David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996. Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for Sport Ngin. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.
Benilde-St. Margaret's senior forward Cade Gleekel was injured during his second shift Thursday night against Wayzata. Photo by Cheryl Myers
The road to the state tournament just got significantly more difficult for No. 1-ranked Benilde-St. Maraget’s, the state’s lone unbeaten team.
The Red Knights (23-0-1) topped Wayzata -- most likely their top challenger in the upcoming Class 2A, Section 6 playoffs -- 4-2 at a packed Plymouth Ice Center on Thursday, but lost top scorer and Mr. Hockey finalist Cade Gleekel in the process.
“It levels the playing field,” Benilde-St. Margaret's Ken Pauly said about the injury that will keep Gleekel out of Saturday’s regular season finale against St. Louis Park.
Pauly didn’t specify Gleekel’s injury, but it was clearly a clean hit to the shoulder that knocked him out of Thursday’s game early in the first period. He had an ice pack affixed to his shoulder for most of the rest of the night, and the doctor’s report did not come back as favorable on Friday. Pauly is hoping Gleekel, who has 22 goals and 36 assists for 58 points (all team highs) this season can return in time for the section championship or state tournament, should the Red Knights advance that far. But there are no guarantees Gleekel, one of 10 Mr. Hockey finalists, will return at all.
“The good news is we didn’t get to this point because we only have one guy,” Pauly said. “But it is big piece to take out.”
Jerry Calengor, a senior who started the season at forward before being moved back to defense during the Christmas break, took Gleekel’s spot on the Red Knights’ top line and is expected to remain there through the rest of the season.
Defensemen Jared Gherardi, a senior, and Bronson McLeod, a junior, will platoon to fill Calengor's spot on defense.
Losing Gleekel, no doubt, is a huge blow to the Red Knights’ chances at reaching the state tournament, much less winning it. However, this is a team that features one of the state’s top goaltenders in junior Ryan Bischel and the state’s top defensive tandem in senior Nick Austin and junior Connor Mayer. No top-ranked team is built to withstand such a major loss better than the Red Knights (imagine Blaine without Riley Tufte, Eden Prairie without Casey Mittelstadt or Holy Family Catholic without Will Garin).
First line wingers Auggie Moore (42 points) and Zach Risteau (41 points) also are exceptional talents who can take over games in an instant. Don’t bet against the Red Knights reaching the state tournament, with or without their top scorer.