After scoring 16 unanswered goals during a lopsided victory over St. Cloud Tech on Tuesday, Nov. 29, it may have seemed unlikely that Benilde-St. Margaret’s would be shut out just two days later in its first period against Hill-Murray.
Not only that, the Red Knights had surrendered their first goal of the 2011-2012 season in the opening period of the Thursday, Dec. 1, game.
Yet out of all the emotions being felt as Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly and the rest of the Red Knights headed into the locker room during the first intermission, nervousness was not one of them.
“I actually thought we played fairly well in the first period,” Pauly said. “I think that's the main thing; when you're up you're not doing as much right as you think you are and when you're down you're not doing as much wrong as you think you are.
“There were a lot of awful positive things so that's the main thing we wanted to emphasize in the first period -- just keep doing what you're doing.”
However, Benilde-St. Margaret’s did something in the second period that it hadn’t done in the first: score goals.
By the time Grant Besse tied the game at 1-1, the momentum had clearly shifted in favor of the Red Knights. That’s when the senior co-captains took over to cap the comeback with goals by forward Christian Horn and a power-play goal by defenseman Jake Horton.
“Normally I just let (Grant) Besse walk out front and I tie the guy up so Besse can try to either dish back door or try to stuff it himself but they had shut that down all night,” Horton said. “I just figured you gotta try something new so I just popped up a little high in the slot and Besse saw me, I just got lucky and put it home.”
Horn also didn’t shy away from crediting Besse who also assisted on Horn's goal.
“Besse made a great play -- that kid's got more strength than I can see in anyone -- and he just let it slide right to me and I just knew,” Horn said. “Our fans had been loud all game and they needed something.”
Not overlooking Besse’s three-point effort (one goal, two assists), Pauly praised the leadership of his seniors.
“That's what you need,” Pauly said. “We've had a lot of good teams but you need to have your seniors step up in critical, critical moments. That's been a challenge for those guys. I think for Christian (Horn) and Jake (Horton) especially in a situation when you think you have a pretty good team and you're playing Hill-Murray and you're down, maybe some little doubt can get in your mind.
“For them to say, 'You know what, let's pop this thing in the net and say ok here we go boys,' that was a big play by both of those guys.”
Besides the Red Knights' pursuit of perfection -- or at least a shot at the Class 2A state title -- there was another thing that fueled the upperclassmen-led second period comeback.
“One big thing I think that we put on ourselves is that Hill-Murray hasn't beaten us in four years,” Horn said. “We definitely knew coming into this game with two of the top private schools playing each other -- it's a game of pride.
“It's a game you really want to win.”
With perennial powerhouses such as Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and Wayzata in the same section, it’s not necessarily surprising that Benilde-St. Margaret’s hasn’t made a state tournament appearance since 2008.
While it may not be surprising, it is certainly disappointing and something the Red Knights are hoping to change during the 2011-2012 season.
Despite Benilde-St. Margaret’s winning its first true test of the year against Hill-Murray on Thuesday, Dec. 1, Red Knights’ coach Ken Pauly saw several coaching points from the 3-2 comeback victory.
“In a lot of ways a lot of those things that happened to us today were very good because you're trying to build this time of year,” Pauly said. “The mistakes we made, and being down 1-0 (after the first period), and not really finishing it out the way you want at the end of the game -- those are all good lessons because if we want to go where we want to go, we're going to have to tighten those things up.”
Though the Benilde-St. Margaret’s coaches and players know there is still plenty of work to be done, the Red Knights’ locker room leadership was pleased with the in-game improvement after the first period.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s outshot Hill-Murray 21-1 in the second period on its way to scoring three straight goals -- one each from team points leader Grant Besse and senior co-captains Christian Horn and Jake Horton.
“That second period really showed us what kind of team we could be,” Horn said. “(It felt like) we were in their end the entire time. One thing our coaches are making us work on is every time the whistle blows there better be three red guys right on top of their goalie. I think that really worked -- they were getting a little rattled that we were on top of their goalie the entire time and it worked to our advantage. They got four penalties off of that and that's what helped us.”
Along with constantly pressuring the opposing team’s goaltender, Horn also noted the Red Knights have several weapons at their disposal.
“We have that team speed, we have a deep team this year and we know what we can do with it. I think we actually adapted really well that first period,” Horn said. “They did get a goal, they had a couple two-on-ones but we tightened things up. The second period really showed what kind of team we are.”
While trying to keep things in perspective, Horton wasn’t shy to point out the positives.
“It's still early in the season so you can't tell much from (the victory over Hill-Murray),” Horton said. “But it's really good to see that we can come back after the first down one, we can still get ourselves out of a hole.
“We'll battle all year and this is just the start.”
With Benilde-St. Margaret’s holding a 3-1 lead over Hill-Murray late in the third period of the Thursday, Dec. 1, match-up, a timeout was called.
