Versatility the name of the game for Century/John Marshall senior Justin Sutton

Mar. 7—ROCHESTER — Josh Klingfus made a suggestion a decade or so ago to some of the youth hockey players he coached.

If you're a natural defenseman, learn to play forward, too.

If you want to be a great forward, learn what it takes to also be a great defenseman.

Justin Sutton is one of those players who took that message to heart.

Klingfus has coached Sutton — one of three senior defensemen on the Century/John Marshall hockey team that takes a 22-4-2 record into the Class 2A state tournament this week — almost since he began playing hockey, coming up through the Rochester Youth Hockey Association with Klingfus' son Kroix, who graduated from Century a year ago.

"He's a very coachable kid, you can play him anywhere," Klingfus said, "but the funny thing is, I remember telling him when he was young that he had to learn to play forward and defense. I told him, 'you never know, when you get to high school, where I'll need to play you.'

"And now, it comes to, we can play him at both places. We didn't know back then just how valuable that was, but it's turned out to be a very valuable thing."

Has it ever.

Sutton has moved from defense to forward, and from forward to defense, on more than one occasion this season. He's even shuffled between positions during games, including a 5-3 win against rival Mayo during a Section 1, Class 2A quarterfinal playoff game on Feb. 22.

The movement around the lineup hasn't affected Sutton's game. The senior standout has actually thrived this season, with a career-high points total. He enters the state tournament with 6 goals, 18 assists and 24 total points. He's not afraid of physical play, either; Sutton is second on the team in penalty minutes, with 39.

"He's played more forward than 'D,' but he's kind of played both all the way through" his hockey career, Klingfus said of Sutton. "He's a smart kid on and off the ice, so I had no doubts that he could do it.

"He has a high Hockey IQ, a very good passer and can move the puck quickly. There aren't many guys who will out-work him, either."

Sutton, a third-year varsity regular, had a goal and an assist in that victory.

A week later, he had a key assist in the Panthers' 4-1 win against Lakeville South in the Section 1-2A championship game, a win that sends Century/JM to the state tournament for the first time since 2009 (JM was last at state in 1996).

"It was just total shock," Sutton said of the final minutes of the section title game, as it started to sink in that Century/JM is headed to state. "I looked up at the clock right before the game was about to end and realized that we were going to win and I still couldn't believe it. The horn went off, still couldn't believe. Then, getting the medal was just so cool and being able to celebrate with all the fans."

Sutton has been the backbone of the Panthers' defensive corps, along with fellow seniors Brody Josselyn and Bo Bondy.

They all play different roles — Josselyn has an excellent 200-foot game and is fourth on the team in scoring (10-25 — 35), while Bondy is physical shot-blocker and can get pucks to the net — but they're all versatile enough to take on any role a situation calls for.

"Bo isn't going to go out there every night and score a goal like he did (in the section final, Bondy's second goal of the season), but he just does his job, he isn't afraid to eat shots," Josselyn said. "(Sutton) makes the right play, always. He can join the rush, too; he's been solid at forward when we've needed him there. He's not afraid to jump in the play and score goals, too."

Sutton and the Panthers will step on the ice at the Xcel Energy Center — the same sheet of ice where some of the best players in the world play the game they love — at 11 a.m. today, ready to do their best against No. 2-seeded and No. 5-ranked Chanhassen (23-5-0).

An added bonus for Sutton: His younger brother Jamison, is a sophomore defenseman for the Panthers this season. It's the first time they've ever played on the same team. And they'll get to end their one year together in the best way imaginable — a way that was actually unimaginable to them not long ago.

"I never thought we would even be on the same team," Justin Sutton said. "This is a really cool (opportunity) to have."

—Rochester native

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