Jack Jablonski received a standing ovation from the Mariucci Arena crowd when he rolled onto the ice in his motorized wheelchair after Benilde-St. Margaret's beat Minnetonka 5-1 in the Section 6AA championship game. Photo by Helen Nelson
Jack Jablonski flashed a grin as his motorized wheelchair headed toward Benilde-St. Margaret's boys' hockey coach Ken Pauly.
Pauly smiled back as he laid his hand on the crown of Jablonski's head.
No words exchanged. None needed.
A 5-1 victory over No. 1 seed and No. 2 ranked Minnetonka (24-4) in Wednesday's Class 2A, Section 6 championship game sends No. 3 seed and No. 6 ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's (22-6) to next week's state tournament for the first time in four years.
Jablonski joined his teammates on the Mariucci Arena ice for the postgame handshake and transported the section trophy to the Red Knights' appreciative student section. Jablonski was severely injured by a check from behind into the boards in a junior varsity game on Dec. 30.
His presence, coupled with a rousing victory, made Wednesday a date many will remember.
"You can't overplay the Jabby card but I guess you can't underestimate the power of that sort of motivation, that love for a teammate and what that does for you," Pauly said.
Benilde-St. Margaret's senior Tyler Ellegard, right, shields the puck from Minnetonka's Vinni Lettieri. Photo by Helen Nelson
The emotional lift mixed with section final intensity had the Red Knights charging from the gate.
Zach Hale burst through a seam in the Skippers defense and put the puck over goalie Paul Ciaccio's right shoulder a little more than two minutes into the game.
Adding to their quick lead, the Red Knights finished a 3-on-1 as Christian Horn and Jake O'Borsky connected at 6:31.
"It was the fastest game of the year," O'Borsky said. "There was a ton of energy on the bench."
A Red Knights turnover and resulting Minnetonka goal by Sam Rothstein cut the lead to 2-1 after the first period.
The Skippers struggled offensively in the second period and would have settled to remain just a goal behind. But an O'Borsky power-play goal with less than two minutes to play changed the game's complexion.
"That was pretty much the game right there," Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. "We weren't generating much. It was just a bad matchup. They have a lot of skill and they used their speed."
And their seniors. Pauly said "championships follow upperclassmen" and the Red Knights rode theirs. Beyond offensive contributions from Horn and O'Borsky, there was Jake Horton, a defenseman, skating at forward for the injured Tyler Ellegard. And there was Ellegard, gutting out a leg injury and returning to assist on O'Borsky's pivotal second goal.
"It could have been my last game so I wasn't going to sit out," Ellegard said.
He scored one of the Red Knights' two goals within 18 seconds in the third period to avenge a regular-season loss to the Skippers.
"To have that sort of performance against a team as good as Minnetonka says a lot about our kids," Pauly said.
Benilde-St. Margaret's Jake O'Borsky (20) scores his first of two goals in the first period. Photo by Jordan Doffing; OTSN
Defenseman Steve Johnson, left, and Minnetonka had trouble matching the speed of Grant Besse and Benilde-St. Margaret's. Photo by Helen Nelson
Senior forward Jake O’Borsky scored twice, and junior goaltender Justin Quale made 18 saves as No. 3 seed Benilde-St. Margaret’s, playing for injured teammate Jack Jablonski, overwhelmed No. 1 seed Minnetonka 5-1 in the Section 6AA championship game on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
O’Borsky’s power play goal in the second period put the No. 6 state-ranked Red Knights (22-6-0) ahead 3-1 heading into the third, and their suffocating defense took over from there.
No. 2-ranked Minnetonka (24-4-0) managed just 19 shots on goal, and only a handful of those could be classified as quality scoring chances.
Tyler Ellegard and Christian Horn scored 20 seconds apart in the third period to put the game out of reach.
Jablonski, a sophomore who suffered a paralyzing injury during a junior varsity game earlier in the season, watched the game at ice level from his motorized wheelchair and joined his teammates ion the ice in the postgame victory celebration. Jablonski received a standing ovation from the crowd, Minnetonka fans included, when he rolled onto the ice.
Goals from sophomore Zach Hale and O’Borsky gave Benilde-St. Margaret’s a 2-0 lead 6:31 into the opening period. Senior Sam Rothstein scored the Skippers’ lone goal midway through the first period.
Quale made nine of his 18 saves in the final period. Minnetonka junior Paul Ciaccio made 13 of his 26 saves in the second period.
Minnetonka defeated Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-3 during the regular season.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor