What makes a top forward line?
Is it goal-scoring ability; the power to put the puck in the net at nearly every opportunity? Is it all-around play, from offensive prowess to defensive play that keeps a team on top of the scoreboard night in and night out?
Or is it something more intangible, something that is better seen than spoken?
No matter the criteria, the Benilde-St. Margaret’s “odd couple” top line of freshman Grant Besse, sophomore Christian Horn and senior Brett Patterson is among the best in the state. The trio has helped propel the Red Knights to a terrific start, despite a short time getting used to each other.
After just two weeks of blending as a first line, it’s perhaps a bit of a surprise that the trio is meshing so well. But it certainly has helped the progress of the Red Knights, who are 2-0-1 after three games, including a tough 2-2 tie at Hill-Murray on Dec. 8.
“They’re going to be one of the best lines in the state, and for us to compete with some of the other teams, they’re going to have to be,” said Benilde-St. Margaret’s head coach Ken Pauly, who has seen plenty of high-powered top lines in his years with the Red Knights.
|St. Thomas Academy||Justin Crandall, Christian Isackson, Pete Krieger||Crandall (UMD) and Isackson (Minnesota) have already both committed to DI schools, while Krieger is a very talented sophomore. The Cadets' 1A line of AJ Reid, Zach Schroeder and/or Noah Gavin and Matt Kroska is just as explosive.|
|Eden Prairie||Mitch Rogge, Mike Erickson, Kyle Rau||The Eagles’ top trio has terrific speed and skill and play both ends of the rink, according to coach Lee Smith. They also know how to win and will be counted on to help Eden Prairie defend its state title.|
|Minnetonka||Derek Frawley, Max Gardiner, Thomas Schutt||Gardiner (Minnesota) is a huge physical presence who likely will be selected in the NHL draft. He’s also skilled offensively, as is the underrated Schutt and junior Frawley.|
|Warroad||Brock Nelson, Brett Hebel, Nick Stoskopf||Nelson (North Dakota) and Hebel are two of the top returning scorers in the state and are joined by Stoskopf this winter. Nelson was arguably the most impressive player in the Elite League this fall, while Hebel has started his senior year with three straight multi-goal games.|
|Bloomington Jefferson||Zach Knight, Tyler Dietzler, Caleb Herbert||Jefferson’s top trio has great experience, as seniors Knight, Dietzler and Herbert (UMD) combine to form a formidable front line. Herbert is a quick, explosive scorer who had 29 goals last winter.|
|Blaine||Nick Bjugstad, Jonny Brodzinski, Gavin Tufte||Bjugstad (Minnesota) accelerated his schooling to graduate this year and start his post-Blaine career. So enjoy him while he’s still here, teaming with Brodzinski and Tufte. Brodzinski has a heavy goal-scorer’s shot, while Tufte is a power forward.|
|Roseau||Adam Knochenmus, Shane Omdahl, Cole Kostrzewski||Knochenmus tallied 32 goals last winter and teams with Omdahl and Kostrzewski on Roseau’s top line. They’re an experienced crew with very good quickness.|
|Holy Angels||Connor Reilly, Ryan Reilly, Joseph LaBate||Holy Angels hasn’t played yet this season, so it remains to be seen if this trio is together. The Reilly twins, both committed to Minnesota, will most certainly be paired and adding LaBate’s size to their speed and skill will make a tough unit.|
|Breck||Tyson Fulton, Riley Borer, Mike Morin||The three seniors leaders for Breck all tallied at least 22 goals last winter and should again bring plenty of firepower as the Mustangs seek to defend their Class A state title.|
|St. Cloud Cathedral||Alex Koopmeiners, Jordan Palusky, Kyle Kudak||Coach Eric Johnson finally gets his top line together this weekend and he’s looking forward to its dynamic offensive prowess. All three players can put the puck in the net, as evidenced by a combined 70 goals last winter, but they also are responsible defensively.|
|Woodbury||Max Gaede, Tyler Nowicki, Connor Delaney||Gaede (MSU-Mankato) leads this group with his terrific size and a shooter’s touch, while Nowicki is quick and Delaney a smart playmaker for the Royals.|
|Cretin-Derham Hall||Bob Kinne, Jesse Perron, Tony Barbato||It wasn’t hyperbole when coach Jim O’Neill called this group potentially the best line he’s ever had at Cretin.|
|Mahtomedi||Charlie Adams, Brandon Zurn, Tanner Jordan||Adams and Zurn are both seniors who had at least 50 points each last winter, while the sophomore sniper Jordan joins them on the top line. Adams has great goal-scoring hands, while Zurn is quick and smart.|
|Virginia/MI-B||Garrett Hendrickson, Dan Chesser, Andrew Judnick||Hendrickson (St. Cloud State) and his fellow first-liners for Virginia are true rink rats with great offensive skills. Coach Keith Hendrickson knows those two things go hand-in-hand.|
|St. Francis||Joey Benik, TJ Belisle, Eric Iverson||Benik (St. Cloud State) is one of the top goal-scorers in the history of Minnesota high school hockey and gets plenty of help from Belisle and Iverson, who didn’t play last year, but joins his former youth hockey teammates to form St. Francis’ top line.|
|)sseo||Patrick Bonner, Tim Bonner, Tom Windle||Osseo’s top line is underrated, but may not be for much longer as they continue to play the other top teams in the state tough. Great chemistry is their key.|
|Sartell-St. Stephen||Matt Nahan, Ryan Nahan, Austin Plaine||Sartell runs more than one line deep in top scorers, as Andy Worzala, Andrew Deters and Matt Husmann are a very strong trio, as well. But the teamwork of the Nahan brothers and Plaine is tough for opponents to stop.|
|Hill-Murray||Ben Bahe, Kevin Becker, Willie Faust||Hill-Murray also has two interchangeable top lines, with Bahe, Becker and Faust on one line and Jack Walsh, Ryan Holler and David Bruchu on the other. It makes the Pioneers nearly impossible with which to match lines.|
|Hermantown||Adam Krause, Willis Kantonen, Charlie Comnick||Krause (UMD) is arguably the premier player in Northeastern Minnesota, a big and skilled forward who led the team in scoring as a junior. Kantonen and Comnick also know how to finish for the Hawks.|
|Winona||Jay Moran, Aaron Theis, Kyle Florin||Winona has been on an offensive tear this year, thanks to the contributions of this top trio. Moran and Theis are both threatening to break the school's career scoring record.|
Patterson is the elder statesman of the unit, a senior playmaker who is experienced and can see the ice well. His younger teammates and coaches know the importantce of his presence.
“Patrick may be the most complete forward on our team. He has great skill in the offensive zone and he is very conscientious in the defensive zone. He will be a critical piece if we are to succeed this season,” Pauly said.
Pauly believes the 6-foot-2 Patterson is a Mr. Hockey candidate for his all-around game, although he has competition for attention on his own team with Horn and Besse. Neither is eligible for the award this winter, but both should be candidates down the road.
Patterson was the top scorer on the Red Knights as a junior, scoring 14 goals and 31 assists for 45 points. Horn had 24 goals and 15 assists for 39 points as a freshman, totals that Besse may challenge this winter.
Through three games, Patterson has a team-leading five assists and six points. Horn and Besse each have four goals to lead the Red Knights. They’re young, but have a knack for for finding the net. As a group, the trio complements each other well.
“We’re all good friends and we have good camaraderie,” Horn said.
“We just kind of go out there and play,” agreed Patterson. “We just go out there and play and put the puck in the net. That’s what Coach Pauly asks of us.”
Patterson believes that puck possession is the key to the line’s success so far this winter. The more they control the puck, the better they’ve been.
“We like to work on moving the puck and being creative,” agreed Besse. “Just scoring goals.”
That hasn’t been an issue thus far.
Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl coach Keith Hendrickson has a top unit of his own in junior Garrett Hendrickson and seniors Andrew Judnick and Dan Chesser. He knows what makes a top line a formidable group.
“A top line usually means a dangerous scoring line,” Hendrickson said. “In order to be a scoring threat, the line must have some chemistry, rink rattiness and all three players must have offensive skills.”
Hendrickson stresses puck possession in the offensive zone through supporting teammates, making short passes, protecting the puck with the body and having good hands and instincts. Not only does it help create offensive chances, but it keeps the puck out of the defensive zone.
“And obviously, the ability to finish is also important.”
Tim Kolehmainen, The Breakdown editor, can be reached at email@example.com.