by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Joey Benz has not been as impressed with himself as he’s been with his team this year. The Elk River-Zimmerman senior forward came up big for the Elks in their section opener, though.
With the Elks tussling to a scoreless tie against upset-minded St. Michael-Albertville, Benz helped get them on the board in the 65th minute with a perfect pass to Jordan Griffin. In the 74th minute, Benz smoked a free kick into the net from the sideline and the Elks started to breathe easily as they closed out a 2-0 win.
“Joey has been frustrated this year, not playing as well as he wants, after being our leading scorer last year,” said coach Aaron Lindquist. “This was a nice reward for him, what he did tonight.”
The No. 2 seeded Elks (11-3-3) snapped a three-game winless streak and advanced to the Section 8AA semifinals against No. 3 St. Cloud Tech (11-3-3) on Saturday at home, 1 p.m.
“We have high expectations,” said Benz. “We’ve just got to go out and play our game.”
Benz, who led the Elks in scoring with seven goals and three assists last year, now has four goals and five assists for the 2013 season.
His connection with Griffin was the play of the game.
“I created some space, and I saw him making a run and got it to him,” said Benz. “Jordan finished. He did the hard part.”
Griffin, about 12 feet from the goal, headed the ball and got it past goalkeeper Sam Guillou, the Zimmerman senior’s fifth goal.
“I saw Joey put his head down and hit the ball, so I just ran toward it and hoped for best,” said Griffin.
The Elks had several other chances where they either missed the mark or were foiled by Guillou.
“We get about 20 chances a game, and we’ve just got to start putting more of them away,” said Benz, a Zimmerman resident who transferred to ERHS this year, his third season as a starter.
The Elks and goalkeeper Cody Christ notched their ninth shutout.
STMA finished 3-10-4, although they’ve had several close games against good teams.
Not a particularly big team, the Knights roughed things up at the end, drawing two red cards and two yellow cards. (The Elks had one yellow card.) Benz got his free kick goal off one of those cards, a line shot above the goalie’s reach.
“It got a little physical and chipped the end,” said Lindquist. “I’m glad we kept our heads … These kids have been playing together since they were young. They know it’s he last time they will play together and don’t want to lose their focus.”