Justin Quale played well in the Section 6AA tournament and leads the Red Knights with a 1.73 GAA and .923 save percentage. Photo by Helen Nelson.
The Jablonski Factor.
It cannot be measured, fully understood or even adequately described.
But it is out there. Oh, yes.
When Benilde-St. Margaret’s players see paralyzed teammate Jack Jablonski watching games through the glass from his wheelchair, the bigger picture comes into focus.
Hockey is a game. They are lucky to be playing it. Make the most of every second on the ice.
“When times get rough for us in a game, you just get that feeling,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s senior forward Jake O’Borsky said. “He is out there battling.
He is out there encouraging us and watching us. It just makes us step up our game knowing he wishes he could be out here.”
The No. 6-ranked Red Knights found that higher level in their 5-1 Section 6AA championship game thumping of No. 2 Minnetonka. It was easily Benilde-St. Margaret’s best game of the season.
The magic extended into the postgame awards ceremony, when Mariucci Arena’s Zamboni doors swung open and out onto the ice rolled Jablonski to a standing ovation.
“That was awesome,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s senior defenseman Jonah Johnson said about Jablonski’s reception. “That’s what Minnesota hockey is all about.”
The Red Knights (22-6-0) face No. 4- ranked and third-seeded Edina (23-5-0) in an 8 p.m. quarterfinal matchup on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Don’t expect the overriding storyline surrounding Benilde-St. Margaret’s to change.
"You can't overplay the Jabby card, but I guess you can't underestimate the power of that sort of motivation, that love for a teammate and what that does for you," Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said after the section championship game.
Jablonski was severely injured by a check from behind and the resulting impact into the boards during a junior varsity game on Dec. 30. The high school game has changed dramatically since, as stiffer penalties (automatic 5-minute majors) were mandated for checking from behind, boarding and head contact infractions.
Considered among the state’s elite three or four teams in the preseason, Benilde-St. Margaret’s had its share of struggles during the regular season. Two losses to Maple Grove exposed weaknesses in the Red Knights’ defense, as did a befuddling late-season setback to Moorhead.
Those shortcomings have been addressed – and then some. Now the Red Knights are so deep on defense with Johnson, sophomores Ryan Collins and Jack Glover, junior Patrick Graham and freshman Ben Newhouse, that Pauly has the luxury to experiment with senior standout Jake Horton at forward.
The high-energy Horton (13 goals, 28 assists for 41 points) was effective playing alongside seniors Christian Horn (25-39--64) and Jake O’Borsky (18-19--37) against the Skippers, giving the Red Knights a superb second line.
Few lines in the state can match the speed and scoring of Benilde-St. Margaret’s all-junior unit of Dan Labosky (15-45--60) , T.J. Moore (29-35--64) and Grant Besse (44-38--92).
Besse (Wisconsin) and Labosky (Colorado College) already have made their Division I college commitments, and a half-dozen more Red Knights could end up playing high-level college hockey.
For now, they are concerned only with the next game. And their injured teammate.
The Jablonski Factor. Do not dismiss it.
“We just want to play for him, and play well,” O’Borsky said. “That’s all we can do.”
Grant Besse is as good of a pure goal scorer as any player in the state, and he will be a treat for fans to watch and nightmare for opposing defenses to stop. The Red Knights are playing for injured teammate Jack Jablonski, and that sort of motivation can be hard to match.
Ken Pauly, in his second stint at Benilde-St. Margaret’s after a brief but successful run at Minnetonka, has the Red Knights playing their best at the most opportune of times. Pauly, who is approaching 400 career victories, has big-game experience, having led Benilde-St. Margaret’s to state Class A titles in 1999 and 2001.
Head Coach: Ken Pauly
Conference: North Suburban
Nickname: Red Knights
Colors: Red, White
Assistant Coaches: John Russo, Tom Klein, Dave Liebrenz
Home Ice: St. Louis Park Rec Center
State Tournament Appearances: 1991 (Class A), 2001 (Class A), 2008 (Class AA)
State Titles: 2 (1999 Class A; 2001 Class A)
Section 6AA playoffs