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Besse has game for ages

By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/11/12, 7:00AM CDT


Benilde-St. Margaret's junior cements name into tourney folklore with record five goals

Benilde-St. Margaret's Grant Besse celebrates after scoring a first period goal in the Class 2A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Red Knights' Grant Besse (12) scores a breakaway goal againt Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

He scored on a sharp angle shot from down low, not far from the faceoff dot.

He scored on a giveaway in front of the goal.

He scored twice on breakaways.

He scored on a 40-foot flick of the wrists.

Grant Besse scored every which way, five times in all, for Benilde-St. Margaret’s in a record-smashing performance that will forever stamp his name in state tournament folklore.

Amazingly, the junior forward scored three of the goals while Benilde-St. Margaret’s was shorthanded, and he accounted for all of the Red Knights’ scoring in their 5-1 state Class 2A championship win over Hill-Murray on Saturday, March 10, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“Once Besse scores a goal you know he’s gonna get some more, and they just kept coming and coming,” Red Knights' senior Christian Horn said about Besse’s record performance. “That’s putting the team on your back.”

Eveleth’s John Mayasich held the previous record for most goals in a state title game with the four, set in 1951. No other player has scored more than three goals in a single-class or Class 2A championship game in the 67-year history of the tournament.

“I don’t want to give him a big head, but he just wrote himself into state tournament history,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said in the postgame media session. “That’s a Spehar type performance. Anyone in high school hockey knows what that means, and that’s what Grant did.”

If a state hockey tournament version of Mount Rushmore existed, Dave Spehar, the Duluth East forward who scored three hat tricks in all three state tournament games in the Greyhonds' 1995 title run, would have his mug front and center atop the mountain.

A spot now must also be reserved for Besse who, it turns out, isn’t a state tournament history buff.

Spehar? Who is Spehar?

“Not a whole lot, no,” Besse said when asked if he knew much about some of the great performances in the state tournament. “It’s a little before my day. I didn’t even know what (Pauly) was talking about, to be honest.”

Besse is about to get a crash course in State Tournament History 101. His Fab Five goals will but cut and spliced into vintage footage depicting other great title game performances. His name will be mentioned in the same sentence with icons such as Mayasich, who never lost a game in four seasons and still holds the bulk of tourney scoring records. 

“I’ve heard of him,” Besse, who has committed to play at Wisconsin, said about Mayasich, who owns the record for most goals in a state tournament game with seven. Those seven goals did not come in a championship game, however.

To put Besse’s night in perspective, only 21 teams have scored more than five goals in a single class or big-school title game in the tournament’s history.

Besse, who finished the season with 52 goals in 31 games, scored twice in the first period, once in the second and twice in the third. 

His first goal came 8 minutes, 18 seconds into the opening period and was similar to tough-angle shots he twice had whipped high into the net for goals against Lakeville South in the Red Knights’ 10-1 semifinal victory.

“I scored twice from there yesterday and once from there today,” he said about the location below the face off dot near the boards. “It seemed to be my spot out there.”

His second goal came after Pioneers goaltender John Dugas and defenseman Sam Becker went to play the puck behind the goal. Neither were able to move it quickly, and Becker’s eventual outlet pass was picked off by Besse in the low slot, who put a quick move on Dugas. As Dugas dropped to the ice, Besse slid to his left and coolly fired a shot high into the open net.

Grant Besse (12) of Benilde-St. Margaret's celebrates after scoring a goal against Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

“The second goal, that was a birthday present,” Besse said. “It was Christmas. They just gave it to me in front of the net. It was, ‘Oh, thanks.’ ”

Then came the back-to-back breakaway goals, one late in the second and one early in the third. Both shots sent the water bottle flying off the top of the goal.

“First one I saw he was kind of back in his net, actually that was the second one, first one he was a little out front so I thought I could make a little move on him go to the backhand and put it up top,” Besse said. “That seemed to work. The second he was a little far back in his net and I saw upper glove hand. Fired it home.”

The finale came with 2:57 remaining on a shot from the top of the right face off circle. It was a laser beam that caught the upper left corner.

Besse had another breakaway opportunity earlier in the third period but his shot ticketed for the upper left corner was stopped by Dugas.

Even the great Pavarotti hits a sour note from time to time.

