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Can Minnesota High Schools claim the national championship this year?

By frederick61, 02/07/13, 4:15AM CST


Benilde-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse watches his backhand shot billowing the back of the net. The goal put the Knights up 4-2 against defending national champs Shattuck-St. Mary’s in a game played Thursday night at Stl Louis Park.

Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep is the defending national U-18 Champions.  After losing their opening game to Little Caesar’s 5-4 at the Tier I National Championship Tournament played in Buffalo NY last April, SSM came back to win their next 5 games beating the LA Kings 2-1 for the title.  It was their third national championship in three years. 

The Sabres represent Minnesota at the nationals.  They are the only AAA U-18 team in the state.

Last year, Shattuck-St. Mary’s beat both Minnesota High School hockey champs.  They beat Class A winner, St. Thomas Academy, 4-2 in January; tied Breck 3-3 February; and beat Class AA winner, BSM 5-2, in February.  Two years ago, SSM beat Holy Angels 6-0 and Benilde 3-1.  Three years ago, the Sabres beat Breck 4-1, Holy Angels 5-4, and Benilde 4-2.

In a sense, they truly represent Minnesota at the National tourney.

In mid-January this year, the nationally #1 ranked Sabres lost to St. Thomas Academy 3-2 in overtime.  It was their first lost in the past three years to a Minnesota high school team.  Last night they played Benilde-St. Margaret and lost for the second time 5-2.

If Shattuck-St. Mary’s goes on to take their fourth national title in a row, Minnesota High Schools could claim the national title.

Sprang has been up and down this season.

Benilde lost a number of good defensemen last year and has been pressured.  Sprang was in the nets for all five Knights’ losses this year.  He was also in the nets for part of the 2010-2011 season with Shattuck U-16 team. Vesel, Rodriquez, and Raskob played on the U-16 team that same year.  Sprang is also played for the Wisconsin Fire when he was younger.

The pattern for the game last night was set early; Shattuck-St. Mary’s came out on the ice and took control.  Most of the first period found the puck in the Benilde defensive zone with the Knight defenders spinning as they tried to catch up with the play.

In the first six minutes of first period, Sprang had to make a half of a dozen tough saves.  It was apparent he came to play.  The Knight defense had trouble clearing their zone.  In the opening minutes, only the Knights first line was able to get some pressure on the SSM’s net.

SSM was playing more of a horizontal game, moving the puck side to side and not always going directly for the Knights net.  They would skate a weaving pattern and often drop a puck for a teammate headed in the opposite direction.  Once in the Knights zone, Shattuck’s puck movement was excellent except for the occasional blind pass they would make to the slot.

The Sabres were beating the Knights in almost every race situation.
The Knights tried to breakout with the long pass.  In the first period, most of the passes would be from mid-zone right to the far left wing in neutral ice between the center line and SSM’s blue line.  It was not working and carrying the puck was not working.  Often they would just clear the puck long by throwing it high up the near boards and take the icing.

At the 5 minute mark of the first period, a Knight defender trapped in the left corner powered the puck blindly up the ice into the neutral zone.  His clearing attempt caught Besse in full stride.  Besse beat the Sabres defense to score.  Benilde led 1-0.  Assists went to Dan Labosky (his 43rd of the season) and to Peter Heimbold.

The first period ended with the Knights up 1-0.  In a period where they were outshot only 12-10, the Knights were outplayed badly.  Shattuck had numerous great scoring opportunities including one clear breakaway.  Sprang shut down the Sabres.  He made some great stops taking away great Sabre scoring opportunities.

The game slowed in the opening minutes of the second period.  The slower pace resulted in Benilde first sustained pressure three minutes into the period.  The Knights established control of the puck in SSM’s zone, but could not score.  This time Shattuck goalie, Luke Kania, a junior from Chicago IL made some tough stops.

With 11 minutes to go in the period and the Knights on the attack in SSM’s zone, the Sabre’s executed a great breakout play.  It resulted in the tying goal.  The play started with a hard pass from the right boards above the faceoff circle to the far left boards in neutral ice.  The puck rebounded off the left boards and was picked up by the Sabre’s Brett Boeing.  He beat the defense by swinging wide left and low.  Cleared of the defense, he skated the Knights’ end line into the crease area and fired beating Sprang to knot the score 1-1.

The goal revved up the Sabre’s play.  They picked up the game pace and put the Knights back in their zone spinning trying to catch up with the puck.  At the 6 minute mark, Benilde started to get some pressure on the SSM net.

On a “loose rush” against a soft defense, the Knight’s got a 2-on-1 situation at the top of the slot.  Spence Naas,on the right with the puck, pulled a slight fake pass to the Knight’s forward on the left and got Kania to move left.  He buried the puck on a shot to the upper right side of the SSM goal.  The Knights were in the lead again 2-1.  Evan Fleming and Ben Newhouse got the assists.

SSM still dominated most of the second period play, but was starting to show signs of slowing down.  The period ended with BSM leading 2-1.  The Sabre’s outshot the Knights 8-5 in the second period.

It took SSM one minute to get going in the third period.  Once they did, they really had the Knights defense spinning as time and time again the Sabres would end up with good tough shots from close-in on the Knight’s net.

It was a great offensive hockey show.

But Sprang spoiled it all for the first minute.  He made great stops including a glove save on a hard shot from six feet in front him.  The shot almost took his hand and glove into the net.

The Sabres finally beat Sprang after  90 seconds of great hockey.  They scored on a shot from the left from Marcel Godbout.  Truman Reed and Nick Petrella got the assists.  That tied the game 2-2 with 12 minutes left in the third period.

Then Besse took over.  Besse had been playing high in the Knights zone on almost every shift.  At the 10 minute mark, they hit him with a pass.  Besse broke down the Sabre’s defense swinging left and drew the goalie to him.  This time he passed to Ben Newhouse on the weakside right.  Newhouse scored the game winner.  Besse and Moore got the assists.  The Knights led 3-2.

The play got tense after that score.  A penalty to BSM at the 9 minute mark put Shattuck on the power play.  SSM got pressure on the Knight’s zone, but could not beat Sprang.  The Knights killed the penalty.

The play of the game occurred at the 5 minute mark.  A SSM player took a Knight hard into the right boards in neutral ice.  Everyone knew a 5 minute boarding penalty would be called.  It  was.  The Knight player slowly skated off the ice.

On the penalty kill, Shattuck was aggressive and tried to gain control of the puck in BSM’s zone, but stretched their defense.  It did not take long for Besse to break loose.  This time he scored a neat backhander off a rebound on a shot from the blue line.  The rebound went to the top of the crease as Besse skated in from the right side to score the power play goal.  Johnny Austin and T. J. Moore got the assists.

 An empty netter by Austin ended the scoring.  Benilde won 5-2.  Shattuck outshot the Knights 12-7 in the third period.

Benilde continues to play their independent schedule.  Tonight they play St. Francis at the East Bethel Ice Arena and Saturday the Knights play at Eden Prairie.

For Shattuck-St. Mary’s, they travel to Detroit this weekend to play Honeybaked, Little Caesars, and the Chicago Mission in a High Peformance Hockey League Showcase.  They have home games scheduled with Nichols School and the Dallas Stars before traveling to Pittsburg PA to defend their U-18 title in the National Tourney played the first week of April.

They will represent Minnesota again in a quest for their fourth straight national title, but this year they can’t claim to be the best from the state of hockey.

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