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Willmar ousted by Alex, 3-1

Liam Johnston, left, of Willmar outraces Kirby Nelson of Alexandria for the loose puck in the third period Saturday at the Runestone Community Center in Alexandria. Johnston scored Willmar's lone goal earlier in the period in a 3-1 loss in the Section 6A semifinals. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

ALEXANDRIA -- Willmar's bid for the Section 6A final fell short when the Cardinals lost to No. 1-seed Alexandria 3-1 on Saturday at a jammed Runestone Community Center.

"They were just a few shifts better," said senior Willmar defenseman Paul Schrupp, who saw his three-year varsity career come to an end. "There's nothing more we can do; we gave it our all."

By winning for the 13th time in its last 14 games, Alexandria (19-6-1) takes aim at another Central Lakes Conference team, Sartell, on Friday at the MAC in St. Cloud with the winner advancing to the Class A state tournament.

Alexandria scored once in each period in a game fiercely competed and with great pace.

Down 2-0 after two, Willmar got on the board when Liam Johnson snapped a 20-footer past Alexandria goalie Erich Murphy just a minute into the third.

Seventeen seconds later Willmar was on a powerplay which morphed 16 seconds later into a 5-on-3 for 1:39. But Willmar could not exploit the advantage as Alexandria twice took the puck deep into the Willmar zone.

"If we could have got one there, I think that would have changed everything," said Willmar coach Dan Tollefson. "We made some adjustments after a slow start and just kept playing better and better."

Alexandria had the edge in speed. While its first goal was blue-collar, the second and third -- by top scorers Casey Vangsness and Thomas Williams -- came on explosive assaults out of the neutral zone.

Willmar goalie Ben Leitch was credited with 34 saves to keep his team within striking distance.

Willmar's 15 wins are the most since 17 wins in 2003.

"Our goal was to be competitive in every game, like today when we competed with the seventh-ranked team in Class A," said Tollefson.

Willmar will return its top three scorers but will have to find a way to replace, among others, goalies Keifer Dahle and Ben Leitch and third-year defensemen Schrupp and Jake Tone.

Alexandria 3, Willmar 1

Willmar (15-11) 0 0 1 -- 1

Alexandria (19-6-1) 1 1 1 -- 3

FIRST PERIOD - Alex: Jordan Domine (Nick Swanson, Zach Shuck) 6:59

SECOND PERIOD - Alex: Casey Vangsness (Thomas Williams, Ross Thompson) 8:58

THIRD PERIOD - Wil: Liam Johnston (James Johnston) 1:07 ... Alex: Williams (Kirby Nelson) 4:57

GOALIE SAVES - Willmar: Ben Leitch 34 ... Alexandria: Erich Murphy 16

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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