Benilde completes emotional season as hockey champs

  • Article by: PAUL KLAUDA
  • Updated: March 10, 2012 - 10:39 PM
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Grant Besse was the big scorer for Benilde-St. Margaret's Saturday in the Class 2A hockey final against Hill-Murray.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey coach Ken Pauly handled the seating chart for the postgame press conference.

“Besse, you’re going to want to be near a microphone,” Pauly said.

Besse treated Minnesota high school hockey fans to a performance among the greatest ever seen in 68 years of state tournament play.

He scored five goals, three of them shorthanded, to fuel Benilde-St. Margaret’s 5-1 victory against Hill-Murray in Saturday’s Class 2A championship at the Xcel Energy Center.

“I didn’t really know what to do,” Besse said of digesting the weight of his fifth goal. “I had to check back into reality and take in everything.”

Benilde-St. Margaret’s won its third state title in school history and first since opting up to Class 2A before the 2005-06 season. Saturday’s victory ended an emotional season on the ultimate high.

Sophomore Jack Jablonski 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 ordeal garnered national attention and led to mid-season changes to the penalty structure of Minnesota high school hockey.

Jablonski parked his motorized wheelchair in the family’s suite above the Benilde-St. Margaret’s student section on Saturday and cheered on his teammates. He joined them in the locker room after the game.

Pauly said the victory validated the talent flowing through the roster.

“What gets lost is that this is a talented hockey team,” Pauly said. He felt his team could make this sort of run but “did not imagine it would end in this fashion.”

Besse, a junior forward, gave Red Knights supporters much to cheer about and remember. He finished the season with 52 goals.

Each of Saturday's five goals was seemingly more electrifying than the one before. He struck twice within two minutes in the first period. On the second goal, a Hill-Murray clearing attempt hit Besse’s skates. He kept the puck and scored from close range.

“Once Grant scores a couple goals you know they are going to keep coming and coming,” forward Christian Horn said.

Besse completed the hat trick – but not his remarkable evening – with a shorthanded goal in the second period. Horn started the play by blocking Jake Guentzel’s shot from just inside the blue line, chasing down the puck and relaying it out to Besse for the breakaway.

“He had an exceptional night,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “He made the puck bounce his way and took advantage of his opportunities.”

Guentzel set up Zach LaValle’s power-play goal early in the period to cut the lead to 3-1. The Pioneers got another chance as Benilde-St. Margaret’s captain Jake Horton was ejected for spearing. The Red Knights were assessed a five-minute major penalty and would remain shorthanded for the full five minutes.

Instead, Besse produced another dramatic scene. He broke away with the puck and buried a goal to put his team ahead 4-1. The Pioneers still had four minutes and 48 seconds on the major penalty but it did not matter.

“That was a back-breaker,” Lechner said. “We came a little bit unglued tonight, even the coaching staff.”

Besse still was not done. He scored his third shorthanded goal at 14:03, triggering more bedlam and further ensuring his place among tournament lore.

“He wrote himself into tournament history,” Pauly said.

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