“I can’t recall, I don’t think so. No,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said when asked if he had ever seen one player dominate a game so thoroughly. “He had an exceptional night. He made the puck bounce his way, and he took advantage of his opportunities.”

Pauly has watched Besse put up pinball scoring numbers for years. But even he couldn’t fathom what he witnessed.

“My goodness,” Pauly said. “This has to go down in history as one of the greatest performances in state tournament history ever. I’ve watched this tournament for a very long time.

“Five. All five goals. And three shorthanded. That’s what makes it even more incredible, he’s out there and they have one extra guy, and also it’s an opportunity for them to get back in the game.

“So those are big. They are big emotional swings. It’s not five goals in a 10-1 rout, you know.”

Minutes after the game, Besse autographed his stick and gave it to a young fan. Besse, might not be up on his tourney history, but he knows enough to keep the stick that scored the five goals. He gave away his backup stick.

“It was broken on the bottom, so I signed it for a kid,” Besse said. “He was thrilled.”

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Christian Horn (21) of Benilde-St. Margaret's celebrates with goalie Justin Quale and T.J. Moore (23) after winning the state championship game against Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

Answering the call

Benilde-St. Margaret’s forward Christian Horn’s phone rang before the Saturday's state Class 2A championship game against Hill-Murray.

On the other line: United States Hockey Hall of Famer, Jeremy Roenick.

“(He) gave me a couple words of advice and everything,” Horn said. “Told me to bring it home, obviously talking to Jeremy Roenick on the phone you don’t really know what you’re doing until its over but it was unbelievable talking to a hockey legend on the phone, and he’s talking to you like he’s one of your best friends.”

Mere hours later, after the postgame media conference lights' had dimmed Horn sat in shock with a championship medal around his neck.

Clearly the moment hadn’t quite sunk in yet.

“No, absolutely not,” Horn said. “I don't even know what I'm going to do after this. I got no idea. I feel like sitting in the locker room for another half hour just for fun.

“It's almost like it was supposed to happen, it was written to happen.”

Horn -- named to the Class 2A All Tournament Team after a six-point performance during the tournament (one goal, five assists) -- registered two assists in the championship game. On the penalty kill, Horn sacrificed his body to block a Hill-Murray shot, grabbed the loose puck and made a perfect pass to teammate Grant Besse who would score one of his five goals.

Horn said he was experiencing mixed feelings about the moment.

Christian Horn (21) celebrates in front of the Red Knights' fans. Photo by Helen Nelson

“I don't know if I should say a sigh of relief or just the biggest amount of joy that you've ever felt in your life,” Horn said. “Yeah, there's that sentimental card there that we wanted to do this for Jabby but we wanted to do this for ourselves too. 

“We're Minnesota high school hockey players. We grew up for 18 years dreaming about this, and the fact that we actually got it done, we played well. The fact that it's over and we did it is probably one of the greatest feelings ever.”

Though it was his first hockey title, Horn has experienced the winning feeling as a star attackman from the Red Knights’ back-to-back state champion lacrosse teams.

But for Horn, there was no comparison between the two titles.

“(This is) ten times better,” Horn said. “Lacrosse is fun and everything but hockey's my sport. It's what I love; it's what I dream about doing day-in and day-out, it's why we put the hours in that we do. This is probably the biggest dream I've ever had in my entire life other than playing college hockey, and I got to fulfill it. I got to do what so many kids never got to do. There's a reason this is the greatest amateur tournament in the nation. 

“There's nothing better than this feeling right now.”

As for his future plans, Horn -- who is not committed to any collegiate team -- will eventually look at his options and assess what will be the best path for him to take.

For now, the Benilde-St. Margaret’s co-captain will take some time to reflect on the past few months and what it’s meant.

“(I’ll feel) sad but happy,” Horn said when asked what he was going to be doing tomorrow. “I'll probably be watching highlights or something like that. Just reliving it like one of those old guys reliving the dream. I'll be sad because the season's over and I'm a senior but what a better way to go out. I don't have to cry at night because I lost the hockey game and my senior season is over. I don't know what I'm going to do without hockey for the next two months. But who cares? 

“I just won a state championship.”

-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff

Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner talks to his players durig a T.V. timeout. Photo by Helen Nelson

Power outage with the man advantage

Throughout the 2011-2012 season, Hill-Murray has been a model of consistency.

A team that would not press or get rattled in any situation.

