The kid they call OC was better than just OK on Wednesday night.
Wayzata junior Gavin O’Connell scored on a first-period breakaway, unleashed a wicked one-timer late in the second for another goal and added an assist in the final minutes of the third as Wayzata closed out a 4-2 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret’s at the St. Louis Park Rec Center.
“He was the best player on the ice today, which was fun to see,” Wayzata coach Pat O’Leary said after the No. 11-2A Trojans improved to 10-5-1. “He was just unstoppable.”
Generally speaking, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound O’Connell is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. But he’s got exceptional speed and a big-time shot, important building blocks for a player interested in consistently putting the puck in the net. And, with the start of the Section 6AA playoffs looming next week, O’Connell’s scoring outburst couldn’t have come at a better time.
The goals were O’Connell’s sixth and seventh of the season, and he’s scored three goals in his last two games after enduring a seven-game drought. A superb passer with exceptional rink vision, O’Connell shares the team lead with 13 assists. He also was one of the top playmakers last fall on his Upper Midwest High School Elite League team.
O’Connell takes pride in his defense, too. That’s a requirement for any Wayzata player (the Trojans are known for their suffocating defensive zone play and shot blocking), and it was especially important in the third period against the No. 10-2A Red Knights (12-5-0), who also reside in Section 6AA.
“Section teams are always really tough, and Benilde always gives us a good run for our money — they’re always close games,” O’Connell said. “Going into the third period we focused just on not letting them get any more goals and shutting down our D zone. That translated to offense. It was key for us.”
Wayzata’s Reece Gardner scored with 1:22 left to put the Trojans ahead 3-2 and Jake Keller’s goal with 1:11 remaining closed out the scoring. O’Connell’s assist on Keller’s goal completed his three-point night, giving him his seventh multi-point game of the season and second in a row.
“He’s been coming along the last couple of weeks, and I was really proud of him today,” O’Leary said. “He played super well.”
The win most likely clinches at least a No. 2 seed in the section. The Trojans might have an argument for the top seed should they beat No. 5-2A Grand Rapids in their regular season finale on Saturday. Cretin-Derham Hall, 15-1-0 while playing a Suburban East Conference-only schedule, is the frontrunner to get the No. 1 seed.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s, which got both its goals from high-energy third-line forward Ryan Gearen, figures to be the No. 4 seed behind Edina. The Red Knights have suffered all five of their losses since Feb. 16.
“We’re not that far off, we really aren’t,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said. “Even tonight, you saw we had lots of chances and weren’t putting them away.”
The top four Section 6AA teams are ranked in the state's top 13. The section has produced six of the last 11 state champions.
"Give me a break, one through four, you don’t think you are going to have a tough semifinal game regardless of who you play?" Pauly said