Benilde-St. Margaret's, arguably the best high school team in the state of Minnesota, upset Shattuck-St. Mary's, arguably the top U18 AAA team in the country, by a score of 5-2 on Wednesday night in front of a big crowd at the St. Louis Park Rec Center that included a lot of NCAA coaches, agents, and NHL scouts.
The game was a lot closer than the final score indicated. Benilde led 1-0 after a pretty even first period when their top player, Wisconsin recruit Grant Besse ripped a snap shot for a goal. Shattuck answered in the second with a beauty short-side top shelf shot by Michigan Tech recruit Brett Boeing. Spencer Naas answered back for Benilde by scoring on a two-on-one.
Shattuck dominated the early part of the third period, eventually netting the game-tying goal on a tip by Michigan State recruit Marcel Godbout. The key moment in the game came shortly after. Shattuck was pressing for the go-ahead goal, until play was stopped for 5 to 10 minutes to repair a divot in front of the Benilde bench. Off the long break, Benilde put their top line out on the ice and scored a quick goal, when defenseman Ben Newhouse joined the rush and finished off a nice pass from Besse. Shattuck then took a 5-minute major penalty with just under 5 minutes left, leaving them short handed the rest of the game. Besse added a power play goal, and Johnny Austin scored an empty-net goal to make the final score.
Lots of good players, and lots of notes from this one. In no particular order:
- When Benilde's top line of Grant Besse, Dan Labosky, and TJ Moore were out on the ice, BSM seemed to have a bit of an edge. Shattuck carried the play when anybody else was on the ice. The best line for Shattuck all night was Ryan Norman, Chase Phelps, and Alex Rodriguez. All three are guys that can really grind in the corners and are super tough to play against.
-I thought it was an overall great defensive effort by Benilde last night. I expressed some concern about their thin defense and goal tending after seeing them earlier this year, but they showed the ability to tighten things up when they had to. Goalie Andrew Sprang, who is a former Shattuck player, had a very nice game.
-On the flip side, the offense for Shattuck didn't do a lot for me. It's worth remembering that since Bantams, Shattuck's current group of upperclassmen has lost: Nathan MacKinnon, Taylor Cammarata, Connor Hurley, Blake Clarke, and Ian McCoshen. That's a lot of high-end talent to lose, and they seem a little down because of it. Most of their high-end talent is in the '96 age group.
-About four times last night, in even strength situations, Benilde moved Grant Besse back to defense alongside Johnny Austin, and moved Spencer Naas up to the top line, putting their best five skaters on the ice. That may be something to watch for later in the season.
-In regards to this year's NHL Draft: Grant Besse was the most dangerous player on the ice last night, and I was more convinced he could be picked this year than I had been. His snap shot is just devastating. There's still a lot of areas he needs to improve, but he's starting to look like he's worth the risk.
Shattuck's Willie Raskob made Central Scouting's mid-terms at 173. As much as I like how he's improved as a defender over the past year or so, that's a little high for me. If I was looking for a smaller defenseman, I'd probably take Benilde's Johnny Austin over Raskob at this point.
Benilde's Spencer Naas remains a bit of a wildcard for me. I could see a team willing to take a risk on him just because of his great skating.
-Freshman Alec Baer was no longer listed on Benilde's roster. He was kicked off the team for taking a visit to the Vancouver Giants. Baer is keeping his options open for next year though, and still seems more interested in pursuing the college route instead of the WHL as of right now.
With Baer's departure, it looks like that opens up more ice time for sophomore Mark Kaske, who was playing JV in mid-January. I was really impressed with the poise and skill he showed in this game.
-Overall, I wouldn't say it was a great game for Canadian phenom Nathan Noel. He tried to assert himself physically quite a bit, and made a few really subtle, nice plays that showed some high-end talent, but didn't really show the explosiveness I saw earlier in the year and didn't really do much. Any comparisons to Nathan MacKinnon should be shelved for a while.