In the state Class 2A championship game the Pioneers uncharacteristically became a little unraveled and were defeated by Benidle-St. Margaret's 5-1.

"We became a little bit unglued tonight," Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. "They're great young men, but we all, even the coaching staff, became unglued at moments and you can't do that in a championship game."

Where the game went south for Hill-Murray was on the power play.

The Pioneers had seven chances and only scored on once, when junior Zach LaValle sniped a wrist shot in the upper right corner.

Hill-Murray had quality zone time, but the Red Knights blocked shots from the point, collapsed the slot when the Pioneers worked the puck low and, of course, Grant Besse scored three shorthanded goals to dash any hopes of building momentum.

"Hell of a penalty kill," Red Knights coach Ken Pauly said.

Not so much for Hill-Murray.

"It does get a little frustrating when you are not able to get going on the power play," LaValle said. "Coach (Lechner) preaches it all the time to just stay calm. Not to squeeze your stick, stay in your place, but the pieces just didn't fall in place for us and we couldn't get anything going on the power play."

Hill-Murray goalie John Dugas lies on the ice after a goal is scored by Benilde-St. Margaret's in front of a dejected Blake Heinrich (16) and Sam Becker (27). Photo by Helen Nelson

"You could tell they were getting a little frustrated," Red Knights' goalie Justin Quale said. "We took away their passing lanes, blocked a lot of shots and kept them to the outside. Of course, Besse scoring three shorthanded goals just took away a lot of momentum, especially on the five-minute penalty. You would expect them to maybe get one, but we returned the favor."

Just 55 seconds after LaValle scored to cut the Red Knights lead to 3-1, Benilde-St. Margaret's defenseman Jake Horton received a five-minute major for spearing and a game misconduct.

That was the chance for the Pioneers to get right back in the game, but Besse struck yet again, and it was a heartbreaker.

Thirteen seconds into the penalty, Besse was on a breakaway and fired a wrist shot past Pioneers' goalie John Dugas and the lead was stretched to 4-1.

"At that point it was huge," Lechner said. "Call a timeout for five minutes and talk about strategy. We didn't talk about giving up goals in that strategy. That was a back-breaker."

"He was amazing tonight," LaValle said of Besse. "Every time he touched the puck he scored, and he made it really tough for us."

It might be tough for the Pioneers to reflect on the season, but to imagine that they would be in the championship game is a feat in itself after the start they had.

They dropped their first two games of the season, which included a 3-2 loss to Benilde-St, Margaret's.

Near the end of the 2011 calendar year, Hill-Murray started to find itself. It was the perfect time to make a run.

"We had an extremely successful season," LaValle said. "I couldn't be more proud of our guys. We were down every game in this tournament and came back in two of them. We had a tough start to the season and really picked it up around Christmas. For everyone being so young, we all stepped up and played our role."

With only junior Blake Heinrich returning on defense from last season, Lechner made the decision to put Ryan Black and Sam Becker on the blue line.

"You look at guys those two (Black and Becker), who shifted back to defense and they were exceptional forwards," LaValle said. "They did more than hold their own for us, and were a big reason why we were playing tonight."

The Pioneers will lose four seniors to graduation (Dan Cashman, Charlie Sampair, Conrad Sampair and Andy Faust).

With all the experience this young team has gained, LaValle said there's no reason Hill-Murray, which finished the season with a 24-7-0 record, can't be back on the mix again.

"We are going to lose a few guys to graduation, but we won't be missing nearly as much as we did from last year," he said. "As long as everything stays intact, we expect ourselves to be in this position once again."

-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff

Hill-Murray's Blake Heinrich (16) checks Benilde-St. Margaret's Patrick Graham (17) after plowing through Graham's teammate Jake Horton (16).Photo by Helen Nelson

Blake Heinrich becomes blue chip stock with tourney performance

Blake Heinrich

While watching any Hill-Murray game this season, when a big hit occurred, you didn’t even have to look up to know who was responsible.

Every time, the smart money said Blake Heinrich. 

The junior defenseman for the Pioneers grew his reputation this year for bulldozing unsuspecting forwards to the point where even hearing the sickening thud of a collision brought his name to mind.

Once Hill-Murray reached the state tournament, Heinrich turned the dial up even farther.

In each game, Heinrich left a trail of bruises while also playing defense as tight as Velcro.

