Boys’ hockey looks to defend championship

The+boys%27+hockey+team+hope+to+defend+their+State+championship+after+leaving+the+North+Suburban+Conference+and+losing+senior+leaders.+

Mary Alice Hutton

The boys’ hockey team hope to defend their State championship after leaving the North Suburban Conference and losing senior leaders.

David Nelson, Sports Editor

“A tragic season ends in triumph.” Clay Matvick said it best as the Red Knights stormed the ice after a thrilling 5-1 defeat of the Hill-Murray Pioneers in the 2012 state title game. All the hard work of the season had paid off and it was time to celebrate.

But that game happened nine months ago. It’s a new season, a new team, and a whole new set of challenges for the Red Knights as they attempt to do the hardest thing in sports: repeat.

One of the early challenges the team will face is continuing to play at a high level, which can be a difficult after winning a state championship. “I think as a team we need to try and move on from what happened last year and winning the state championship, and really try and focus on the upcoming season and what it has to bring,” senior captain Grant Besse said.

What this season has to bring is a lot of adversity. After winning 10 straight conference titles, the Red Knights will leave the North Suburban Conference and play an independent schedule that features games against Minnetonka, Wayzata, and Eden Prairie. “I think that this move is going to be beneficial for our team. Having so many tough games throughout the year will prepare us for what playoffs will be like,” senior captain Patrick Graham said.

Their first three opponents––Moorhead, Burnsville, and Hill-Murray––all had winning records last season, so a hot start will be important. “It’s important to get off to a strong start and set the tone for the rest of the season. We have to assert ourselves and remind teams just how good we are,” senior captain Daniel Labosky said.

One of those three teams doesn’t need much reminding. Hill-Murray comes to the SLP Rec Center December 8 in a state title rematch that will bring new meaning to the word intense. “It will be a great game. We’ve always had that tradition of playing Hill- Murray early in the season as a great test to see what our team has,” Labosky said.

I think as a team we need to try and move on from what happened last year and winning the state championship, and really try and focus on the upcoming season and what it has to bring.”

— Grant Besse

“They’re not going to be happy, and we’ll come out ornery. We’ll have some fun with it…they like to come after us and we like to come after them, so let’s get it on,” head coach Mr. Ken Pauly said.

Those games will be important tests for a team that lost five defensemen from last season. “Although we lost those five guys, we picked up Johnny Austin, who had three years of varsity experience [at Blake] and is good offensively, and Ben Newhouse, who played a lot last year as a freshman, along with all of the new guys added on defense. I feel our defensive core will be pretty strong this season,” Graham said.

Along with the defense, there are also some questions about who will start as goalie. After the transfer of Justin Quale and the graduation of Anders Jecha, Coach Pauly will have to decide between newly transferred senior Andrew Sprang or senior Paul Lundberg.

“I guess the best word would be ‘audition.’ We’d be auditioning people because we don’t think we’re going to have any trouble scoring goals…we could get into a situation where we’re going to rotate until someone grabs this thing. The bad news for us is that it’s unsettled. The good news for the goalies is this thing’s unsettled, if you want [it], go get it,” Pauly said.

So how do you overcome all this adversity? Strong leadership.

“Personally, I believe Coach Pauly is the best coach in high school hockey. He’s passionate about our team and really knows how to get a team prepared to win, and I think that really showed up last year and will continue to show this year,” Besse said.

A good coach will be important on the difficult path to another state title. But the defending champs have a lot of confidence heading into this season.

“I do think that we are good enough to repeat. I know there are a lot of good teams throughout the state that will be tough, but I believe with the core group of returning guys and a couple of new guys to add to the team, we will have a great shot at a repeat,” Besse said.