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Future is now for Skippers

01/12/2012, 12:15am CST
By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Goalie Matt Behounek stays in the moment as Minnetonka tops Benilde-St. Margaret's


Minnetonka goaltender Matt Behounek stops Christian Horn for one of his 31 saves against Benilde-St. Margaret's. Photo by Helen Nelson

Minnetonka’s Matt Behounek has the temperament of professional golfer, which is to say he’s learned not to dwell on mistakes or over-celebrate successes.

Behounek is a stay-in-the-moment sort of guy.
 
That’s the preferred mindset for any goaltender, and one that was particularly useful in the No. 2-ranked Skippers’ 5-3 triumph over No. 6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.
 
“I just clear my head and just focus on the next shot,” Behounek, a senior, said about his approach after allowing a goal. 
 
The mindset is the same after the Skippers’ score, too.
 
It never changes.
 
“I just try to stay in my zone,” Behounek said. “Not try to get too high or too low.”
 
The teams traded goals three times through two periods and part of the third before Minnetonka pulled away only in the closing minutes. The game was back-and-forth in every sense of the term.
 
“It felt like there was a lot of pressure all the time,” said Behounek, who faced a season-high 34 shots. “It was down and back. It was never really stuck in our end, or in theirs.”
 
Behounek was filet knife sharp in the opening period, when he faced 15 shots. The period ended with the score tied at 2, but it could have been lopsided in favor of the Red Knights, who used their eye-blurring speed to secure numerous close-range scoring chances.
 
“He was huge,” said Skippers junior defenseman Tommy Vannelli, who scored the winning goal with 8 minutes, 40 seconds left in the third. “He was standing on his head, especially in the first period. It wasn’t our best period.”
 
Behounek improved to 7-1-0 with the win. He has a .904 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average.  More notably, he has back-to-back wins against two of the  state’s top teams in Moorhead (26 saves in a 5-3 win on Jan. 6) and Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
 
“He played really well against Moorhead up there, too,” Urick said. “He got peppered a little bit there. The last couple of games he’s played really well. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
 
Behounek has been rotating starts with junior Paul Ciaccio, who has a 7-0-0 record to go with a .931 save percentage and 1.19 goals-against average. 
 
“I’m not really sure,” Vanelli said when asked if there is a better tandem of goaltenders in the state. “They just push each other in practice. They keep getting better that way.”
 
With the regular season over half complete, the Skippers aren’t that far from the playoffs. If Behounek and Ciaccio continue their stellar play, Urick will be facing a difficult decision: Who to starts in the postseason?
 
“I talk about that, and my dad (assistant coach Joe Urick) says, ‘Just live day to day, Brian. Don’t make a decision until you have to,’ ” Urick said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Vannelli supplements Skippers' offense

Typically, Minnetonka relies on its deep stable of standout forward for its goal production.

But Skippers junior defenseman Tommy Vannelli has a good sense of what to do with the puck when given a clear lane to the goal, as he was in the third period of what was then a tie game against Benilde-St. Margaret’s. 

“It just popped out,” said Vannelli, who leads all Skippers defensemen with four goals and 13 points. “Nobody was coming out to me, so I just stepped into it. 
 
“Just tried to get it to the net, I guess. I didn’t want to miss the net. That would have been bad.”
 
It turned out all good for Vannelli, who rang his slap shot in off the goalpost to put the Skippers ahead 4-3 in an eventual 5-3 victory. His goal came just 56 seconds after the Red Knights’ T.J. Moore had tied the game at 3.
 
“He’s got a rocket,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said about Vannelli. “He gets every shot through, he never gets shots blocked.
 
“To answer the bell that quick after they tied it up, that was the key to the game.”

Until they meet again?

Call it Round 1.

Minnetonka’s thrilling 5-3 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret’s in front of a near-capacity corwd at the Pagel Activiy Center on Thursday, Jan. 12, might prove to be nothing more than an appetizer to a potential meeting in the Section 6AA playoffs.
 
“You had two heavyweights going at it tonight,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said. “It was even as even could be, going back and forth.”
 
Pauly, for the most part, liked what he saw from his Red Knights. They fired 34 shots on Minnetonka goaltender Matt Behounek. No team has unloaded more shots on the Skippers this season.
 
“We’ll forget about the loss in a hurry,” Pauly said. “It’s disappointing. I’ve certainly all year considered Tonka one of the top two teams in the state. 
 
“From what I watched out there tonight I feel pretty good about where we’re at.” 
 
Minnetonka coach Brian Urick was impressed with the Red Knights, a team he knows the Skippers will have to be wary of during the postseason.
 
“They are a real good team,” he said. “They have a lot of offense, a lot of speed up front.
 
“It was a little disappointed that we gave up 34 shots. If you give up that many shots, when it counts in a big game, usually you are not going to win.”

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

 Junior defenseman Tommy Vannelli scored the game winning goal in the third period on a blast from the top of the right face-off circle – the puck ricocheting into the net with an emphatic ping of the right goalpost – as No. 2-ranked Minnetonka slipped past No. 6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-3 on Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka.

Vannelli’s goal came with 8:20 remaining and just 56 seconds after T.J. Moore’s unassisted goal had pulled the Red Knights (9-4-0) into a 3-3 tie.
 
In a game featuring two of the highest scoring offenses in the state, the first period played to form with each team scoring twice. Linemates Erik Baskin and Sam Rothstein scored in the first for the Skippers (14-1-0), who had leads of 1-0 and 2-1. Moore and Jake Horton answered for the Red Knights.
 
Baskin scored again midway through the second period to give Minnetonka a 3-2 lead. Using a Benilde-St. Margaret’s defenseman as a screen, he ripped a shot that sailed into the upper left corner. 
 
Moore’s goal to tie it in the third came during a wild goalmouth scramble that included numerous swats at the puck as players from both teams converged on the crease area.
 
Connor Thie capped the scoring with 1:22 left when he fired a rebound past Red Knights’ goaltender Justin Quale after an initial Skippers shot connected squarely with the goalpost.
 
Quale finished with 32 saves while Minnetonka senior Matt Behounek made a season-high 31 saves on 34 shots.

1. Erik Baskin, Minnetonka
After a slow start to the season, the big senior winger is starting to find his goal-scoring groove. Baskin scored twice against the Red Knights, and four of his eight goals have come in the Skippers’ last five games. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 24 points.

The senior goaltender faced a season-high 34 shots, and several times those came in flurries as the Red Knights pounded away at loose pucks in the crease area. Behounek made 14 of his saves in the second period when Benilde-St. Margaret’s had numerous point-blank opportunities.
 
A junior center, Moore used his speed and superb stickhandling ability to repeatedly wheel around Minnetonka defensemen. He finished with two goals and an assist playing on an often dominating line with recent Division I commits Grant Besse (Wisconsin) and Dan Labosky (Colorado College).

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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