His hits changed the dynamic of games against Moorhead and Maple Grove, and his talent at guarding the goal line helped the Pioneers hold the Spuds and the Crimson to three total goals.

“I’m prejudiced, but I think he was the best defenseman in the tournament,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lecher said after the Pioneers’ 5-1 loss to Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the state championship game. “He’s outstanding.”

Not only did bystanders notice him, but opponents started taking precautions in order to avoid calling for icepacks on the bench. 

“As you saw the entire tournament [Heinrich] really can light kids up,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s forward Christian Horn said. “He’s nailed me three or four good solid times in the Elite League and the regular season too, so yeah you’re keeping your head up and watching out for him.

“He’s a great player and he loves to throw his body around so there is kind of a little worry cutting across the center of the ice there.”

Playing with the bright lights on at the Xcel Energy Center can reveal a lot about the character of a hockey player, and Blake Heinrich was happy to prove that the opportunity only made him better.

“I kinda like the spotlight on me,” Heinrich said. “It’s definitely nerve wracking with all the fans there, you don’t want to mess up or anything. The environment here is great.”

Blake Heinrich (16) of Hill-Murray take control of the puck after Jack Guentzel (20) checks Chase Jungels (11). Photo by Helen Nelson

For his efforts in the tourney, Heinrich was awarded a spot on the Class 2A All-Tournament Team and a boost in notoriety. Although he scored one point of his 35 this year (11 goals, 24 assists), it wasn’t his scoring ability points that drew attention. 

“People better be watching,” Lechner said. “I haven’t seen all the tapes yet but Louie Nanne, who I respect very much, is speaking very highly of him…

“That’s the reason I really believe that guys should stay in high school because this is the greatest moment to show their stuff right out in front of everybody. I think his stock rose quite highly.”

Heinrich has received looks from Division I programs such as the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Mankato State University following his recent successes. He said he has been in contact with the schools but hasn’t received any offers.

Even with the heightened attention, Heinrich was understandably still upset about the Pioneers’ loss in the championship game to the Red Knights. 

Motivated by defeat, he looked to the future. 

“We’re only graduating five seniors, so next year, we’re gonna be good,” he said.

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Benilde-St. Margaret's goalie Justin Quale slides across in front of the net to block the puck on a shot from Hill-Murray's Zach LaValle (21). Photo by Helen Nelson

Smiling to success

Justin Quale

Benilde-St. Margaret’s went most of the year rotating goalies Justin Quale and Anders Jecha, looking for “the guy” between the pipes who could backstop the Red Knights in a playoff run.

It was a tryout of sorts. Both goalies performed well, and made the decision a tough one for coach Ken Pauly.

Pauly gave the nod to Quale.

Good choice, coach.

Quale, only a junior, stuffed tournament opponents 74 times, allowed only three goals and made the Class 2A All-Tournament team.

But the big prize was the reason Quale and his Red Knights teammates came to St. Paul. Grant Besse provided the heroics to get that done with his superhuman five-goal effort in the title game win against Hill-Murray on Saturday, March 10, at the Xcel Energy Center.

Besse was the hero. Quale was the sidekick.

During the big-school final, Quale turned away 26 shots, frustrated the Pioneers all night and turned in an opening act that got the crowd juiced up for Besse’s main performance.

Not bad for a kid who was fighting for the starting job just a month ago.

“I hadn’t even realized how well I played until everyone was telling me how well I did in the locker room,” Quale said after his masterful tournament was complete. “I was just playing.”

Just playing. That’s a good mentality for a goalie, especially with the pressure the state tournament brings.

Kids are known to crack under the bright lights. Kids can’t find their game with all the people watching. Kids put too much of a burden on themselves to play well.

Quale did the opposite.

“Throughout sections and state I wasn’t nervous at all,” said Quale. “I used to be really nervous before games as a sophomore and junior, so it was really surprising to me that I didn’t feel that at all.”

To fend of the nerves and keep loose, Quale did what he could to keep a positive perspective on the playoff games in front of him. That all started in the locker room, where he said he was excited and “just trying to keep a smile” on his face.

It transitioned to the crease, where Quale looked comfortable form the get-go. He made some of his best saves against Hill-Murray in the first period, when the game was still close.

His serenity in net allowed the saves to rack up quickly. And since the Pioneers couldn’t beat Quale with the puck, they tried to beat him mentally.

