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Scoring chances were few and far between.

A shot on goal was a herulean milestone.

Team defense on both sides was relentless and punished their opponents when they touched the puck in their end.

Someone needed to step up and No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Academy got it from sophomore forward Tom Novak, who ripped a wrist shot into the upper right corner with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third period to give the Cadets a 2-1 victory against No. 3 Breck.

"It's just being in the right place at the right time," Novak said of his game-winning goal.

As humble as Novak is about his skill set, his coach, Greg Vannelli will quickly applaud the assets Novak does have.

"He has talent and you have to have talent to make some of the plays that he has," Vannelli said. "He has scored some really big goals for us and for him being only a sophomore, it is impressive to see such a young player, who plays on an all sophomore line, step up and score big goals like that.

"With him being a sophomore and us moving up to Class AA next year, we are going to need him to continue to play like this for the next two and half years."

Novak showed off his attributes with his goal in the third period.

He received a pass and quickly made his way through the neutral zone where he would find that the Cadets had an odd-man rush.

Instead of dishing a pass to one of his teammates, Novak elected to keep the puck and quickly ventured to the slot where he was able to find some room to beat Johnson with a wrist shot.

"It felt pretty good to get that one in finally," Novak said. "It was a tough battle out there to get going offensively, so you have to make sure score or at least put some pressure on them."

With scoring chances being so limited, the importance of capitalizing was that much more magnified and add to the game that spotlighted two of the elite teams in Class A.

Breck had a few chances in the second period and bottled up the Cadets, but were only able to score one on Michael Orke's power play goal.

"I just told the guys that we have to make sure we take advantage of the opportunities that we do have," Breck coach Les Larson said. "That team over there is really good and is probably the best team in the state. They are so strong defensively that you have to cash in on the opportunities that you do get.

"This was a loss, but I am proud of our guys and the way they played. Like I said, that is a great team that we just played against and have played them well two times this season, so hopefully we will see them again soon."

The Cadets defensive stranglehold on Breck was just another day at the office.

It is allowing 1.25 goals-per-game

"We are fortunate to have a lot of guys come back from last year and some have two state tournaments under their belt," Vannelli said. "A lot of our defense played in the elite league where they face a lot of tough players every day, so they are experienced with what is going on."

If the Cadets' defense themselves is hard enough to crack, there is also David Zevnik standing between the pipes.

"We obviously really love to have him back there and he has had to win some games for us with 35 or so saves against Edina and Shattuck-St. Mary's," Vannelli said. "There are times when our defense will be tested, but we know that we have David back there as well."

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Tommy Novak scored the game-winning goal with 4 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third period to give No. 1-ranked St. Thomas Academy a 2-1 win against No. 3 Breck at the St. Thomas Ice Arena on Saturday, Jan. 19.

St. Thomas Academy's Alex Johnson opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first period, tipping in a shot from the point by defenseman Tony Bretzman.

In the second period Breck got on the board when Michael Orke knocked in a shot from in tight to tie the score.

Novak put away his game-winner on an odd-man rush where he elected to keep the puck and made a nifty move to the slot where he was able to bury a shot in the upper left corner to beat Breck goalie Henry Johnson.

Scoring chances were hard to come by for both teams.

The Cadets are allowing a stingy 1.25 goals per game through 16 this season and only allowed 17 shots on goal against Breck.

Breck came into its contest with St. Thomas Academy scoring 36 goals in its previous four games, which included a 6-4 win against Moorhead.

Johnson made 20 saves for the Mustangs while David Zevnik stopped 16 for St. Thomas Academy.

The Mustangs drop to 12-3-1 on the season and will take to the road to play St. Paul Academy on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

St. Thomas Academy improves to 14-1-1 and will also be on the road for its next game, which will be a rubber match with Hill-Murray on Thursday, Jan. 24. The Cadets beat the Pioneers in the regular season and lost to them in a shootout in the Schwan Cup finals. The shootout loss is classified as an official tie in the standings for St. Thomas Academy.

1. Tom Novak, St. Thomas Academy
The sophomore had his scoring chances and did not capitalize early on, but he made it count when it mattered the most. His wrist shot in the third period proved to be the game-winner with only 4 minutes, 57 seconds left. Where there were few quality scoring chances throughout, Novak easily had the most and did so using his skill to create them.

2. Jack Dougherty, St. Thomas Academy
He registered an assist, but it was not his offensive play that garners him No. 2 star honors. Dougherty was a force on the blue line and helped limit the Mustangs to only 17 shots on goal.

3. Henry Johnson, Breck
Even though he did not face a bevy of shots, Johnson was superb when he had to be. There were few occurrences when St. Thomas Academy would apply pressure on him, but when it did, Johnson came up with nice saves, was positioned well and had poise in a big game.

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