Maple Grove, minus suspended players and coach, loses to Blaine

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2013 - 3:35 PM

Maple Grove, without its coach and 13 suspended players, stayed close to Blaine.

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Players skated past the Maple Grove bench that sat in front of a sparsely attended audience.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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In addition to 13 suspended players, Maple Grove boys’ hockey coach Gary Stefano was not on the bench Thursday night at Blaine after being placed on paid administrative leave pending a school district investigation.

Earlier this week, the Crimson players were suspended for at least two games each after an investigation into an incident at a private home in mid-December.

The suspensions began Thursday night when Maple Grove lost to No. 9-ranked Blaine 5-2.

A new complaint against Stefano prompted the district to launch a separate investigation, said Barbara Olson, the community relations director for School District 279.

Olson did not comment on the nature of the complaint or whether it was tied to the December incident. She said Stefano can teach physical education and be paid during the investigation.

Maple Grove assistant Josh Hicks took over head coaching duties on Thursday, working with an improvised roster. His team trailed by one only goal going into the third period against Blaine.

"We had a lot of kids step up and do some really smart things out there," Hicks said. "That's what we ask."

Earlier this week, Stefano said "a couple'' of players face four-game suspensions. The rest will miss two games. Maple Grove's next game is Tuesday at Anoka.

Hicks declined to discuss his interim head coach duties and did not make players available for comment. Maple Grove activities director Ron Zopfi would not discuss Stefano's absence either.

Stefano did not return a message.

Maple Grove dressed 20 players Thursday. The starting lineup included five skaters who have competed in nearly every varsity game this season. But the suspensions hurt the Crimson's depth. Hicks said he used 10 forwards, "some a heck of a lot more than we used others. We were doubling up one line almost the entire game. We've got some pretty heavy legs in the locker room."

These rivals last met in early March in the Class 2A, Section 5 championship game, a 15-1 romp that ended Blaine's six-year run of section titles and sent the Crimson to its first state tournament.

"Before the game Josh said, 'I'm sure your guys have been waiting eight months to play us again,' " Blaine coach Dave Aus said. "To have this happen made it kind of anticlimactic."

Aus said he "had a directive from my AD and principal to make sure" the Bengals wouldn't attempt to run up the score. Maple Grove's spirited effort Thursday negated sportsmanship concerns.

"We've never done that to teams, so it wouldn't have happened anyways," Aus said. "You still want to tell the kids to be classy. Maple Grove is in a tough spot right now. But I thought their kids played really hard."

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