The Cretin-Derham Hall boys’ hockey team looked like a bonafide contender for top honors in the state last year, only to be eliminated in the section playoffs. This season, the Raiders have vowed to use that experience to take the next step after the regular season ends in early February.

“What we need to continue to do is to take care of the close games,” said coach Matt Funk as his team entered the new year with an 8-3 record. “We’ll be battle-tested when the time comes. The schedule this year has really helped.”

CDH boys hockey
The Raiders' Kevin Odlaug takes a point-blank shot on goal pursued by a defender as Hermantown goalie Dane Callaway eyes the puck in the first period of CDH’s 4-2 win at home on December 23. Photo by Brad Stauffer

CDH was ranked first in the state in Class AA at the outset of the season and remains a top-10 team despite its tough schedule. Funk knows you have to beat the best to be the best, and the Raiders knew they’d be playing some Minnesota heavyweights before beginning their Suburban East Conference schedule early this month.

The Raiders’ only blemishes to date include a pair of one-goal losses to Saint Thomas Academy and a 1-3 loss to highly ranked Andover in a holiday tournament.

CDH has posted impressive wins over Benilde-Saint Margaret’s (5-3) and previously undefeated Hermantown (4-2). The Raiders also slugged it out to best tough adversaries in Mahtomedi (3-1) and Rosemount (3-1), and buried Champlin Park (7-2) and Woodbury (8-1).

“What we need to continue to do is to take care of the close games,” said coach Matt Funk as his team entered the new year with an 8-3 record. “We’ll be battle-tested when the time comes. The schedule this year has really helped.”

Funk was especially impressed by the team’s win over top-ranked Hermantown, which remains the Hawks’ only loss this winter. CDH revved up its power play to score four of the game’s last five goals.

The coach also didn’t have to tell his players how important it was to overcome Benilde. “That was the team that knocked us out of the playoffs the last two years,” Funk said.

CDH is a solid-skating team that can also turn physical if the opposition wants to play that way. The Raiders have some gifted offensive weapons while still being able to call on some good blue-collar types. Good goaltending and smart positional defense are also hallmarks of this year’s team.

Despite the many positives, Funk lamented that his squad is prone to giving up too many shots on goal. He also noted that there have been times when the team hasn’t finished well. In both losses to STA, the Raiders were ahead going into the third period.

Still, Funk likes the way his team’s power play has improved. And when it comes to depth, he has no qualms about running four forward lines and employing six defensemen on regular shifts. Add in senior goalie Marko Belak and CDH has the ingredients that all winning clubs must have.

Funk said Belak, who entered the new year with a .929 save percentage and 2.04 goals-against average, has more than pulled his share of the load. “He’s been very consistent,” he said. “He’s made all the saves that you have to make.”

Funk likes how his team plays defense. “It’s maybe our best team strength,” he said.

Playing with depth

Senior Zach Sondreal partners with junior Colton Jamieson in one defensive tandem. Sondreal is a physical type who leads the team’s defenders in scoring with 10 points. Jamieson is more of a high-flyer.

Junior defender Simon Houge, who has eight points, is paired with junior Joey Sylvester, a good puck rusher. Junior Lucas Cernohous and senior Rory Smith, both textbook stay-at-homers, are the third pairing.

Along the forward wall, the Raiders are armed with an abundance of talent. The first three are senior left wing Luke McCarthy, junior center Jake Fisher and senior right wing Drew Fisher. A solid sniper, Fisher leads the club in scoring with 19 points. McCarthy, a tireless forechecker, and Jake Fisher, who has good playmaking skills, both have 15 points.

On the second line, junior left wing Attilla Lippai creates a lot of scoring chances and has six goals. He’s joined by junior right wing Devin Cardenas and senior center Gabe Rasmussen. Cardenas has played with Lippai for a long time and Rasmussen plays a very “responsible” game, Funk said. He also credits Cardenas and Rasmussen for their work on CDH’s penalty killing, which was working at a rate of 94 percent.

The third line features senior left wing Kevin Odlaug, senior center Cooper Smith and senior left wing Kaden Spaniol rotating with sophomore Chuck Owens.

The fourth line has senior center John Kovarik between senior wings Sam Holm and sometimes Spaniol. In the victory over Champlin Park on December 30, Holm scored the first three goals of his high school career.

CDH has had to play without the services of senior forward Jake Sondreal, who sustained a shoulder separation against STA on December 21. The team has missed the solid two-way play of the Sondreal brothers, but Funk said Jake was expected back in the lineup this week.

— Bill Wagner

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