But it wasn’t called by Hill-Murray to discuss a game-tying strategy.
Rather, Red Knights’ coach Ken Pauly decided to give his team a breather -- or, more specifically, give his team a moment to refocus.
“I just felt we were scrambling a little bit,” Pauly said “I thought they were taking it to us, they were beating us to loose pucks and we wanted to finish strong. With guys like (Zach) LaValle and (Jake) Guentzel this game was not over. I really felt that Hill-Murray was playing with more of a sense of urgency than we were.
“When my gut tells me to call timeout, I call it because if they score than I'm mad at myself for the rest of the week.”
The move may have backfired slightly as it also gave Hill-Murray a chance to collect itself as the Pioneers scored an empty net goal in the final seconds, but Pauly and the Red Knights would escape with the 3-2 victory.
As the zamboni finished its last lap around the ice at Aldrich Arena following Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3-2 victory over Hill-Murray, the mind of Pioneers’ coach Bill Lechner was still immersed in the game.
Being outshot by the Red Knights 44-17 was not a stellar offensive statistic, but having junior John Dugas stop 41 shots in his first game as Hill-Murray's full-time goaltender was definitely a positive.
“(John) Dugas played well for us,” Lechner said. “He played really well. He held us in at times. He was ready because he's been on varsity for two years. It's not like a backup goalie coming off of (junior varsity).
“He doesn't have the experience of playing big games -- like after the game he came up to me and goes, 'that was fun.' We like that. He's got the mindset.”
Still, Lechner has never been one for moral victories and doesn’t plan on starting anytime soon especially after the loss to Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
“They're a very good club obviously,” Lechner said. “Making no excuses, just facts that we knew we were going against, they have 15 guys back from last year's team and we have 14 new puppies. They're young but they're 'experienced young'. We were just young and inexperienced -- new goaltending, we only had one (defenseman) back, we knew we were going to get that. They're in their second game, they're about two or three weeks ahead of us.”
There’s some truth to that statement as several Pioneers skaters recently made the switch from the gridiron to the rink following a Class 4A state semifinal loss to Rocori.
“Super glad it happened cause I'm truly for Hill-Murray football as an athletic director, but our football players that are key guys for us are not in hockey shape yet and it shows a little bit,” Lechner said.
One thing that certainly hurt the Pioneers was the lack of lower-line support late in the game. Something Lechner plans to get to work on immediately.
“With practice and experience we gotta grow our bench,” Lechner said. “We relied on a handful of guys cause I knew we were going to battle. I mean, it's almost like the atmosphere of a section final game as far as playing a top team right away. We have to build confidence with our team so we couldn't take a step back. I couldn't go with youth -- we gotta practice more and get game experience before I put more bodies out there in the crunch time.
“I played the heck out of about four forwards and I need to get that doubled at least.”
A first period hit by Hill-Murray's Blake Heinrich temporarily knocked Benilde-St. Margaret's junior forward Grant Besse from the game.
In the second period, Besse hit back.
Tallying a goal and two assists in the period, Besse fueled a 3-2 Red Knights' comeback victory against Hill-Murray at Aldrich Arena on Thursday, Dec. 1.
The Pioneers' Conrad Sampair gave the home team a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Besse tied the game at 1:47 of the second period. He added two assists, one on Christian Horn's goal, the other on Jake Horton's eventual power-play game winner.
Benilde-St. Margaret's improves to 2-0-0 and will host Duluth Marshall on Saturday, Dec. 10, at 2:30 p.m. for the Red Knights' season home opener.
Looking to get back on the winning track Hill-Murray (0-1-0) will travel to Burnsville on Saturday, Dec. 10 for a 3 p.m. game at Burnsville Ice Center.
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune &
Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff
1. Grant Besse, Benilde-St. Margaret's
After taking a massive hit from Hill-Murray defenseman Blake Heinrich in the first period, Red Knights' coach Ken Pauly wondered if he'd get his team's leading scorer back. Good thing for Benilde-St. Margaret's that Besse returned. Not only did the junior forward score the Red Knights' first goal, he followed that up with assisting on the next two -- the last one coming on Jake Horton's game-winning power play goal.
2. John Dugas, Hill-Murray
Having huge pads to fill after the Pioneers lost goaltender Tim Shaugnessy to graduation, Dugas made 41 saves in his debut between the pipes for Hill-Murray. Though allowing three goals in the second period, the junior netminder faced a whopping 21 shots in the period alone and kept his team in a position to win until the end.
3. Jake Horton, Benilde-St. Margaret's
Mix together a solid defensive performance, staying out of the box in a physical game and the eventual game-winning goal on the power play and you have a star performance from the Red Knights' senior co-captain. Horton showed some toughness too skating off the ice under his own power after his head bounced off the cross bar from getting shoved for punching at a covered puck in the second period.
-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff