Nausea forced Benilde-St. Margaret’s sophomore Jack Jablonski to miss his first game of the Red Knights boys’ spirited postseason run.
Coach Ken Pauly worried what impact Jablonski’s absence would have on his team. Jablonski watched Thursday’s stirring victory against Edina from a suite at the Xcel Energy Center and later drew hearty cheers from the boys in the locker room.
He stayed home from Friday night's game against Lakeville South and unintentionally created additional pressure on his team in the process. The Red Knights knew Jablonski wanted to be healthy enough to see them play for the Class 2A championship Saturday night.
So they delivered.
A five-goal first period led to a 10-1 rout of the Cougars, who had knocked top-seeded Duluth East from title contention the night before.
“Coaches told us before the game they had talked to Jabby and he wanted us to go out and win for him,” senior defenseman Jonah Johnson said.
They advance to play Hill-Murray in what will be an already emotional game amplified by Jablonksi’s story. He suffered severe a spinal cord injury in a Dec. 30 junior varsity game. He was checked from behind into the boards and doctors have said he will not regain the use of his legs. His injury garnered national attention and led to mid-season changes to the penalty structure of Minnesota high school hockey.
The Red Knights student section kept his presence in the building with third-period chants of “I believe in miracles” and “We love Jabby.”
“I told Jabby, ‘Elvis left the building but you need to get back here,’” Pauly said. “This has been an ongoing thing that gets intensified in this environment. To make it this far shows the kids are dealing with it really well.”
There was much for the Red Knights to feel good about on the ice as well. Dan Labosky scored just one minute and one second into the game. He added a second goal in the period and got help from Grant Besse, Tyler Ellegard and Alec Anderson.
Besse and Jake Horton added second period goals and Labosky completed the hat trick in the third as the Red Knights overwhelmed the Cougars.
“They came out and took it to us,” Lakeville South Kurt Weber said. “All of a sudden we panic because we can’t keep the puck out of the net and they just keep coming.”
Weber said he was “shocked” his team struggled to such a degree one night after upsetting top-ranked Duluth East.
With the victory, B-SM moved to 10-1 all time in state tournament games. The Red Knights won Class 1A titles in 1999 and 2001 and took third in Class 2A in 2008.