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Defenseman Matt Nelson of Edina scored twice in Team Southwest's 3-2 victory over Team Northwest. Photo by Katherine Matthews

The order came down from the coaches: “Nelson, you’re playing forward.”

“I was surprised,” said Matt Nelson, an Edina senior who has helped anchor Team Southwest’s defense in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League this fall. “I’ve never played forward. I kind of felt like I was running around.”

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Nelson is a prototypical Edina defenseman, which is to say he’s more likely to drill an opponent into the boards than rocket the puck into the net.

It’s no coincidence that Edina’s head coach is Curt Giles, a former NHL defenseman known for his devastating hip checks. Hornets assistant Dave Langevin also was an NHL defenseman best known for his ability to take care of business in the defensive zone by whatever means necessary.

“We love to hit,” said Nelson, who scored three goals and added nine assists last season for a Hornets team that lost to eventual state Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. “We like to try to be hard to play against every game. Even our little guys throw their bodies around. 

“I think that’s what makes us who we are as a team.”


Senior Matt Nelson is one of five Edina players on the Team Southwest roster. Photo by Katherine Matthews

It was odd, maybe, that the heavy hitting Nelson would be the choice to replace Mario Bianchi of Holy Angels at forward after Bianchi’s skate broke early in the first period. But Team Southwest, already missing a handful of its top forwards because of injuries, wasn’t in a position to be choosy about which defenseman to move up front.

Nelson had, after all, scored 1 minute, 31 seconds into Team Southwest’s eventual 3-2 victory over Team Northwest on Saturday, Oct. 13, at New Hope Ice Arena. That goal came before he was switched to forward.

“When I got the call I thought, ‘Hey, might as well,’ ” Nelson said. “Do what it takes, I guess. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I guess I’ll just skate down the ice and try to score a goal. That’s all it is, right?”

Bianchi was back on the ice by the second period, which meant Nelson was back on the blue line. The switch came just in time for Nelson to score a power-play goal from the point.

That goal proved to be the winner in a game that moved Team Southwest into a tie with Team Northwest for first place in the league standings.

Several other Edina players on Team Southwest played starring roles in the victory. Senior goaltender Willie Benjamin made 48 saves and senior forward Bo Brauer – who ranks among the league’s scoring leaders – notched a first-period goal.

Edina, which returns almost all of its top players from last season, joins Benilde-St. Margaret’s as the prohibitive Class 2A favorites entering the season.

“Benilde is a great team,” Nelson said. “But we want to get to where we were last year, and maybe try to make a run for the championship. But it’s going to be a battle. They are a great team, we are a great team. If it comes down to it, I’d love to see them in the championship game, or whenever we see them in he playoffs.”

In the meantime, Nelson and his Edina buddies – forward Dylan Malmquist and defenseman Parker Reno also are on the Hornets roster – are joining forces with Daniel Labosky and Patrick Graham of Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Team Southwest.

“The Elite League in general, it’s a fast-paced, quick league,” Nelson said. “I think for all our Edina guys, it’s really going to transition well into the (high school) season because we’re rarin’ to go.”

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap


Matt Nelson

Edina senior defenseman Matt Nelson scored two goals, including the eventual game winner on a power play in the second period, to lead Team Southwest past team Northwest 3-2 in a matchup of top Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League teams on Saturday, Oct. 13 at New Hope Ice Arena in New Hope.

 
Edina’s Bo Brauer also scored for Team Southwest, which got a standout performance from yet another Hornets senior in goaltender Willie Benjamin, who made 48 saves.
 
Benjamin flicked his right leg to the ice to stop a shot ticketed for the back of the net by Team Northwest’s Tyler Cline, a Blaine forward, in the closing seconds to preserve the victory.
 
The win vaulted Team Southwest into a first-place tie with Team Northwest in the league standings. Both teams are 12-2-3 with 27 points.
 
Thomas Lindstrom of Breck scored a power-play goal with 1:47 left to set up the wild finish. Matt Koch, a senior defenseman from Hastings, also scored on a power play for Team Northwest.
 
Chase Perry of Andover made 33 saves for Team Northwest.
 
Team Southwest played without several of its top forwards, including Shane Gersich, Connor Hurley, Dylan Malmquist, Alex Funk and Connor Thie.

Three Stars

Nelson, a senior defenseman from Edina, was moved to forward for a few shifts in the first period while teammate Mario Bianchi dealt with a skate problem, and he responded by scoring a goal. He threaded a shot through traffic from the point for the game-winner. All that, and he also played his steady, hard-hitting defensive game.
 
A senior from Edina, Benjamin made a hectic night look serene while stopping 48 of 50 shots. He was pummeled with shots in the final stages of the third period, and his leg pad stop on Tyler Cline in the closing seconds was the exclamation mark on a brilliant night.
 
The senior from Breck sacrificed his body to score a gritty power-play goal from just outside the crease in the third period with 1:47 remaining. As usual, he was an integral part of a highly effective forward line that included Jack Ramsey of Minnetonka and Mason Bergh of Eden Prairie.

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