ST. PAUL — Contrasting images in the last 90 seconds of the Class A state hockey championship game told the story as accurately as Xcel Energy Center scoreboard. Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin’s Donte Lawson skating around with his stick atop his helmet after St. Cloud Cathedral goaltender Noah Amundson foiled him yet again. And the Cathedral players hugging and celebrating Nate Warner’s empty net goal, the tally that made their season-long quest real.
It took nine trips to state, three in the last four years, but the Crusaders are champions at last. Helped by a video review that went their way early, Cathedral skated to a 5-2 victory, disappointing several hundred green-clad Greenway supporters who trekked down from the Iron Range to root on the tournament’s sentimental favorite.
The little school from Coleraine -- named for John Campbell Greenway, a mining executive and one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders -- picked up community and local support as the week went along. Forty-five minutes before puck drop, several hundred energized Greenway fans already in their seats chanting, “Let’s go Green!” Cathedral fans were badly outnumbered.
“We knew we were the villain, obviously,” said Cathedral coach Derrick Brown. “That’s okay. That’s the way it has to be. It set a good storyline for the game, and you could feel the emotion in the rink.”
Jackson Savoie contributed two goals and one assist for the Crusaders, and Amundson’s third period acrobatics made a two-goal lead stand up until Warner found the empty net.
The Raiders relied mainly on 13 skaters, three lines and four defensemen, with Lawson seemingly taking every other shift. Both Greenway goals came on the power play, the first by Lawson, whose four goals and five assists in three tournament games earned him the Herb Brooks Award for Class A.
But Greenway’s failure to convert a five-minute power play in the second period while trailing 3-2, proved critical. Shorty after, Cathedral’s Jack Smith followed with a power play goal.
“The five minute penalty, not being able to score on that was kind of the wind out of the sails, I would say for sure,” said Greeenway coach Grant Clafton. “But I don’t think we quit the entire game.”
Lawson had given Greenway an early 1-0, beating Amundson over the left shoulder. Cathedral appeared to tie it on a Luke Schmidt redirection, but the nearest official waved it off, and Lawson raced down the other end and scored again.
“I saw (the puck) hit my stick and heard it hit the back bar and I knew it was a goal,” Schmidt said. “I knew it right away. It sounds different than a crossbar. Then they went down and scored, and I was like, what’s going on?”
Hold on. Multiple television angles showed the puck catching twine under the crossbar. After a lengthy video review officials reversed course, counting Schmidt’s goal and wiping out Lawson’s. Clafton didn’t argue -- “It was clear it went in,” he said -- while Brown was delighted.
“I’m been kind of anti-, having the instant replay down here because we don’t have it all year,” he said. “I’m a big proponent now of instant replay. It changed the game and allowed us to kind of reestablish.”
On they went. Each team scored again later in the first period on the same Greenway power play -- Savoie shorthanded for Cathedral thanks to Nate Warner’s hustling forecheck and centering pass, and Greenway’s Cameron Lantz on a screened slap shot. Cathedral took the lead for good early in the second period on Savoie’s shot from the right circle.
All season, Brown pushed an “unfinished business” theme, inspired by Brown’s reason for turning down an invitation from the USA Hockey National Team Development Program to return for his junior year. Brown even used a briefcase as a prop. In the dressing room after the trophy ceremony, Brown threw the briefcase across the room. Business finished.
“Finally hearing that buzzer going off, knowing you’re state champions, is just amazing,” Smith said.