Benilde-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse, T.J. Moore and Dan Labosky, left to right, wore 1959 Benilde throwback jerseys on Saturday for Hockey Day Minnesota.
There is something old-school about hockey players Grant Besse, Dan Labosky and T.J. Moore.
Bucking a trend of high-level players departing the prep ranks early, the Benilde-St. Margaret's linemates turned down other hockey opportunities and remained to play as seniors. Even Besse, whose five-goal performance in last year's Class 2A state championship game made him a Twitter sensation.
There's the speedy Labosky, threading passes through small openings. The unheralded Moore, always responsible no matter where he is on the ice. Besse, scoring goals in bunches and drawing accolades.
Labosky and Moore, friends and teammates since their days in Edina's youth association, are "the brothers who live together and Besse is the best friend who lives two doors down that stirs it up and laughs about it," Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly said.
The trio's skill, speed and selflessness -- all of which fueled the Red Knights' state championship run last season -- rank them among the most prolific and proven lines in state history, even with a chunk of their senior season remaining.
Their numbers -- a combined 544 points on 246 goals and 298 assists -- calls to mind perhaps the state's most celebrated line: brothers Aaron and Neal Broten and their friend Bryan "Butsy" Erickson, who lived two doors down in Roseau.
Friends since their freshman year, they have forged bonds as linemates going on three seasons, an unusual feat in high school hockey. In an era where high-level athletes tend to specialize in one sport, Besse and Labosky play baseball for the Red Knights despite signing to play hockey at Wisconsin and Colorado College, respectively.
"They are a throwback to what we think high school hockey should be," Pauly said. "They stayed as much for each other as anything else. I think they felt a sense of responsibility."
Growing up with hockey
Moore's father, Terry, played high school hockey at Totino-Grace and made a backyard rink each winter. Julie Labosky said her toddling son watched a recording of Edina's 1997 state championship game more than he watched Disney movies. Besse, his family's first hockey player, developed in the Wayzata youth ranks. Labosky, Moore and Edina beat Besse's team 4-3 in the Peewee state tournament semifinals.
Besse and Moore followed older siblings to Benilde-St. Margaret's. Labosky said a "special feeling" he got after visiting the school sealed the deal. They became friends as freshmen and linemates halfway through their sophomore season.
Though Pauly could not recall in which game the trio made their debut as a line, he realized, "You put them together and they start scoring. They haven't stopped so why would you break them up?"
Pauly said he likes to "put my skill guys together because good players like to play with good players." With his top line, each brings complementary skills that make it successful.
Labosky, the left wing, is one of the two or three fastest skaters in a given game. Through 17 games this season he has 41 career goals and 120 assists. In addition to his passing ability, he antagonizes opposing players despite being just 5-7, 150 pounds.
Moore is a 5-8, 165-pound sturdy center, the "responsible older child" who plays well in all three zones, Pauly said. "When those guys are painting off canvas, T.J. is there to make up for those errors." Moore led the fall Elite League in scoring, a coming-out party for the line's less-heralded member.
"It feels good on a personal level to get a little notoriety," Moore said. "But at the end of the day it really doesn't matter because we're trying to go get another state championship."
Besse, according to Pauly, "is the cool kid. I wouldn't have gotten to eat at his lunch table."
Catalyst. Sniper. Mr. Hockey favorite. Besse ranks fifth all-time with 145 career goals. He has scored at least 30 goals in each of his four varsity seasons. His five-goal performance in the Class 2A state championship made him a minor celebrity.
"When we go out of town, people are asking to get their picture taken with Grant," said Spencer Naas, who played center while Moore was hurt for three games earlier this season. "That's a lot of pressure for a senior in high school but he's handled it well."
The price of fame comes in several forms. Listening to opposing student sections, it becomes clear that unless Besse scores five goals every night he failed. A tougher schedule and extra attention from opposing players add to Besse's burden.
"Coach Pauly told us before the season, 'You guys may think you're ready for how hard this season is going to be but you're not,'" said Besse, who missed much of the Elite League with a leg injury but packed muscle on his 5-10, 185-pound frame.
Besse has taken occasional shifts as a defenseman this season.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime type of player you get the privilege to coach," Pauly said. "So I want to get him on the ice as much as possible."
Humble and hungry
Besse logged time as a goalie last summer, suiting up at 8 a.m. so Pauly's seventh- and eighth-grade hockey campers had someone to shoot pucks at.
All three are at the forefront of care for injured teammate Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed in a game last year. They drive him around in the family's refurbished van and help him with meals. Labosky, who read to Jablonski while the latter wore a halo in the hospital, is a member of Benilde-St. Margaret's peer ministry.
"Hockey wasn't the only reason I wanted to stay at Benilde," Labosky said. "It was like, 'You never get this opportunity to play with your friends and you're not going to be in high school ever again.' It wasn't about rushing somewhere you want to be."
Besse takes a similar perspective into the Red Knights' attempt at defending their state title and becoming the first large-school class program since Bloomington Jefferson (1992-94) to repeat.
"Absolute success would be repeating as state champs," Besse said. "But we know if we don't that the season is not an epic failure. It's not easy to repeat."
All three players have heard discussions about their legacy but shrug it off as secondary to team success. Their coach took a longer view.
"If we make a serious run at another title, they could really cement their place as one of the best lines of all time," Pauly said. "If we do that and they aren't on the short list of top lines in hockey history, I don't know who is."