Willie Benjamin (1) makes one of his 25 saves in Edina's 4-2 victory over Hill-Murray in the Class 2A state championship game. Photo by Adam Crane.
Willie Benjamin, who had ditched his blocker, helmet and stick, emerged from the dog pile in his crease unscathed.
But it wasn’t the traditional championship celebration that Benjamin had braved. Instead, it was one of the many dust-ups he had with Hill-Murray skaters who crashed his net, searching for something – anything, really – they could get past the seasoned Edina netminder.
Benjamin gave them nothing.
“I thought Hill played a great game,” said Benjamin after stopping 25 shots to backstop the Hornets to yet another Class 2A title. “They challenged us a lot but a lot of the shots weren’t that bad because our defensemen were really good at boxing everything out.”
Edina did keep the Pioneers at bay in tight, and they did block a lot of shots. But that didn’t change the fact that Benjamin got beat up on Saturday night.
Hill-Murray did basically what it did last season in the Class 2A final and tried to get pucks to the net and score goals on second and third looks.
It didn’t work then. Benjamin made sure it didn’t work now, either.
“There were some key times when he made some key moves for us and some key saves,” said Edina coach Curt Giles, describing Benjamin’s play in a little less modest terms than the tenured goalie. “This game could have turned very, very quickly. Willie stood in there.”
The performance was a nice bounce back for Benjamin, who struggled with rebound control at times in Edina’s first two state tournament games. He was finally able to keep his rebounds out of dangerous areas, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Benjamin may have been looked at as just another face in the crowd behind the big-guns on Edina before the tournament, but his effort on Saturday just might turn some heads.
“I think he’s an underrated goaltender,” Giles said. “There really wasn’t much talk about him coming into this tourney, there wasn’t much talk about him this season. They looked past Willie a little bit. I think they made a mistake of it.”
As for the ditching of the equipment part, apparently Benjamin was just practicing for later.
“He won a championship for us,” Giles said. “I think one of the biggest reasons we are here today is because of the team, obviously. But our goaltending is what got us the championship.”