Senior forward Dylan Steman scored three goals against Blaine and has seven in five games this season. Photo by Helen Nelson
Maple Grove features the state’s leading scorer among defensemen in Jordan Gross, a junior who is so aggressive he doesn’t join the rush so much as he orchestrates it.
The Crimson also boast one of the state’s top-scoring forwards in Dylan Steman, a senior who wiggles and shimmies through and around opposing defenses with the slipperiness of an eel.
With Gross and Steman on the same power-play unit, opposing teams with a penchant for filling the penalty box routinely pay dearly for their aggression.
The scariest part?
When Gross and Steman need a break, there’s another power-play unit with near-equal effectiveness ready to go.
“I think one unit had two (goals) and the other one had one,” Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano said after the No. 5-ranked Crimson scored three power-play goals in a 6-3 victory over host Blaine on Thursday, Dec. 8, at Fogerty Arena. “You rely on one power play, and when they get gassed you’ve got nothing else.”
The power play isn’t Maple Grove’s only green-light specialty. The Crimson (4-0-1) are just as likely to punch the gas pedal when they are shorthanded, as they proved against the Bengals (2-1-0).
“And of course shorthanded we like to be aggressive, and it showed tonight on the shorthanded goal,” Stefano said, referencing Steman’s goal midway through the second period that put Maple Grove ahead 2-1.
In the third period, Tony Paulson had a golden opportunity with the Crimson shorthanded but couldn’t finish a 2-on-0 rush.
The play marked one of the few missed opportunities for the Crimson, who after a scoreless first period continually ratcheted up their intensity – and built their lead.
Maple Grove's junior defeseman Jordan Gross (23) scored one goal and had one assist against Blaine. Photo by Helen Nelson
Gross scored a power-play goal 2:39 into the second period, rifling a shot from a tough angle over Blaine goaltender Nick Malvin. He added an assist in the third period to push his season point total to 14 (seven goals, seven assists).
“He’s always been a great player,” Steman said about Gross, who has accepted a scholarship offer to play at Notre Dame. “He’s very skilled, obviously. He’s got a great shot.
“We all work together all year round, and you just see him progress. I just feel like he’s sprouted. He’s just a great player.”
Through five games Gross has one less goal than he did in a full season (28 games) as a sophomore, when he scored eight goals and added 22 assists. After packing on several pounds of muscle over the summer, Gross also has improved his defensive-zone play with an enhanced ability to work the corners and clear the front of the net.
But Gross’ game isn’t about the gruntwork. He routinely managed to exploit openings in the Bengals’ defense and put pucks on net, often straying deep into the Blaine zone.
For all his wandering, Gross’ aggressiveness never put the Crimson defense in a vulnerable spot.
“You saw what some people would say are two of the best defensemen in the state tonight in (Blaine’s Michael) Brodzinski and Gross,” Stefano said. “We wouldn’t trade him. He’s a very smart hockey player. He seems to read the situation so well.”
Brodzinski, a junior who has committed to the University of Minnesota, scored a second-period goal and uncorked numerous other shots on goal.
While Gross and Brodzinski played up to their billing, the matchup hinged mostly on the Crimson’s special teams superiority and Steman’s clutch scoring (he has seven goals and six assists this season).
Steman’s goal with 5:03 remaining was the result of some tight maneuvering and a rising wrist shot that sailed over Blaine goaltender Nick Malvin’s catching glove and put the Crimson ahead 6-2.
“We love playing them,” Steman said about squaring off against the Bengals. “They produce great players, just like we do. There are a lot of good teams that we play. Rivalry wise this is one of them.
“We’re not actually a huge team, but we are strong, we are fast and we feel like we can move around people,” Steman said.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub staff
Dylan Steman (18) of Maple Grove closes in on Blaine's goalie Nick Malvin (32) as he passes the puck. Photo by Helen Nelson
Dylan Steman’s third goal gave him the hat trick and coaxed one Maple Grove fan to toss a hat on the ice, but it was his second goal Thursday that wounded Blaine.
Steman powered a 6-3 Crimson victory with an unassisted second-period goal just 44 seconds after teammate Shane Wolden scored on the power play. The combination punches resulted in a 4-1 lead and the Bengals never recovered.
No. 5 Maple Grove (4-0-1) used three power-play goals and a shorthanded goal to take the first game of the season series from its Northwest Suburban Conference rivals on the road at Fogerty Arena in Blaine.
“When you get back-to-back goals it kind of puts them on their heels,” Steman said. “It’s your opportunity to break them.”
Blaine coach Dave Aus concurred.
“We just stood there and watched them score, and that was the back-breaker,” Aus said. “But that’s what good teams do, that’s what we did to them in the playoffs last year.”
Blaine eliminated Maple Grove the past two seasons in the Class 2A, Section 5 title game. Thursday’s game gave the Crimson reason for hope.
“It’s Blaine, it’s a rivalry,” Steman said. “We love playing them. It’s early, we’ve got a long way to go and so do they, but it’s a battle.”
After showing good energy and puck possession in a scoreless first period, the Crimson got the better of a six-goal second period to post a 4-2 lead.
Notre Dame recruit Jordan Gross gave the Crimson a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 2:39 on an assist from Steman.
When No. 9 Blaine (2-1-0) appeared to gain momentum from Joey Lau’s tying goal scored from a sharp angle, Steman gave it back to Maple Grove with a short-handed goal at 7:49. Then Wolden and Steman added quick goals.
“They were good tonight, but we’ll get better,” Aus said.
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer
1. Dylan Steman, Maple Grove
The shifty senior completed his three-goal night in the third period by uncorking a wicked wrist shot that Blaine goaltender Nick Malvin could only watch sail past his catching glove.
2. Jordan Gross, Maple Grove
The state’s top-scoring defenseman, the smooth-skating Gross looked to generate offense at every opportunity and finished with a goal and an assist.
3. Joey Lau, Blaine
A high-revving sophomore, Lau scored a spectacular goal when he fired a wrist shot high over Maple Grove goaltender Kyle Koop just before crashing into the boards. Lau used his speed to create another breakaway opportunity in the third, but this time his rising shot deflected off Koop’s shoulder.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor