Maple Grove senior Tony Paulson scored twice on breakaways in the Crimson's 5-4 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret's. Photo by Helen Nelson
Tony Paulson plays hockey with the high-speed precision of a fighter pilot mixed with the craftiness of a cat burglar.
And odd mix, to be sure. An unstoppable one at times, too.
“He’s kind of sneaky that way,” Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano said after Paulson materialized behind the Benilde-St. Margaret’s defense three times while traveling at Mach speed. “It was his best game of the year, by far.
“The guy should have had a hat trick on breakaways.”
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Paulson can be forgiven for hitting the post on one of his forays into the Red Knights’ zone. He did score on his other two breakaway chances in the No. 3-ranked Crimson’s 5-4 victory over No. 6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at the St. Louis Park Rec Center.
Two out of three? Not bad at all.
“I wish I had that one back,” Paulson, a senior, said about his second-period near miss. “I’ll take that, though, as long as we get the win.”
The Crimson traditionally have been a team that wins more with disciplined defense than run-and-gun offense. This season Maple Grove has proven it can play most any which way – and win.
The Crimson (7-0-1) are averaging five goals a game and have won seven straight since a season-opening tie with Wayzata. They are one of just 11 unbeaten teams left in the state.
Maple Grove's Tony Paulson, left, shields the puck from Benilde-St. Margaret's defenseman Patrick Graham. Photo by Helen Nelson
Paulson’s second goal came midway through the second period off and pulled the Crimson to within 3-2. Seventy-eight seconds later Maple Grove was leading 4-3 after goals by Shane Wolden and Jordan Gross.
“We definitely have the capability to score, but it has never happened that fast,” Paulson said about Maple Grove’s three-goal flurry. “Man, that was a good feeling. We’ve never done that this year, especially not against a good team like this.”
The game’s wide-open format was perfectly suited for Paulson who scored 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) in 28 games last season.
On a face-off deep in the Maple Grove zone, Paulson raced toward center ice the instant the puck was dropped. Crimson defenseman Drew Aspinwall gained control of the puck and banked it off the boards just beyond the Maple Grove blue line, hitting Paulson in full stride and behind the Red Knights’ defense.
“That was actually just a set play off the face off,” Paulson said. “(Aspinwall) made a ridiculous pass of the boards. Great play. I just happened to bury it.”
Maple Grove had three or four more breakaways, or partial breakaways, other than Paulson’s.
“I certainly expected a lot of offense because they are a high-end team, we’re a high-end team,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said. “I certainly didn’t expect the outright defensive breakdowns that allow breakaways and some of that.
“Some of that came with immaturity and not responding to an emotional situation.”
Benilde-St. Margaret’s (5-2-0) features a fleet of high-scoring forwards and has twice scored 15 or more goals this season.
Stefano knew the Crimson defense would be under siege and instructed his defensemen to relieve the pressure by getting the puck out of the defense zone any way possible.
“We just told the boys, when you are playing a team that has the scorers like they do, and they are all over you, you don’t have a lot of time,” Stefano said. “Chip it out. We said their defensemen like to hold the blue line a little bit, and we were able to get some pucks off the glass and create those breakaways.”
Maple Grove's Tony Paulson beats Benilde-St. Margaret's goaltender Anders Jecha on a first-period breakaway. Photo by Helen Nelson
Benilde-St. Margaret’s defenseman Jake Horton scored with 9 seconds remaining, but the goal that would have pulled the Red Knights into tie with Maple Grove was immediately waived off.
The public address announcer explained the call by saying that Crimson goaltender Kyle Koop had covered the puck and the whistle had blown before Horton shoveled it into the goal.
Replays show Grant Besse partially fanning on a backhand shot at a semi-open net. Koop slid through the crease and appeared to have smothered the puck with his catching glove before Horton jammed it into the goal.
“We’ll take a look at the game tape before we get too upset,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said. “But you know what, we put ourselves in that situation to have to scramble to get one in. And it’s too bad.”
Maple Grove’s Tony Paulson was once the ice for the wild sequence that had the crowd roaring over the apparent goal.
“Like we said in the locker room, ‘Let’s just finish this game,’ ” Paulson said. “Last year, some of the time, we had a hard time finishing games. It was good to just get the finish.
“Koop had it covered. The guy just hit it out of his glove. It was a good call.”
Tony Paulson scored twice on breakaways – and hit the post on another – and No. 3 Maple Grove scored three goals in 78 seconds in the second period as it held on to beat No. 6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-4 on Tuesday, Dec. 20, at the St. Louis Park Rec Center.
Paulson, who repeatedly used his eye-blurring speed to sneak behind the Benilde-St. Margaret’s defense, ignited the Crimson’s second-period eruption by cruising in along on Red Knights starting goaltender Anders Jecha and scoring 8:38 into the second to make the score 3-2.
Shane Wolden tied the score at 3 just 36 seconds later, and high-scoring Crimson defenseman Jordan Gross put Maple Grove ahead 4-3 with a deke that froze Jecha and allowed Gross to score into an open net.
Sam Valerius scored what proved to be the winning goal with 3:11 left in the in the second period on a 20-foot blast from the left face off circle.
Jake O’Borsky scored for Benilde-St. Margaret’s with 4:51 remaining, setting up a wild finish that saw a Red Knights goal waived off with 9 seconds remaining. Officals ruled that Maple Grove goaltender Kyle Koop had frozen the puck under his catching glove and the whistle had blown before the puck was jammed into the goal.
There was another scrum in front of Koop after the ensuing face off as the clock wound down to zero, the puck eventually squirting to the side of the net as the final horn sounded.
Grant Besse, T.J. Moore and Christian Horn also scored for the Red Knights.
Jecha made 19 saves before giving way to Justin Quale to start the third period. Quale stopped all 10 shots he faced. Koop finished with 32 saves for the Crimson.
1. Tony Paulson, Maple Grove
The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Paulson isn’t a dominating physical force, but he can be simply dominating as he proved with his three-breakaway, two-goal performance against the Red Knights. Paulson, a senior, led the Crimson with nine shots, and he hit the post on the one breakaway on which he failed to score.
2. Jordan Gross, Maple Grove
The junior defenseman scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season on a beautiful deke as he cruised through the slot, and he repeatedly found open lanes through the Red Knights’ defense. Gross fired seven shots on goal and played his usual solid defensive game.
3. Christian Horn, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
The Red Knights’ most consistent offensive threat, Horn scored a gorgeous goal on a solo dash through the Crimson defense in the second period, added an assist and fired several shots ticketed for the upper corners of the goal that either just missed or were stopped by Maple Grove goaltender Kyle Koop.