Ben Marshall (right), a product of Mahtomedi High School, has made some nice defensive moves this season but continues to learn from his older teammates, particularly defensive partner Mark Alt.

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune file

For freshman Marshall, a sharp learning curve

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ
  • Star Tribune
  • December 2, 2011 - 6:49 AM

Forwards come at him a little quicker. Checks rattle his bones a bit more. And pucks are slightly harder to follow because nearly everyone seems to have a nifty move.

Ben Marshall is getting an education as one of the Gophers' top six defensemen. Whatever may happen, he always remembers the three-second rule that he often heard growing up. "If you do something good or bad, you think about it for three seconds and then let it go, pretend nothing happened," Marshall said. "It is hard to do at [this] high level."

Marshall, at 19, is the same age as most other U freshmen. He passed up his senior year at Mahtomedi High to play for the Omaha Lancers last season. His hope was one USHL season would be enough to prepare him for Division I hockey.

"Being a true freshman here is definitely an honor," he said.

And a challenge. He can make a wonderful play and a glaring error in the same game or series. "It is definitely like a roller coaster," Marshall said.

His high on the Gophers' trip to Michigan State came in a 4-4 tie last Saturday. Marshall, at 5-9, 178 pounds, scored the Gophers' first goal, unassisted, early in the second period. He wound up to take a slapshot, then faked it. The move worked beautifully.

"A gift happened," Marshall said. "[The defender] ate it -- he fell down." So Marshall skated in closer and took a wrist shot, which deflected off a Spartans stick into the net.

The night before, he had his low in a 4-3 loss to the Spartans. He was a key figure when the Gophers gave up their first short-handed goal of the season. It came early in the third and put MSU ahead 3-2. The play began when a pass to the point eluded Marshall. The puck slid through the neutral zone, and he ended up screening goalie Kent Patterson.

"[The Spartans' Kevin Walrod] won the race," Marshall said. "He turned me around a couple of times and took a shot right between my legs."

Patterson shook it off.

"Everybody makes mistakes," the goalie said. "I make mistakes, coaches make mistakes. You can't learn unless you make mistakes."

Marshall said he told himself what he did wrong -- he knew immediately -- then tried to forget it. "I was looking at the puck," he said. "I didn't take the body at all."

Coach Don Lucia said he understands freshmen tend to be inconsistent. "Ben has grown a lot," Lucia said. "He probably thought he would have more points because he has always been an offensive defenseman, [but] there is an adjustment period.

"He has done a nice job. He gets the puck out of our end in a hurry. Where he is at is where I expected him to be."

Marshall has two goals and three assists in 16 games. He is a plus-8 and seems to be a good match with defensive partner Mark Alt, a 6-3, 202-pound sophomore.

"It's working out well," Alt said. "You've got a physical, bigger guy with a smaller, more agile player, and they complement each other."

Alt usually stays back and takes charge. "He is the commander between us," Marshall said. "He tells me what to do. Whether it is in games or practices, I am always asking him questions."

Alt was in Marshall's skates a year ago. He went directly from high school at Cretin-Derham Hall to the Gophers and faced a steep learning curve.

"I had Aaron Ness to help me out," Alt said, referring to the Roseau prep player who turned pro after three college seasons, "so I am trying to help [Ben] the same way. He knows what to do most of the time. He has great hockey sense."

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