As the second period drew to a close at Dakotah! Ice Center on Tuesday afternoon, Eden Prairie’s Andy Earl took possession of the puck in the offensive zone.
He had already scored two goals earlier in the period to give the Eagles a commanding 6-2 lead over Lakeville North in the opening round of the Tradition Holiday Invitational.
Earl raced by a Panther defender and into the slot. He got the shot off, but Lakeville North goaltender Van Eigner made the save.
It appeared Earl may have put a little something extra on his shot. Another goal meant a hat trick for the junior forward.
“Yeah, I was trying to finish it off,” Earl said with a smile, having picked up his third and fourth goals of the season. “But we won so that’s the biggest thing.”
The Eagles did indeed come away with the victory. A 7-5 win over the Panthers in their first game of the three-day, eight-team, boys hockey tournament, which also features varsity and JV teams from Chaska, Edina, Moorhead, Prior Lake, Rogers and St. Thomas Academy.
“It felt good,” Eagles head coach Mike Terwilliger said about being back to competition after the holiday break.
“We were hoping to pick up where we left off after Wayzata,” he continued, referring to the Eagles performance against the No. 1 team in the state last Thursday. Eden Prairie had outplayed the Trojans for much of the game, taking them into overtime before losing a 2-1 decision.
“I think we were more inconsistent than we wanted to be today,” Terwilliger said. “So we had stretches where we played really, really well. And then we had stretches where we didn’t, but we got the win.”
The game also presented a pair of “firsts” for Eden Prairie.
Junior defenseman Tommy Moen scored his first varsity goal with a rocket shot from the point at 8:52 of the second period.
Sophomore forward Chase Klute also picked up his first goal as a varsity player. His open-netter with two seconds left in regulation sealed the win for the Eagles.
A few strange bounces of the puck made the game interesting in the third period. Lakeville North scored back-to-back goals to draw within one. But Klute’s goal put the game out of reach.
“We’re up three-one after one so we kind of thought ‘here we go,’” Terwilliger said. “It just felt like every time we took a couple steps forward, we took one back. But give Lakeville credit. They kept working. They got better as the game went on too.”
At the end of the first period, it appeared the Eagles would skate away with an easier win.
Junior forward Connor Crowley opened the scoring just 1:28 into the game with his third goal of the season. The one-timer from the slot came with assists to Earl and Billie Jacobson-Couch.
Teddy Townsend put the Eagles up 2-0 just a few minutes later. The junior forward and captain took a pass from Klute, cruised past a Panther defender and blasted a shot from the top of the circle for his third goal on the season.
“It was Kluter that flicked it past the D,” Townsend said. “And it was just kind of a foot race. So I just took off and hoped for the best.”
When Townsend takes off, it’s usually for the best. His exceptional speed and control create a less-than-desirable experience for opponents, leading to Townsend being asked if he typically wins most of those foot races.
“I try to. I do my best,” Townsend said. “But you know, there’s a lot of fast guys out there. So I try my best.”
Townsend was fast in getting the puck to fellow captain and senior defenseman Ryan Koering for the Eagles third goal of the game, coming at the end of the first period.
“I got a pass (from Klute),” Townsend recalled. “I just saw Ryan come down and I was kind of below the net there. He was calling for it, so that’s a good play by him.”
Koering put the puck past Panther starting goalie Carter Mayfield for a 3-1 lead just as the buzzer sounded to end the period. After the game, Townsend – who notched his 11th assist of the season on the play and is the Eagles’ leading point-getter – seemed certain the puck made it in before the period came to a close.
“Oh, for sure,” he said. “It was great awareness by Ryan. He kind of read the period coming down to an end. So that was a great play by him.”
The Eagles scored three more goals in the second period with Earl’s pair of scores as well as Moen’s rocket from the point.
Lakeville North’s two goals in the third period made it a 6-5 game with 3:12 remaining.
“I think a lot of kids are frustrated with their defensive performance,” Earl said. “We want to be more aggressive on defense to get the puck over the blue line (in the defensive zone).
“Getting that puck over the blue line is crucial on defense. Make (the opponent) regroup and get guys off and get fresh legs out. That leads to offense,” he said.
Earl believes the Eagles will have to employ that same tactic on Wednesday against fourth-ranked Rogers, their next opponent in the tournament.
“We have to come to the rink more focused on defense first and then the offense will come,” he said. “Defense leads to good offense.”
After giving Wayzata all they could handle last Thursday, the Eagles (4-5) hope to bring a similar performance to their matchup with Rogers (6-1-1). The Royals skated to a 3-3 tie with Chaska in their first tournament game on Tuesday.
“They’re very good. They’re top,” Terwilliger said. “They’ve only lost to Tonka. They’re one of the top five or 10 teams in the state.”
Wednesday’s puck drop in the Eagles’ clash with Rogers is 2:30 p.m. at Dakotah! Ice Center in Prior Lake.
“It’ll be a big challenge,” Terwilliger said. “So we’re looking forward to it.”
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