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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.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribue staff writer

Benilde-St. Margaret's Jake O'Borsky (20) scores his first of two goals in the first period. Photo by Jordan Doffing; OTSN

Minnetonka has trouble navigating on big ice

Minnetonka spent two days practicing on the Olympic-sized ice sheet at the Eden Prairie Community Center in preparation for Wednesday’s Section 6AA championship game at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
 
If the Skippers were prepared to play on Mariucci’s larger-than-normal ice surface, they certainly didn’t appear comfortable on it.
 
“That rink doesn’t fit our game,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said after the top-seeded Skippers’ 5-1 loss to No. 3 seed Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

Defenseman Steve Johnson, left, and Minnetonka had trouble matching the speed of Grant Besse and Benilde-St. Margaret's. Photo by Helen Nelson

While the speedy Red Knights were routinely firing pinpoint passes across the width of the ice, the Skippers spent the night reaching for pucks sent too far ahead or behind, or, even worse, trying to pull passes from their skates.
 
“I know that everyone is going to say that we were flat but, you know what, they played really well,” Urick said about the Red Knights, a team the Skippers beat 5-3 in the regular season. “They had a lot of speed. 
 
“You give those guys an Olympic sheet … their team is built for that and ours isn’t so much. We have guys who like to grind it down in the corners and play it down low, and you just can’t do it on that big sheet.”
 
Minnetonka’s top line of Sam Rothstein, Erik Baskin and Connor Thie accounted for the Skippers lone goal, as Rothstein scored in the first period. Baskin, who had been a dominant force the past month while setting up shop in the corners and along the boards, rarely touched the puck.
 
The Skippers’ third line of Justin Bader, Jared Ridge and Phil Katopodis also had been effective all year in creating scoring chances by grinding away on opposing defensemen in the corners and behind the net. That unit was outscored by the Red Knights’ third line, which opened the scoring on a first-period goal by sophomore Zach Hale.
 
“I was really proud of our guys,” Urick said. “They competed, it just wasn’t their night.”
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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Game Recap


Jake O'Borsky

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

Every goal is crucial in a section title game, but O’Borsky had two of the most important for the Red Knights, scoring in the first and second periods when the outcome was still in doubt. The senior forward’s power-play goal with 1 minute, 48 seconds left in the second period struck a huge blow toward Minnetonka’s hopes of a comeback attempt.
 
The senior suffered a knee injury in the second period, but his recovery time was amazingly brief. Ellegard returned to the ice to assist on O’Borsky’s pivotal power play goal in the second period then added a backbreaking goal of his own in the third.
 
A senior who played in a section title game (and lost) with Hill-Murray last year, the defenseman was a big part of an altogether different outcome. He led the Red Knights with three blocked shots and was a team-best plus-3 playing against one of the state’s most potent offenses.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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