Jacob Olson (18) and the Hill-Murray defense kept Minnetonka and Max Coatta (9) at bay in a 2-1 Pioneers' victory at the Schwan Cup Gold quarterfinals. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
Junior Sam Becker (27) plays a key -- if quiet -- role on the Pioneers' blue line.
At 6-foot, 175-pounds, Sam Becker hardly stands out at the Hill-Murray blue line. In fact, the way he mans his defensive spot for the Pioneers makes him pretty unnoticeable when he’s playing, too.
But that’s the way Becker likes it. Instead of standing out, Becker prefers to play his position with an under-the-radar perfection that might not go a long way on the score sheet. That style is big to his team and coaches, though, and it’s made Becker an indispensible piece of the Hill-Murray puzzle.
“I just try to keep the game simple,” Becker said following Hill-Murray’s 2-1 win over Minnetonka on Wednesday, Dec. 26. ”I try not to do too much, just make smart plays.”
“Move the puck and move my feet.”
Smart. That’s exactly what he is when he takes his post at the point. Whether it’s throwing pucks to teammates in tape-to-tape fashion, keeping tight gaps on opposing players through center ice or blocking shots and clearing the way for goalie John Dugas, Becker is usually doing his job to near perfection.
Only a junior, Becker’s calm and collected play has warranted him the biggest minutes in the toughest situations for the No. 3-ranked Pioneers. His cool demeanor at the point is a big reason why Hill-Murray is seeing as much success as it has, even after losing some key ingredients off last season’s runner-up squad.
Becker credits Hill-Murray’s fast start to more than just himself, obviously, but agrees that the defensive style that he works has become more of a team-wide trend than it may have been in years past.
“We had some guys that really got up and go last year, and we still have some pretty fast guys [this year],” Becker said. “But we focus on defense first. Then it’s defense to offense and [getting] goals.”
Against Minnetonka in the first game of the Schwan Cup Gold Division bracket on that’s exactly what the Pioneers did. While scoring a pair of goals themselves, the Pioneers locked up the space around Dugas and made life difficult on Minnetonka in the offensive zone.
The result was a trip to the Schwan Cup winning bracket, where Hill-Murray will play Burnsville in the first semifinal of the day at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow.
“We expect to come out and grind and get pucks deep and really grind their ‘D’ down early,” Becker said.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff
Ryan Black (25) of Hill-Murray looks to move the puck up ice.
A Mike Rawlings goal just three minutes into the third period – and only seconds after Minnetonka had knotted the score at 1-1 – proved to be the game-winning goal as No. 3-ranked Hill-Murray downed No. 2-ranked Minnetonka 2-1 on Wednesday, Dec. 26, at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.
Tyler Funk opened the scoring when he knocked a rebound past Skippers goalie Paul Ciaccio from the edge of the crease midway through the second period.
AJ Klein tied it for Minnetonka early in the third when he put a seeing-eye shot through John Dugas from the right dot.
Dugas finished with 36 saves for the Pioneers, who play tomorrow at 5:30 p.m. against the winner of the Blaine-Burnsville game.
Ciaccio made 22 stops for Minnetonka.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub
1. John Dugas, Hill-Murray
The senior goalie got better as the game got shorter, making 27 saves after the first period. Dugas stopped 14 shots in the third period when Minnetonka was throwing everything it could at the net in hopes of tying the game.
2. Sam Becker, Hill-Murray
Becker did his part in limiting the Skippers offensively by making smart plays with and without the puck throughout the contest. He wasn’t afraid to get things going for the Pioneers’ attack, either, starting rush after rush with his legs or a perfect pass.
3. Michael Rawlings, Hill-Murray
Rawlings put the Pioneers up for good just seconds after Minnetonka had tied the game in the final period. It was his third goal of the season and second in his last three games.
-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub