Benilde-St. Margaret's defenseman Jonah Johnson (19) clears Minnetonka's Jared Ridge from the front of the net as Red Knights goaltender Justin Quale makes a save. Photo by Helen Nelson
Benilde-St. Margaret’s has allowed just one goal and precious few scoring chances in three playoff games. That’s a marked turnaround for a group of defensemen who were burned repeatedly on breakaways in two regular season losses to Maple Grove and suffered another inexplicable meltdown in a 6-2 loss to Moorhead in late January.
“We got together as a defensive group after Moorhead, and we’ve only gone up from there,” said senior Jonah Johnson, who was a plus-3 and blocked three shots (both team highs) against Minnetonka.
Injuries played a part in the Red Knights’ regular season defensive woes. At one point Benilde-St. Margaret’s was missing Johnson (concussion) and standout sophomores Ryan Collins (mono) and Jack Glover (shoulder) for a series of a games.
Now, a liability has turned into an asset. Benilde-St. Margaret’s is so loaded on defense that Red Knights coach Ken Pauly moved his top defenseman, senior Jake Horton, to forward for several shifts against the Skippers. It was an experiment he had been hoping to employ for most of the season.
“We’ve got six really good defensemen, and to roll six doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense,” Pauly said about putting his experiment. “And Horton is a pretty good physical force up front.”
A second-period injury to senior forward Tyler Ellegard created an opening at forward, and Pauly was quick to plug the hole with Horton, a preseason all-state selection. With Horton shifted up front, the Red Knights didn’t miss a beat defensively.
As for those midseason defensive struggles, they were all part of the learning curve for the Red Knights, according to Pauly.
“Maple Grove is a great team, and they got some of their forwards behind our guys,” he said. “That kind of stuff can happen, but it hasn’t happened lately. That’s what matters.
“What can’t be lost in this is Minnetonka won (24) games this year playing one of the toughest schedules in the state. To play that way against them, and to shut them down, I think is pretty impressive.”