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.”
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.