Boys hockey: CHS keeps cool, plays waiting game at state

Boys hockey: CHS keeps cool, plays waiting game at state

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Boys hockey: CHS keeps cool, plays waiting game at state

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The TV cameras showed a little bit about what there is to know about Eric Johnson.

Johnson, the St. Cloud Cathedral boys hockey coach, is self-described as “not overly excitable.”

As his assistant coaches hugged and high-fived, Johnson kept a straight face, let out a small fist pump and walked out to the handshake line as the Crusaders celebrated Erik Gadbois’ overtime goal to send Cathedral to the Class A state semifinals.

“I wasn’t 100 percent sure if it went in the net,” Johnson said. “Then, the guys on our bench bailed and (assistant coach) Tom Bruce was jacked and I was like, ‘Well, this looks good.’

“We had TVs in the locker room and right away after the game, Willy (Hammer) was all over me, giving me grief, asking, ‘What? Do you hate us, coach?'”

Johnson’s reserved approach is rubbing off on his players as they wait for Friday. They’re buying into it and it is working well.

Fourth-seeded Cathedral beat Totino-Grace 4-3 in the quarterfinals Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center.

The Crusaders (21-7-1) will face top-seed East Grand Forks (26-2-1) at 1 p.m. Friday.

“(Johnson) stresses keeping an even keel in the playoffs and in big games,” said Cathedral forward Matt Fritz, who scored twice Wednesday. “By him demonstrating that, it wears off on us.”

Home for the day

The Crusaders stayed in St. Paul on Wednesday but returned to St. Cloud on Thursday morning to rest, practice at their home rink and sleep in their own beds.

“We’re away from a lot of the distractions,” Fritz said. “We’re not running around the hotel and the ‘X.’ We’re saving our legs and not messing around in the pool. Being alone helps us focus.”

They’ll bus back down to St. Paul on Friday morning.

“The players are pretty self-policed,” Johnson said. “The downside in Class A is that if you win Wednesday, you have all day Thursday to kill. That’s a hard day to fill.

“We could’ve practiced in the Cities, we could’ve gone out to eat and we could’ve gone to some double-A games, but that only takes up so much time.

“If they’re going to sit around, I’d rather them sit around at home and not at the ‘X,’ eating cheesy fries.”

Back in the game

Johnson said he didn’t become animated in the dressing room after a sluggish first period Wednesday that left Cathedral down 3-1.

He began to see the results he was looking for halfway through the second period when the Crusaders finally started to apply pressure on the Totino-Grace net.

Cathedral tied the game late in the second period on Leo Lommel’s goal.

The Crusaders’ early deficit may have been the result of their state of admiration while they soaked in the atmosphere of the 18,000-seat arena in which they were playing.

“We were kind of in shock and awe, but we’ve been in the ‘X’ now for one game so we’ve adjusted,” Fritz said. “Seeded higher than Totino, we felt the pressure that we had to beat them.

“Coming in as the underdog is really going to take away a lot of that pressure.”

The Crusaders can’t let East Grand Forks get a multi-goal lead the way Totino-Grace did. EGF ended the first period of its quarterfinal win against Orono with a 3-0 lead.

A comeback against the Green Wave would be more difficult given EGF’s defensive dominance. The Green Wave allows the second fewest goals per game in the state (1.20 goals allowed per game).

The Crusaders lost 3-1 to EGF on Jan. 3.

“They’re so good defensively,” Johnson said. “When we get a chance, we have to do something with it and we have to work for it.”

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