saves.

The Raptors finished with a record of 3-20-2 in the regular season, including losses in 13 of the final 14 games. But they players said they were able to reset their minds heading into Tuesday's matchup with Apple Valley.

"It's just kind of like a new start, and everything is behind you," senior Sam Gerst said.

The Raptors were dealt a blow before the start of the section playoffs when senior forward Carter VanDenEinde suffered a broken leg in the final game of the regular season. VanDenEinde was the team's leading scorer 14 goals in 25 games this season.

Head coach Wes Walz praised the effort of the Raptors over the last two games of the season in the section tournament.

"Overall, it's been a fun year, but a challenging year, for sure," Walz said. "Obviously, we would like to win a few more games. Anytime you are not winning as many games as you'd like, it's always a challenge for coaches to figure out how hard to push the guys and when to back off."

Eight seniors will graduate from the roster this season. But a majority of the players listed on the team's roster are eligible to return next season, including 16 juniors.

While seniors Bombardir and Gerst will graduate this spring, they recognized the potential of those players heading into next year.

"I think we have a lot of really skilled juniors," Bombardir said. "Some of our juniors have been our better players this year."