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Night-and-day transformation

03/01/2012, 1:16pm CST
By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

No longer a liability, Benilde-St. Margaret's defense is now catalyst for team's success


Benilde-St. Margaret's defensemen Patrick Graham, left, and Jack Glover, right, converge on Minnetonka's Jack Ramsey. Photo by Helen Nelson

The breakout passes were crisp, the coverage in front of the net impeccable.
 
They faced only one or two odd-man rushes, none of which resulted in goals. 
 
They did not give up anything resembling breakaway.
 
“They played really well,” Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said about the Benilde-St Margaret’s defense after the No. 2 state-ranked Skippers were upended by the No. 6 Red Knights 5-1 in the Section 6AA championship game on Wednesday night at Mariucci arena. “What did we have, under 20 shots, and maybe three scoring chances? 
 
“They played really well.”
 
It’s understandable how Urick could be left shaking his head.
 
Once considered a glaring weakness on a team loaded with offensive firepower, the Benilde-St. Margaret’s defensive corps has transformed itself into the catalyst of a stirring playoff run that has taken the Red Knights all the way to the state Class 2A tournament in St. Paul.
 
“They played amazing,” senior forward Jake O’Borsky said about the Red Knights’ defense. “I give a lot of credit to them. You have that faith in your D to know they are going to stop that rush or stop that player and get the pucks. 
 
“It makes everyone play with a lot more confidence.”

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.”

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