Stillwater coach Phil Housley with defensemen Cody Corbett, Neal Goff and Kyle Mogren. Photo by Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune
Phil Housley made his mark as a high school player at South St. Paul before going on to record 1,232 points during his 21-year NHL career as one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game.
Now in his in his seventh year as head coach at Stillwater, he has three talented core blue-liners — Cody Corbett, Kyle Mogren and Neal Goff — at his disposal. They happen to be among the team leaders in points and are the motor that keeps the Ponies running.
“We’re all just sponges and take everything in. He knows what he’s talking about,” said Goff, a junior. “He’s obviously one in a million, that guy. Any kid out there would want to have a coach like that.”
“There’s a lot of good lessons we’re learning out there,” added Mogren, a senior. “It’s pretty cool.”
Stillwater’s top three defensemen were all on the same Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League roster. They’re strong in all facets of the game and have readily contributed on the score sheet on a team that scores points by committee.
“If we were to lose one of those guys it would be pretty devastating to our team,” Housley said. “They’re the key.”
Through Tuesday, Corbett, a junior, led the team with six goals and 11 assists. Corbett was thrown into the fire last year and has since developed into one of the big three with a strong all-around game. Mogren, a three-year starter, has three goals and 11 assists. And then there’s Goff, a bit more defensive-minded and listed at 6-5 and 185 pounds.
“There’s so much upside to his game and he really wants to learn,” Housley said.
Goff has two goals and six assists on the year. The NHL Central Scouting Service listed Goff at No. 179 in the Midterm Rankings for North American Skaters released last month.
The three-year starter is also a sprinter in track and field. He moves around well for a big guy, and he’ll help stabilize the Ponies' blue line through next season.
Stillwater coach Phil Housley directs drills during practice at the St. Croix Valley Rec Center. Photo by Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune
Although Stillwater lacks a bona fide goal scorer, the Ponies make up for it with team play — specifically with defense. It’s the reason they were 11-4-2 overall, 9-2-2 in Suburban East Conference play through Tuesday, sitting in second place behind White Bear Lake. A seven-game unbeaten streak included five one-goal games and one tie.
“It’s a group effort,” Housley said. “Everybody plays a major role.”
With a focus on shutting other teams down and moving the puck up quickly, the Ponies are deceptively dangerous.
“Whoever comes out is going to win the game,” Mogren said. “Whoever shows up to play, you can’t take a night off no matter who you’re playing. Otherwise you’re going to lose.”
With strong goaltending from Blake Cates and Gordy Defiel, the Ponies could be poised for more upsets. And they still haven’t played their best hockey.
“We know no matter who it is, we’re confident enough to take down any team in the state,” Goff said. “They may have more talent than us and they may have more natural goal scorers but we just work our butt off.”