Benilde-St. Margaret's plays for the Minnesota state high school boys' hockey title tonight after trouncing Lakeville South 10-1 last night at the Xcel Energey Center in a Class AA semifinal.
The win means the players have a chance to bring home the championship trophy for their injured teammate, Jack Jablonski, who was paralyzed in December when he was checked from behind during a game. The emotional aftermath of Jablonski's injury appears to be giving his team an edge.
Last night's game was a match between two underdog teams that had surprised many just a day earlier by making it to the semifinals.
Benilde-St Margaret's Red Knights upset fourth-seed Edina Thursday to win a spot in the semifinals. And the Cougars of Lakeville South beat the top team in the state, Duluth East, for their semifinals slot. One commentator called that win "one of the biggest state tournament upsets of all time."
Many saw Benilde-St Margaret's as the underdog in the matchup against Lakeville. But just 61 seconds into the game, the club scored the first goal. They scored five goals in the first period alone. Lakeville South scored its first and only goal with a 1:33 left in the game.
Lakeville coach Kurt Weber said Benilde-St. Margaret's early momentum had his players running scared. He said he told them afterward to forget about the game and move on.
"It was just nothing good about it for us. We made alot of mistakes, we got lazy, and they ran us over," said Weber. "This the first time this happened to us. This group usually doesn't let us get out of control."
The lopsided victory left Benilde-St Margaret's students breathless.
"My mind's blown," said freshman Graham Alme. "I thought it would've been a little struggle. Come out maybe like a 3-1."
But at the same time, he said he isn't surprised Benilde-St Margaret's toppled a team that's supposed to be better.
"We're not seeded. but seeds don't matter. Rankings don't matter," he said.
Freshman Tommy Luedke said the cold calculations that determine rankings didn't account for the emotion Jack Jablonski brought to the game.
"It's the school spirit. Just all the support. Especially from Jack. They're just rallying together. This is all for him," he said.
Jablonski's spinal cord injury in a December game led to mid-season changes that increased penalties for checking. Jablonski cheered his team on from a wheelchair in Thursday's quarterfinals game, but a bout of nausea kept him home last night.
Senior defenseman Jonah Johnson said the players felt they had to give Jablonski another chance to see them win.
"Coach, before the game, came in -- and he talked to Jack before the game -- and told him he wanted us to go out, play for him, and step up and get there so he can come watch," said Johnson. "And that's what we did."
Head coach Ken Pauly acknowledged that enjoying success in the aftermath of tragedy is difficult, but it's something the team has grown used to.
"This has been going on since Jack was hurt in late December. I think the fact that we got this far -- it's a challenge, it's an ongoing challenge, but I know it's something the kids are dealing with well," said Pauly.
Tonight the Benilde team will take on St Paul's Hill-Murray for a championship title match between two private schools.