By PATRICK SLACK
It wasn’t a duplicate of the 6-0 destruction from a month earlier.
It didn’t need to be, as Little Falls sweated out a 3-2 victory over Alexandria in the Section 6A semifinals in St. Cloud, Feb. 23, moving a win away from a repeat trip to the state tournament.
“They had a tough go the last half of the season, losing eight of 10, but a lot were just one-goal games,” Little Falls head coach Tony Couture said. “I think we kind of took them by surprise when we went up there.”
“We knew going in there weren’t going to be a lot of penalties and if their goaltender and ours played well it would be a close game,” he said.
The Flyers took the early edge, striking with 5:36 remaining in the first period as senior Austin Bjorge assisted on a goal by senior Spencer Fenske.
Alexandria wasted little time responding, though, knotting the score at 1-1 just 27 seconds later.
The game remained deadlocked midway through the second period, when senior Ben Newman netted a goal off of assists by senior Luke Majerle and freshman Thomas Miller to put Little Falls ahead 2-1.
It appeared the Flyers would carry a one-goal advantage into the final period until Fenske converted his second goal of the night on the power play with 13 seconds left in the second.
Alexandria was forced to spend the opening half of the third trying to pull back within a goal, which it finally did on the power play with 8:04 remaining.
However, the Cardinals’ attempt to force overtime was thwarted with an interference penalty with 2:48 left, followed by a holding penalty 14 seconds after returning to full strength.
“Because they took the penalties, it wasn’t as nailbiting as it has been in the past,” Couture said. “We did a very nice job defensively. And then it was very tough for them to pull their goalie, and then when they did, it was still 5-on-5 and they didn’t get very many shots.”
Little Falls peppered Alexandria senior goaltender Ben Allen with 45 shots on the night, part of a strategy to shoot “from anywhere and everywhere,” Couture said.
“He’s been lights out,” Couture said. “We knew it was going to take 40 shots to get three, four goals on them, just like with our goaltender Michael Stumpf, it’s going to take a lot of shots to get one by him. We needed to get those shots to score.”
Allen held his own across the rink from Stumpf, the state leader in save percentage, but in the end Stumpf’s 24 saves proved to be enough to keep the Flyers on top.
Little Falls plays St. Cloud Apollo in the Section 6A finals, Thursday at 7 p.m., in St. Cloud.
Little Falls 3, Alexandria 2
Alexandria 1 0 1 – 2
Little Falls 1 2 0 – 3
First: LF-Spencer Fenske (Austin Bjorge), 11:24; ALEX-Wensman, 11:51. Second: LF-Ben Newman (Thomas Miller, Luke Majerle), 8:35; LF-Fenske (Matthew Stumpf, Newman), 16:47 (pp). Third: ALEX-Finley, 8:56 (pp). Saves: Alexandria: 42; Little Falls-Michael Stumpf: 24.