Defense is the name of the game for Blue Earth Area's Greg Claeys.
The junior played defensive tackle on the Bucs' Class AAA state champion football squad in the fall and has continued that defensive mindset on the ice for the Fairmont Area Cardinal boys hockey team.
"I liked playing forward when I first started playing hockey. But I tried defense and just liked the control defenders have," said Claeys.
DEFENSIVE SPECIALIST — Fairmont Area defenseman Greg Claeys (21) prepares to pass the puck during regular-season hockey action at Martin County Arena in Fairmont. Claeys also proved a defensive stopper for the Class AAA state champion Blue Earth Area football team in the fall. Photo by Leanna Becker
After playing a big role in the Bucs' championship football game, even the stress of a 5-on-3 penalty kill can been easily managed.
"I think that the state championship game was probably one of the most nerve-racking things I've ever done," said Claeys. "And then there was one game during hockey this season where we took two penalities and the other team had a 5-on-3 for three minutes that we killed off. That was stressful, too."
Claeys understands that both positions he plays are important to the respective teams, but also realizes that hockey presents different challenges and pressures than football.
"In football, if something happens where you miss a tackle or someone makes a mistake, the other team might only get a couple yards. But then you have another down to stop them," said Claeys. "In hockey though, if I mess up it's just me and my linemate. A mistake could lead to a shot on goal or a rebound. That's a scrum I don't want to happen in front of the net."
This season, Claeys had to adjust to a new linemate, with forward Joe Nordquist shifting back to work the blue line along side Claeys.
"At first it can be hard to figure out what the other guy's strategy is," said Claeys. "You have to figure out when they are going to go for the puck so that I know if need to hang back or if I need to challenge the puck."
The transition from forward to defense is not always a smooth one, but Claeys tries to help his teammates if they have questions.
"Some of the guys on our team haven't been playing very long, so when they have questions or look confused, I try to help tell them what they are supposed to do or help them," said Claeys.
While Claeys doesn't like opponents scoring, he has managed to record five goals and distribute four assists from the blue line this season for the Cardinal hockey team.
After a successful season on the gridiron for Blue Earth Area, coming back to wear the red-and-white wasn't a big challenge. He knows that playing for both teams puts him in a unique position on the two schools' intense rivalry.
"The guys give me a hard time from both sides. I came in to hockey practice and the first couple weeks I talked about football a little," said Claeys. "My teammates from football give me some grief, too, but I don't let it bother me too much."
It doesn't seem to matter whether he is on grass or ice, or what jersey that Claeys is wearing, stopping opponents in their tracks is what he enjoys doing.
"In hockey, I really like when a forward is coming down and I get the chance to knock him off the puck. Sometimes, though, you know you have to take a penalty to stop them from getting around you and scoring," said Claeys.
The saying is, defense wins championships, and Claeys already has claimed one on the defensive side and will be looking for more next year for both the Bucs and Cardinals.