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Friends today, Madison Capitols' dynamic defensive duo will be Border Battle rivals next season

Ben Dexheimer and Luke Mittelstadt have found chemistry and offense while paired on the blue line for the USHL's Madison Capitols. Their friendship will become a friendly rivalry next season when Dexheimer is a Badger and Mittelstadt is a Gopher.

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Defensive partners Ben Dexheimer (left) and Luke Mittelstadt (right) led the USHL's Madison Capitols to the 2022 Clark Cup Final with Dexheimer committed to Wisconsin and Mittelstadt committed to Minnesota.
Joe Rosenau / Madison Capitols

MADISON, Wis. – Successful defensive pairs generally thrive when one is the designated puck-rusher and one is the designated stay-at-home blueliner.

And then there is the defensive duo of Ben Dexheimer and Luke Mittelstadt, which has run the show for the USHL’s Madison Captiols all season, and have helped their team to within two wins of the league’s title.

Ask Ben or Luke which role they play on the ice, and which one of them is the more defensive-minded, and you get complete agreement — both.

Follow along all postseason for coverage of the only Tier I junior league in the United States with the USHL playoff bracket, game updates and more.

“We kind of take turns. One guy will go up and the other will hang back,” said Dexheimer, 19, who played youth hockey in Edina and at Blake as a prep. “There have been a lot of times this year when both of us have led the rush and we’ve had forwards take our spot.”

Mittelstadt, who leads the Capitols offensively with 19 goals and 36 assists in 60 games, thinks that charging hard to the net comes naturally for both of them.

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“We both like to rush the puck. We’ve been caught with five guys below the circles before,” said Mittelstadt, 19 who played youth and high school hockey in Eden Prairie. “But I think I’m more of the stay-at-home guy. Watching him rush the puck is pleasant. He’s so good at it.”

Foes in youth hockey, Dexheimer and Mittelstadt first skated together last summer, then were paired by the Capitols on the blue line at the start of this season. Due to COVID restrictions in Dane County, the Madison team had taken last season off and nobody knew what to expect from the 2021-22 Capitols. What they got were wins, and a run to the Clark Cup Final, where they are tied with Sioux City at one game each as this best-of-five series heads back to Wisconsin’s capital city for Game 3.

Both players are quick to credit the Madison coaching staff for the dramatic turnaround.

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Madison Capitols defenseman Ben Dexheimer
Nicholas T LoVerde / Madison Capitols

“It’s been an unreal season. This is my first year in the USHL and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience,” said Dexheimer, who has eight goals and 39 assists in 60 games. “Madison is obviously a great town, my billets have been unreal and the group of guys we have has been awesome, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Originally committed to Miami (Ohio), Dexheimer found Madison to be such an enjoyable place to spend the winter that he had a change of college plans at one point.

“I was really young when I committed there and kind of grew up and grew apart from Miami,” he admitted. “I came here to Madison and in November I decided to re-open my recruitment process. Wisconsin was one of the schools that reached out. I went there and instantly fell in love with the facilities and especially the coaches. I’m really excited.”

For Mittelstadt, there was no need for a change in plans. Long before his older brother Casey was skating for the Gophers, Luke was putting on maroon and gold every day, and will join the Minnesota blue line crew next season.

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Madison Capitols defenseman Luke Mittelstadt
Nicholas T LoVerde / Madison Capitols

“I had a customized Kyle Rau Gophers jersey, and I think I wore it to school five days a week,” Mittelstadt joked. “I loved the Gophers and that’s just where I want to be.”

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Luke’s brothers Casey – the 2017 Mr. Hockey winner from Eden Prairie who played 40 games for the Buffalo Sabres last season – and John, who played last season for the USHL's Green Bay Gamblers and is also committed to the Gophers, are forwards. Luke ended up on the blue line through an odd twist of hockey fate.

“In squirts I was a winger and my brother was a center. My only plan was to get him the puck and watch him go score,” Luke recalled. “So I learned passing from Casey, then in fifth grade we didn’t have any defensemen so they threw me back there and I loved it and it stuck.”

Both Capitols defenders grew up living the rink rat life and Dexheimer said like most Edina kids, he learned to love being hated pretty much anywhere he played youth hockey.

“Everyone hates Edina, and historically that’s because we were pretty good,” he said. “It was awesome playing there.”

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His Blake coach as a junior was Greg May, who led Augsburg to the Division III Frozen Four last season. When May left for a college job, Miracle on Ice hero Rob McLanahan took over the Bears’ program and helped Dexheimer get to play with Austin in the NAHL last season and move up to the Capitols this year.

Off the ice, both like to keep things light and revel in the typical Minnesota kid things like golfing and going to the lakes. On the ice, they thrive together, focused on winning two more games and hoisting a trophy for their Madison team. But both men admit that next season, when they get to play on both sides of one of college hockey’s great rivalries, will be a blast. Mittelstadt joins a loaded Gophers defensive corps and said he looks forward to learning from the likes of Brock Faber, Mike Koster, Jackson LaCombe, etc. After a season in southern Wisconsin, Dexheimer will be the stay-at-home guy, moving from the Capitols’ rink in Middleton to the Kohl Center.

“I think it will be a lot of fun in the Big Ten,” he said. “The Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry is historic and I can’t wait until the first time I get to come there and play against him and the Gophers.”

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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