Keeping the puck out of the net is just as important as
putting pucks in for Benilde-St. Margaret’s
by Bryan Zollman, Let’s Play Hockey
A lot of attention has been paid to Minnetonka, Wayzata and Edina this season as they have dominated the top of the rankings and the headlines since the puck dropped back in November.
But another team that has sort of flown under the radar and is having an impressive season are the Red Knights from Benilde-St. Margaret’s, who are 16-4-1 and currently ranked No 6 in AA. Perhaps the reason they have flow under the radar because they don’t have the star power or big names like some of the other teams. They don’t have any players racking up enormous amounts of goals or assists, and instead rely on depth, defense and good goaltending to win games.
“We may not have the marquee name but when you look at it more closely we have very good forwards and we have great athletes,” said B-SM Head Coach Ken Pauly.
The Red Knights have just two players with double-digit goals through their first 20 games. Junior Podein has 15 and Ben Norris 11. But the Red Knights have had 18 different players light the lamp this season, a testament to their depth both up front and on the blue line.
Podein has 24 points (15g-9a) and is committed to Western Michigan. Dylan Popehn (9-5-14) and Caleb Koskie (8-14-22) have both signed DI tenders to play lacrosse and baseball, respectively. Norris (11-12-23) was a member of the National 15 Camp a few years ago and Cam Kirchner (9-15-24) is tied with Podein for the team lead in points and was an Elite League player this past fall.
Pauly also said the team’s goalie, Mason McElroy, should be a strong candidate for the Frank Brimsek Award which goes to the state’s top senior goaltender.
McElroy is a 3-year starter but suffered through some nagging injuries as a junior, which led to some uneven performances.
“He’s healthy and looks to be back to his old form” said Pauly.
Through 19 games he has posted a 1.77 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
McElroy is one third of the “Three Masons” that has played a huge role in keeping pucks out of the net.
He has help with a strong group of defenders in front of him. Mason Stenger (6-15-21) and Mason Minor (4-15-19) are both big (6’1″), strong, stay-at-home defenders who can move the puck and are efficient in the offensive zone and on special teams. Jack Anderson is in his first year of varsity play after playing junior varsity last year during a transfer season and adds much-needed depth in the defensive zone. Junior Carter Callan, senior Nick Palmer and sophomore Nick Johnson give the Red Knights six solid defenseman, which bodes well especially in close games in the third period when other teams usually shorten their bench and roll three or four defensemen.
“With Mason Stenger and Mason Minor we have two of the best defensemen in high school hockey,” said Pauly. “We have always had good defense, but this year we have depth at the position. We have confidence in all these guys and no reason to gas our top three blueliners.”
The Red Knights have allowed more than two goals just six times this season. Their four losses have come against strong, ranked opponents, including No. 10AA St. Thomas Academy (3-1 on Jan. 4), No. 9AA Eden Prairie (2-0 on Jan. 11), No. 4 Chanhassen (5-2 on Jan. 20) and No. 3 Wayzata (6-3 on Dec. 14). They are one of only two teams to beat Edina (3-1 on Dec. 2) and are coming off a 6-3 win over Orono, ranked No. 6 in Class A.
They’re not a team that is going to win 7-6 games, mainly because they don’t have to. They play from their goal line out, meaning their focus is goaltending and D-zone play and efficiently moving the puck up ice. Keeping the puck out of the net is just as important to the Red Knights as putting pucks in. The formula has worked.
“The key is we are not looking to one or two forwards to carry us and we don’t have forwards behaving that way,” said Pauly. “We have exceptional senior leadership in Stenger, McElroy and Koskie and they are surrounded by a lot of maturity with several other seniors committed to the team concept.”
Five games remain in the regular season, and then the second season starts. Section 6AA is often considered the toughest in Class AA hockey, although Section 2AA members may argue. Regardless, for Benilde-St. Margaret’s to get through to the state tournament, they would have to beat the likes of No. 2 Edina or No. 3 Wayzata.
But that’s not how the Red Knights view the section tournament. They will let other teams worry about them instead. They are the equivalent of a tough out in baseball, a running back in football that is tough to tackle…a team who is not easy to play against.
“We need to keep focusing on the little things and not worry about the section tournament,” he said. “We know that we will be tough for anyone who wants to end our season in tournament play.”