Jordan Olson, Brandon Baker and Cole Buhl went through the latest Granite City Lumberjacks championship run together.
Each bringing their own style to playing defense, they are back together keeping the defending champions on top of the North American 3 Hockey League.
The three defensemen, along with goalie David Mulligan, are the veteran core that has led the Lumberjacks to the league’s best record and its fewest goals allowed. Granite City has the NA3HL’s only perfect record at 7-0-0 and has given up only nine goals.
“I didn’t expect us to only be giving up 1.3 goals per game,” Lumberjacks coach/general manager Brad Willner said. “It’s been a pleasant surprise.
“I’ve been happy with the way the whole team defense has played.”
Success is nothing new for Granite City, a Sauk Rapids, Minnesota-based team. The Lumberjacks and North Iowa Bulls have split the six titles since the NA3HL was formed. Willner won a fourth championship with the team as one of its two Minnesota Junior Hockey League titles.
Olson, Baker and Buhl have helped lead a group of six newcomers, keeping up that tradition of success in the first month of the season.
In Friday’s 10-0 rout of the Wisconsin Whalers for the team’s third straight shutout, Olson had three assists.
“Jodan’s a tall, lanky defenseman,” Willner said. “He’s great on his one-on-ones. You’re not going to get around him often. He’s got great reach.
“He’s also on our power play. He has good hands and good skill so he can be offensive as well.”
Olson missed the playoff run to a Silver Cup championship with a broken collarbone. The 6-foot-4, 175-pounder from Nowthen, Minnesota, contributed eight goals and 16 assists while going plus-24 in 33 games in the 2016-17 season.
“It was a tough summer,” said Olson, who has five assists this season. “But, I’m ready to go now.”
Brandon Baker has been the team’s most productive defenseman. The 5-foot-8, 165-pounder from St. Cloud, Minnesota, has six assists and is a team-best plus-12.
“Brandon is more of your stay-at-home-type defenseman,” Willner said of Baker, who had 10 assists in 39 games last season. “He’s very smart, great on his angles and keeps guys on the outside.
“He’s been on our power play as well. He’s got those great seeing-eye pucks that he shoots in there. They find their way to the net. One of the reasons we liked him in high school was that he never really got shots blocked. He got everything through.”
Buhl has a game-winning goal and an assist while playing in five of seven games. From South St. Paul, he scored in the Silver Cup Final last season.
“He’s more of an offensive-minded defenseman,” Willner said. “He’ll be up on the rush and he’s probably got the best shot of the three.”
The veterans have led the way.
“Having some experienced guys back on the defense helps all the new guys adjust to our system,” Willner said. “There’s a calming presence back there.”
Mulligan brings similar experience to the goaltending combination.
“He was our back-up last year, but proved that he could be a starting guy,” Willner said. “He worked hard over the summer and has come back and kind of taken over the reins in net.”
Mulligan has been brilliant in net, posting a 0.67 goals against average and .966 save percentage through three starts.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.