Maybe it is habit forming, all this winning. Maybe a tiny part of it is luck. Maybe Benilde-St. Margaret's is just this good.
The No. 1-ranked Red Knights are unbeaten through 19 games this season after handling Minnetonka 4-2 on Tuesday night at the St. Louis Park Rec Center. And if they are concerned about completing an undefeated season — or concerned about anything, for that matter — they sure aren't showing it.
"No, we're not focused on our record," said Benilde-St. Margaret's junior forward Luke Horton, who scored a crucial third-period goal against the Skippers. "We can't get caught up in all the wins that we have and stuff like that. We just have to stay focused on getting better."
Benilde-St. Margaret's (18-0-1) has won four of five overtime games this season. The lone blemish was a 4-4 tie against Lakeville North, the defending state champion that went 31-0 last season. Close games are just part of the routine this season for the Red Knights.
"Our identity has been, 'Find ways to win,' " Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly said. "We've been down by two, we've been down by three, we've given up the first goal. It really doesn't phase our guys."
When the Skippers' Brendan Ryan scored early in the third period to pull No. 2-ranked Minnetonka (14-6) into a 2-2 tie, Benilde-St. Margaret's second line of Jacob Holmers, Nick Sims and Horton had a coming-together moment on the bench. Not all of what they said is family appropriate, but in short, they decided to put the game on their sticks and shoulders.
"We looked at each other and said, 'We are … doing this,' " Holmers said.
And sure enough, they did. Horton regained the lead for the Red Knights just 1:33 after Ryan's goal. And Holmers put Benilde-St. Margaret's ahead 4-2 just 2:32 after that.
"We knew we could get it back," Horton said. "We don't feel too much pressure in those situations."
On a night when the Red Knights' prolific all-senior top line of Auggie Moore, Cade Gleekel and Zach Risteau was held without a goal, the output from the second and third lines (third line forward Shota Yokosuka also chipped in a goal) was required to secure the victory.
"I think we have a really deep team, so it's good to see scoring coming from all over," Horton said. "Because that is going to be really huge here in the postseason and throughout the rest of the year."
Of the Red Knights' six remaining games, two stand out as being particularly difficult. The Red Knights play at Eden Prairie on Feb. 6 and at Wayzata on Feb. 11. Pauly, who wasn't pleased with his team's defensive zone play against Minnetonka, knows that sloppy defense spells doom come playoff time. And sometimes it takes a loss to hammer that point home.
"That's the problem," Pauly said. "We have to learn while winning."
But he'll take the victory. He'll take all of them. A loss? He's not worried about it.
"The only reason why you want to see a loss in the regular season is because they hurt, and you learn from them," Pauly said.
"This season has never been about the zero or an undefeated record, it really hasn't. Normally I would say yes, it is a burden, but it really hasn't been. It hasn't been our focus, from Day 1, the record, the ranking, none of that."