ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — For much of the season, Benilde-St. Margaret’s has used the slogan “I Believe in Miracles” to rally around an injured teammate.
Grant Besse made sure no divine intervention was needed Saturday night.
He scored five times — including three times short-handed — to lead the Red Knights past Hill-Murray 5-1 in the Class 2A state boys hockey championship.
Justin Quale made 24 saves for Benilde (25-6-0), which won its first big school title. The school won Class 1A titles in 1999 and 2001.
“(This year) has been emotional, it’s been psychological, it’s been spiritual, it’s been life-changing, and those are things you can’t always say about a team,” said coach Ken Pauly. “I watched a bunch of guys really grow in a million different ways in terms of caring about someone else and not just putting words to it, putting action to it.”
On Dec. 30, sophomore Jack Jablonski suffered a severe spinal cord injury from a hit into the boards during a junior varsity game and is not expected to walk again. With a red and white blanket over his legs, Jablonski watched the game from his wheelchair in a suite and was in the locker room afterward.
“We all went nuts seeing him down there,” Besse said. “What he said to me, he just shook his head and smiled. He was excited, he was yelling, he was getting pumped up.”
Zach LaValle scored for Hill-Murray, which failed to score at least two goals for the first time this season. John Dugas made 25 saves.
Seconds after Quale stopped Hill-Murray on a 2-on-1 midway through the first period, Besse picked up a loose puck in the right corner, skated out to the circle and put a wrist shot past Dugas. On the scoreboard they showed Jablonski pumping his right fist.
Less than two minutes later, Besse intercepted a clearing attempt, cut across the crease and deposited the puck behind the fallen goaltender for a 2-0 lead.
“Once you see Besse get one goal, you know he’s gonna get some more,” said Benilde forward Christian Horn. “That’s putting a team on your back.”
Besse, who finished the season with 52 goals, made it 3-0 late in the second period, taking an outlet pass from Horn and going in alone. He shifted from the forehand to the backhand and lifted the puck over Dugas.
The best may have been yet to come.
LaValle scored midway through the third period to get the Pioneers within 3-1, and Hill-Murray went on a five-minute power play less than a minute later.
However, Besse sealed the title with another short-handed breakaway goal 13 seconds into the man-advantage. Six minutes later, his wrist shot from the right circle found the top corner and the celebration was on.
“That’s a (heck) of a penalty kill,” Pauly said, smiling.
“He had a sensational night. He made the puck bounce his way and he took advantage of his opportunities,” said Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner.
The Red Knights won their six postseason games by a combined 35-5.
“I think what’s been lost in all this is that this is a very talented hockey team,” Pauly said. “I couldn’t imagine that it would end here in this fashion.”
Lakeville South beat Moorhead 2-1 for third place; while Duluth East won the consolation crown 4-1 over Eagan.
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