“They were chirping me all game,” Quale said. “I laughed at them because they couldn’t get anything past me.”

Now a state champion, Quale proved he could keep the numbers small on the scoreboard.

And his smile is only getting bigger.

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

The Benilde-St. Margaret's bench reacts after defeating Hill-Murray for the first place Class 2A title. Photo by Helen Nelson

Statistics, Summary

Game recap

On the night Jack was supposed to grab everyone’s attention, Grant put on the show.

With injured teammate Jack Jablonski watching from suite level at Xcel Energy Center, Grant Besse scored all five goals for Benilde-St. Margaret’s to lift the Red Knights to the Class 2A boys’ hockey championship over Hill-Murray 5-1.

Besse, a junior, scored a pair of even-strength goals 1:23 apart in the first period then completed the hat trick with a shorthanded goal near the end of the second period.

He added two more shorthanded goals in the third period, much to the delight of the 17,607 fans, many openly rooting for the Red Knights (25-6-0).

Christian Horn had two assists for Benilde-St. Margaret's, which outshot Hill-Murray (24-7-0) by a slim 30-25 margin. Justin Quale continued his run of stellar play in goal, making 24 saves.

Zach LaValle netted the Pioneers lone goal on the power play at 6 minutes, 52 seconds of the third period -- but Hill-Murray had no answer for Besse.

-- Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune staff writer

Red Knights' goalie Justin Quale (31). Photo by Helen Nelson

1.  Grant Besse, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
What more can you say? The game was his from start to finish. Five goals including three shorthanded and on two on breakaways earn the junior Wisconsin recruit the most obvious first star ever awarded. On his second goal, he intercepted a pass and drove to the front of the net, waiting, waiting, and waiting until John Dugas dropped before firing it upstairs. He also effortlessly netted a shorthanded breakaway with a phenomenal move to his backhand. His second shorty was a pure snipe. Besse finishes the season with 52 goals and 41 assists.

2. Justin Quale, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
Quale was nothing short of fantastic. Stopping 24 shots, the junior goaltender kept the Red Knights ahead while the talented Pioneers buzzed the net with some fancy passing plays. Quale finishes the season with a 14-3 record, saving 92.5 percent of shots and allowing only 1.63 goals per game.

3. Zach LaValle, Hill-Murray
The junior forward scored the only goal for the Pioneers on a rocket from the slot. His line with Jake Guentzel and Willie Brown played well for Hill-Murray, generating most of its scoring chances. LaValle completed his season with 64 points (28 goals, 36 assists).

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Class 2A All-Tournament Team

Name Pos School
Dom Toninato F Duluth East
Nate Repensky D Duluth East
Michael Bitzer G Moorhead
Justin Kloos F Lakeville South
Conrad Sampair F Hill-Murray
Blake Heinrich D Hill-Murray
Sam Becker D Hill-Murray
Grant Besse F Benilde-St. Margaret's
Christian Horn F Benilde-St. Margaret's
Justin Quale G Benilde-St. Margaret's
Dan Labosky F Benilde-St. Margaret's

Class 2A Herb Brooks Award

Michael Bitzer

Michael Bitzer of Moorhead was named the Class 2A recipient of the Herb Brooks award following the conclusion of the state tournament Saturday, March 10 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

According to the Herb Brooks Foundation, the award is "given to the Minnesota state hockey tournament player who most strongly represents the values, characteristics, and traits that defined Herb Brooks. This prestigious award commemorates the unending influence Herb had on hockey in Minnesota and throughout the world."

A senior goaltender, Bitzer carried the Spuds to the state Class 2A tournament, allowing only four goals in three games at the X. He finished his senior campaign with a 22-8-0 record, 1.80 goals against average and .933 save percentage. Bitzer is also one of two finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award, given to the top senior goaltender in the state.

-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

Photo Gallery

Hub Prediction

Zack Friedli Hill-Murray
Tim Kolehmainen Benilde-St. Margaret's
Loren Nelson Benilde-St. Margaret's
Walker Orenstein Benilde-St. Margaret's
Mike Murakami Benilde-St. Margaret's
Helen Nelson Benilde-St. Margaret's
Eric Ebert Benilde-St. Margaret's
Adam Crane Benilde-St. Margaret's
Justin Magill Hill-Murray

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