Benilde-St. Margaret's Grant Besse can't control a loose puck as Eden Prairie goaltender Jake Gerdes moves into position. Photo by Brian Nelson
T.J. Moore scored twice, Dan Labosky banked the puck in from behind the net and Spencer Naas slammed home the winner on a third-period power play.
All of the big guns for defending state Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s were accounted for in the top-seeded Red Knights’ 5-3 Section 6AA semifinal win over No. 4 Eden Prairie on Saturday, Feb. 23, in front of a capacity Bloomington Ice Garden crowd of about 2,500.
Wait. Did we forget someone?
Oh yeah, Mr. Hockey finalist Grant Besse. One of the state’s great goal scorers (he ranks fifth all-time), Besse was held scoreless for just the fifth time in 27 games this season.
With Eden Prairie goaltender Jake Gerdes pulled in favor of an extra skater in the closing minute, Besse had the puck and the open net staring at him but failed to convert the long-range shot.
“I was thinking, with 40 seconds left Mr. Hockey, the favorite for Mr. Hockey, misses an open net,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said with a smile. “I thought that might be a bad sign.
“That frightened me when I saw that.”
Benilde-St. Margaret's senior Chris Hickock, middle, tied the score at 2 with his second-period goal. Photo by Brian Nelson
Pauly was only half kidding. It took Moore’s empty net goal with 23 seconds left to finally douse the Eagles’ comeback hopes.
“He’ll be hungry for the next couple of games, for sure,” Moore said about Besse, who has 48 goals this season and 163 in his career.
It was the second time in two weeks Eden Prairie held Besse without a goal. The Red Knights beat the Eagles 3-2 on Feb. 9 in their lone regular season meeting.
“You know what, he’s still a game changer,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said. “When you are focused on him, someone else does the damage.”
That’s how it worked Saturday. Besse had two assists, setting up goals by Moore and Naas with laser shots that morphed into juicy rebounds.
The most important Benilde-St. Margaret’s goal might have been the one scored by third-liner Chris Hickock. He tied the score at 2 early in the second period.
“When Hickock scored that absolutely ignited our bench,” Pauly said.
The goal was Hickock’s fifth of the season. He also had scored in the previous game against Eden Prairie. Maybe Hickock takes it upon himself to pick up the slack on those rare occasions when Besse isn’t scoring.
Whatever the formula, the No. 2-ranked Red Knights generated enough offense to get past a No. 10 Eden Prairie that entered the playoffs with a .500 record but had been playing like a championship-caliber team for weeks.
“All the way through the end of January into February we were playing great hockey,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said. “No different today. There are no regrets in the way we played. Hey, we were playing the state champ.
“You’re the fourth seed, you’re a .500 team, we played with a lot of composure, we played with a lot of heart."
Eden Prairie defenseman Luc Snuggerud, right, leans into Benilde-St. Margaret's forward T.J. Moore. Photo by Brian Nelson
Junior forward Spencer Naas’ power-play goal 5 minutes, 32 seconds into the third period proved to be the winner as defending state Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s hung on to beat Eden Prairie, the 2009 and 2011 champ, 5-3 on Saturday, Feb. 23 in a Section 6AA semifinal at a packed Bloomington Ice Garden.
Naas jammed home a rebound of Grant Besse shot to put the No. 2-ranked Red Knights (22-5-0) ahead 4-2.
No. 10-ranked Eden Prairie (13-13-1) rallied in the closing minutes, as Steven Spinner scored a power-play goal with 1:47 left to put the capacity crowd on its feet and send the Eagles’ student section into a frenzy.
Eden Prairie pulled goaltender Jake Gerdes in favor of an extra skater with 1:29 remaining, and Benilde-St. Margaret’s launched several shots at the open net before T.J. Moore wheeled around a diving Eagles defender and dumped the puck in the net with 23 seconds left. The goal was Moore’s second of the game.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the second period when Chris Hickock and Dan Labosky scored 4:14 apart. Labosky scored his goal with 7:44 remaining in the second when he banked a shot off the back leg of Gerdes from behind the net to give the Red Knights a 3-2 lead.
After Moore opened the scoring in the first, Eden Prairie’s Andrew Knudsen scored with 6:07 left in the opening period to tie it at 1. Spinner put the Eagles ahead 2-1 with a goal 3:12 into the second.
Gerdes made 33 saves while Benilde-St. Margaret’s goaltender Andrew Sprang finished with 18 stops.
1. Spencer Naas, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
The junior forward was mostly a blur of motion, flying all around the ice as he generated multiple scoring chances, gave and received several hard hits and, of course, scored the winning goal in the third period while crashing the net. Naas also ripped a cannon shot off the crossbar – several Red Knights celebrated as if they thought it had gone in -- in the third period.
2. T.J. Moore, Benilde-St. Margaret’s
Moore opened the scoring in the first period, punching home a rebound to punctuate a wild scramble in front of the Eden Prairie goal. Moore finished the Eagles with an empty net goal – he was forced maneuver around a diving Eden Prairie defender – with 23 seconds left.
3. Steven Spinner, Eden Prairie
The junior forward turned in a second straight dynamite playoff performance, scoring twice and launching a team-best five shots. Spinner was also a physical force, initiating several big hits. Spinner also scored twice in the Eagles' 7-1 section quarterfinal win over Holy Family Catholic on Thursday.