Maple Grove's Alex Mason, middle, stretches for the puck as Osseo's A.J. Lyons applies the defense in front of goaltender Alex Otto. Photo by Helen Nelson
Sometimes a freshman or sophomore works his way up the depth chart.
Sometimes a winger is moved to center, or a center is moved to the wing.
Sometimes moves are made in an attempt to give a team two or three scoring lines rather than just one.
Play long enough -- three months and 25-plus games -- and sometimes changes are made simply for the sake of change.
No matter the reason, most all of the state’s top teams this season have mixed and remixed their forward combinations.
With the notable exception of Maple Grove.
“We thought about splitting them up,” Crimson coach Gary Stefano said about his top unit of Dylan Steman, Tony Paulson and Alex Mason. “But, you know, when you’ve had success, and the other two lines are playing well, there’s no sense in doing that.”
By Mason’s estimation, he’s been playing alongside Steman and Paulson since they were a year or two out of kindergarten. As one of the state’s most formidable forward combos, he likes the way they have settled into their roles.
Alex Mason scored twice in the third period as Maple Grove beat Osseo in the Section 5AA semifinals. Photo by Helen Nelson
“Those are two very skillful guys, Paulson and Steman, they can both put the puck in the net,” Mason said. “I like to give them the puck, set them up. I don’t know, I kind of like to do a lot of the dirty work. I like to park in front of the net a lot.
“We just kind of work good together.”
To hear Mason describe his game, you would think he has all the finesse of a bricklayer or a blacksmith.
So who was that guy launching rockets into openings sized to take objects no bigger than a grapefruit?
Mason scored twice on fabulous upper-shelf shots in the third period as the Crimson pulled away from the never-surrender Tornadoes, turning a 3-1 lead into the eventual 5-1 victory in the semifinals of the Section 5AA playoffs at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.
“I’m not saying I can’t score any goals,” said Mason, who has 18 goals and 26 assists in 27 games. “I’ve got some goals. But it has been been different guys scoring for us all season long. That’s a good thing, you’re not depending on any one guy.”
Paulson also scored against the Orioles, giving the senior linemates four of the Crimson’s five goals. They have combined for 10 in two playoff games.
Break them up? Not a chance.
“I’ve been playing with them since they were in the third grade,” Maple Grove goaltender Kyle Koop said. “They love this. They love being together.”
1. Alex Mason, Maple Grove
The senior forward played the role of sniper to perfection, twice fitting rising shots into small spaces in the third period as the Crimson got the clutch scoring they needed to pull away from the Orioles. He also had an assist.
2. Dylan Steman, Maple Grove
Steman, the Crimson’s leading scorer, scored a buzzer-beating goal to end the first period and give Maple Grove a 3-0 lead heading into the break. He also had two assists as the Crimson’s top line was too much for the Orioles to handle.
3. Nolan Schipper, Osseo
No goals, no assists but plenty of heart for Schipper, a leg-churning senior forward who was the smallest – and grittiest – player on the ice. Schipper had a handful of golden scoring chances, with most of them coming in the early going as the Orioles went toe-to-toe with the Crimson.