Everything is magnified for teams squaring off against Maple Grove.
Most notably the mistakes.
Even the slightest miscue or most innocent miscalculation can turn into a major gaffe against the unbeaten Crimson, the state’s No. 3-ranked team.
A missed defensive assignment is a four-alarm fire.
A mishandled puck becomes a hand grenade.
A turnover becomes a tidal wave.
“I was definitely happy with the way we played the first two periods,” Wayzata coach Pat O’Leary said after the Trojans’ 4-2 loss to the Crimson in the semifinals of the Sports Authority Holiday Classic on Thursday, Dec. 29, at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. “The only thing that changed in the third is we relaxed on one or two shifts there. You can’t do that against a good team like they have, with all their skills, you know.
“You put the puck on Gross’ tape, and he is going to score goals.”
Gross would be Jordan Gross, the Maple Grove junior defenseman who is having, by any standard, a superb season. Gross scored the winning goal in the third period to boost his season total to nine. He also has 12 assists for a team-leading 21 points.
No defenseman in the state has scored more points -- or consistently makes a greater impact on a game.
“I’ve just been trying to play my own game and see what happens from there,” Gross said about his 1-to-1 mix of offense and defense. “It has been a lot of fun. I’ve taken my chances, and it has worked out for me so far.”
Gross took a nifty drop pass from Tony Paulson, then took a stride or two, before unleashing a shot that sailed into the upper left corner of the net. The goal put the Crimson ahead 3-2 and had the boisterous Maple Grove cheering section chanting, “Notre Dame, Notre Dame” as an ode to Gross, who has committed to play for the Irish.
“Once he gets the puck deep in the slot there, he’s deadly,” Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano said. “It was nice to get that go-ahead goal there.”
For the second time this season, Wayzata stuck with the Crimson stride for stride. The Trojans, who skated to a 3-3 tie with Maple Grove on Nov. 25 before losing in a shootout in a Thanksgiving tournament, led 2-1 after two periods in the rematch.
An Alex Mason goal 45 seconds into the third period tied it. Then came Gross’ goal.
“You give anyone the puck at the top of the circles after a broken play, it’s tough,” O’Leary said. “You give him the puck, guys like him, that caliber of player, an opportunity to take two strides in and shoot the puck. … That’s why he is who he is."
Junior defenseman Jordan Gross scored the winning goal 6 minutes, 47 seconds into the third period on a high, hard snap shot, and No. 3-ranked Maple Grove added an empty net goal in the final minute to secure a 4-2 victory over Wayzata on Thursday, Dec. 29, in the semifinals of the St. Louis Park Holiday Hockey Classic.
The goal was Gross’ ninth of the season and gives him a team-leading 21 points. He has accepted a scholarship offer to play at Notre Dame.
The teams skated to a 3-3 overtime tie on Nov. 25 in the opening round of Wayzata’s annual Turkey Trot tournament. Maple Grove won a shootout to advance to the championship game of that tournament.
Wayzata (7-3-1) got second-period goals from Kenzie Vold and Brian Machut and led 2-1 heading into the third.
Maple Grove’s Alex Mason opened the scoring in the third period, scoring to tie the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the period.
Shane Wolden scored the empty net goal for the unbeaten Crimson (10-0-1) with 50 seconds remaining.
Maple Grove’s Sam Valerius scored the lone goal of the first period.
Wayzata junior goaltender Aaron Dingmann, who had missed much of the because of injury, made 30 saves. Kyle Koop had 36 saves for the Crimson.
1. Sam Valerius, Maple Grove
Just a sophomore, Valerius wasn’t one of the Crimson’s big-name forwards entering the season. With four goals and five points this season, including a goal and an assist agains the Trojans, he is quickly climbing the list of Maple Grove’s go-to players. Six of his nine points have come in Maple Grove’s last three games.
2. Jordan Gross, Maple Grove
Gross’ best play, before his winning goal, might have been an effortless chase and catch of a Wayzata player busting into the Crimson zone on what appeared to be a 2-on-1. On the winner, he displayed his quick release and deadly accuracy by firing the puck over Wayzata goaltender Aaron Dingmann’s blocking glove.
3. Kenzie Vold, Wayzata
Vold, a senior, scored a goal, assisted on another and was among the catalysts of a Trojans offense that had the Crimson on their heels for stretches of the first and second periods. His two points give him a team-leading 15 this season.