Mahtomedi defenseman Kevin Bowditch, left, didn't allow Eastview's Ryan McNamara much room to operate. Photo by Helen Nelson
Instead of inserting an opposing defenseman in McNamara’s hip pocket, shadowing his every move, Mahtomedi coach Brian Strauss instead opted to assign rugged defenseman Kevin Bowditch to a more convential McNamara duty. Big, strong and physical, Bowditch proved he also has the quickness to stay with McNamara, who traverses the field with the speed and change-of-direction unpredictability of a pinball.
“He is just a strong D, pressing out a lot,” McNamara said about Bowditch. “I got the ball a lot, at least.”
McNamara scored three goals, including what proved to be the game winner in the closing minutes, and added two assists. But McNamara’s impact for the unbeaten Lightning (6-0) goes well beyond the stat sheet.
“I think he’s maturing quite a bit, just understanding how to play offense,” Eastview assistant coach Colin Achenbach said. “It’s not about just one player, it’s six guys. He’s learned how he can affect a game with the ball or without the ball, with points or without.”
Jake Heppner, a senior who plays Doc Holliday to McNamara’s Wyatt Earp, has 32 points and the same ability to dish the ball to open teammates. Heppner had a goal and two assists against the Zephyrs, who were burned repeatedly by Lightning players who don’t have the name recognition as McNamara or Heppner.
“When we are on offense, we’ve got six guys who can score,” said Heppner, who will play at Minnesota-Duluth next season. “The nice thing is that everybody that we play thinks (McNamara) is the only one, or we’re the only ones, who can score. So that draws a lot of attention to us and opens up looks for everybody else.”
Shane Kenealey, Michael Stillings, Brett Schweiger, Mitch Beattie and Erik Gage also scored for the Lightning. Several of those goals came on cannon shots taken on a dead sprint. Eastview has some depth, no doubt.
Mahtomedi? The Zephyrs have two great ones in Bowditch and Ryan Brown, a senior midfielder who scored two goals and added three assits.
Brown was a dominant force on faceoffs, not just winning draws but creating scoring chances directly off them.
“They brought it every second of the game,” Straus said about Bowditch and Brown. “They kind of put the rest of the team on their back.”
Such a load wasn’t necessary for Heppner and McNamara, whose supporting cast is battled tested and plenty skilled. It was Gage who scored the overtime winner against Minnetonka to open the season.
“I don’t think a lot of teams expect that,” McNamara said about Eastview’s balanced scoring beyond himself and Heppner. “They just look at us, and then we try to find those open guys because we know they can do it, too.”