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Brains behind the brawn

By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor, 11/24/12, 5:30AM CST


Edina goaltender Willie Benjamin registers shutout over Wayzata in Turkey Trot title game

Edina senior goaltender Willie Benjamin made 16 saves as the Hornets beat Wayzata 3-0 to win the Turkey Trot title. Photo by Brian Nelson

 Edina’s Willie Benjamin, who scored a 34 out of a possible 36 on his ACT, might just be the smartest hockey player in the state. 

“It’s an oxymoron, though, isn’t it?” Edina coach Curt Giles said with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “He’s a smart kid, and he’s a goalie. I don’t know about that.”
Giles was in the mood to crack wise after Benjamin and the Hornets played with machine-like efficiency on Saturday, Nov. 24, in a 3-0 victory over Wayzata in the championship game of the annual Turkey Trot tournament at Plymouth Ice Center.
Benjamin made 10 of his 16 saves in the second period. And at least half of those 10 came while Wayzata was on a 5-on-3 power play for more than a minute.
“That 5-on-3 and the follow up after that, they hammered down on us,” Benjamin said. “They took it up another full notch.”
So, too, did Benjamin. Not that you could notice.

Edina goaltender Willie Benjamin notched the third shutout of his career on Friday against Wayzata. Photo by Katherine Matthews

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior can hardly be described as flamboyant. In his personality or style of play. You won’t see a lot of somersaults or splits or backflips out of this kid. He plays the angles, stops the puck, then controls the rebound. 
Always thinking one step ahead, Benjamin could just as easily be a pool player.
“I think he plays smart,” Edina senior Bo Brauer said. “He kicked the net off once, that was a good move by him.”
The shutout was the third of Benjamin’s career. He posted two in 25 starts last season. Not that he is paying attention.
“I feel like if I look at the stats, I get too caught up in it,” said Benjamin, who has a .947 save percentage and 1.00 goals-against average in two starts. “I just try to watch the puck and see what happens from there. I can only do what I can do.”
Benjamin’s work is made considerably by the presence of a titanium-strength defense led by seniors Matt Nelson and Parker Reno. Those two, along with forward Dylan Malmquist, were the primary penalty killers during Wayzata’s two-man advantage.
The Edina forwards did their share, too. Much of the first and third periods were played in the Wayzata end, giving Benjamin plenty of time to brush up on his trigonometry, if he were so inclined.
Benjamin, who posted a .910 save percentage and .239 goals-against average last season, played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League this fall. He helped Team Southwest with the league’s regular season title.
Giles said that Benjamin has benefitted from Hornets goaltending coach Don Beaupre, a former NHLer who like Giles played for the Minnesota North Stars.
“Donny has done a really nice job with him,” Giles said. “Some of the fundamental stuff and some of the real basic stuff. 
“Donny is a calming effect, too. Donny is real calm, he never gets excited. He just doesn’t panic. He’s got everything under control and that’s the way his personality is. It does wonders for them.”

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Willie Benjamin stopped 16 shots and Bo Brauer and Connor Hurley each had a goal and an assist to lead No. 2-ranked Edina to a 3-0 victory over Wayzata on Saturday, Nov. 24, in the championship of the annual Wayzata Turkey Trot at Plymouth Ice Center.

Hurley scored the only goal of the first period when he whipped home a shot from the high slot, and Brauer scored 2 minutes into the second when the puck emerged after a battle at the side of the net.
Benjamin was at his best midway through the second when Edina killed a 5-on-3 Trojans power play that lasted more than a minute. Ten of Wayzata’s 16 shots came in the second period.
Edina’s Tyler Nanne scored with 45 seconds left in the second period, and the Hornets limited Wayzata’s quality chances to just a few in the third.

Edina junior Connor Hurley celebrates his goal in the Hornets' victory over Wayzata. Photo by Katherine Matthews

The senior, a workhorse in goal for the Hornets last season, appears to only be getting better with age. He needed to make just 16 saves to earn the shutout, but he did a great job of controlling rebounds and cutting angles. 
The epitome of a power forward, Brauer threw his weight around at will and worked the corners with ferocity. He also scored a goal and set up another, displaying his knack around the net.
A junior forward with speed and savvy, Olson was responsible for several of the Trojans’ best scoring chances.

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