A large banner, draped across the entrance to Rink 1 at Eden Prairie Community Center Thursday night, read: “We Love Our Seniors!”
Underneath the banner was a large photograph of the senior on the Eden Prairie boys hockey team. And yes, “senior” is singular, not plural.
Ryan Koering is the lone senior on the Eagles. Before Thursday night’s game with St. Michael-Albertville, parents, coaches and players celebrated senior night for Eden Prairie’s distinguished captain.
“It’s special,” Koering said after the game. “It was awesome to have my parents out there and all the guys there supporting me and a couple of my buddies in the stands. So it was fun.”
Eden Prairie graduated 13 seniors from last season’s roster, leaving Koering to carry the mantle of leadership by himself in the current campaign.
“Being the only one, it was a little weird,” he said. “But it was short and sweet, so I think that helped keep the guys focused.”
That observation is characteristic of Koering’s approach. Before all else, he puts his teammates, and the game, first.
“He’s the definition of Eden Prairie hockey,” fellow captain Teddy Townsend said. “You think of Eden Prairie, you think of guys like Ryan. He’s just such a good leader. Such a good guy on and off the ice.”
Eagles head coach Mike Terwilliger believes Koering’s leadership has permeated the entire program and set the tone for a cohesive team.
“He means a ton to this team,” he said. “He’s been a really good leader because he’s been really inclusive of all the freshmen, sophomores and juniors, whether they’re a varsity or JV.”
When Thursday’s contest began, it was clear Koering’s focus was on the game.
Spotting St. Michael-Albertville a first-period goal, the Eagles roared back behind Koering, whose shot from the point sailed past Knights goalie Owen Westerman to tie the game at one with 1:43 remaining in the first period.
“It was off the draw. I walked and did a little head fake and the guy dropped down and then shot top corner,” Koering said.
Eden Prairie demonstrated patience and poise after a sluggish start. When STMA jumped on the board first, the Eagles didn’t force plays. Instead, they maintained a disciplined effort to find their game.
“We didn’t love our first 10 minutes of the game,” Terwilliger said. “We felt like we were kind of sleepwalking and then we thought we got after it a little bit better at the end of the first period. But we really liked our second. Guys were patient and stuck with it.”
The Eagles went back to their captain again in the second period when Koering launched a blast from the point on an Eden Prairie power play.
“Teddy and I were trying to get something going,” Koering said. “About a minute and a half in, we kind of switched. I saw a little bit open up, passed it back a couple of times and then saw a lane and one-timed it and scored.”
Koering’s second goal of the night came with an assist to Townsend, and the Eagles took a 2-1 lead with 5:56 remaining in the second period.
It appeared the score would remain that way at the second intermission. But junior forward Cole Saterdalen broke loose with the puck while the Eagles were killing a penalty. His first shot off a breakaway was stopped by Westerman, but Saterdalen put away his own rebound with just one-tenth of a second remaining on the clock.
“I heard Gerdy (assistant coach Tom Gerdes) yell, ‘Shoot,’” Saterdalen recalled. “So I looked up, and I had three seconds. And I just shot it and followed up the rebound, and it went in. So, I got lucky, I guess.”
Luck may have had something to do with the timing, but Saterdalen’s heads-up play while the Eagles were short-handed gave Eden Prairie a commanding 3-1 lead at the end of two periods.
“That was a huge goal by Saterdalen,” Terwilliger said. “Less than a second left, so that was huge momentum right there and plus it was short-handed. And then we thought we played pretty well in the third, too.”
If the first two periods were highlighted by Koering’s two goals and last-second heroics by Saterdalen, the third period belonged to Townsend, who scored a pair of goals to put the game away for Eden Prairie.
Townsend’s first came on a blast from the left circle, followed by the dagger to put EP up 5-1, just seconds after the Eagles had killed off a penalty.
“I can’t remember if Andy Earl shot it or not,” Townsend said. “I think he might have lost the puck and then I got pretty lucky. It slid over to me and then I faked the shot and went far-side.”
STMA picked up a late goal to draw within three. But this night belonged to the Eagles, who delivered another solid defensive performance, holding the Knights to just five shots in both the second and third periods. Meanwhile, goalie Isaiah Paulnock registered 17 saves.
“It feels good, but the real season starts in a couple of weeks,” Koering said. “So we’re looking forward to sections, and that’s when it really matters.”
The 5-2 victory is the Eagles’ third in a row, following wins over Stillwater and No. 5 ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s last week.
“We’re trending up and that’s all you can ask for at this time of the season,” Saterdalen said. “Big things are ahead.”
Thursday’s success not only builds on the recent momentum, but the Eagles (11-10-1) are above .500 for the first time this season.
“We’re just happy we’re playing better than we were a month ago, but it was nice to get above .500 finally,” Terwilliger said.
Perhaps as important as the win was the Eagles’ ability to fight through a rocky first period and maintain their composure to find a way to victory.
“That’s the thing that we’ve been really trying to work on, our starts lately,” Townsend said. “It is a good sign that even after not the best start, we can bounce back in the second and third and get the win.”
Rematch with Wayzata
Saturday has been circled on the Eagles’ calendar since Dec. 21, the night of a pre-Christmas blizzard and a thrilling overtime battle between Eden Prairie and then top-ranked Wayzata.
Eden Prairie eventually lost the game 2-1, but outplayed the Trojans for much of the night, including the overtime period.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Koering said. “Obviously, they knocked us out in overtime, a game we thought that we should have won. So we’re just trying to stay hot. We’re on a bit of a winning streak right now. So we’re just gonna try to stick to our game and go get a ‘dub’ on Saturday.”
The Eagles and the Trojans, currently ranked sixth in the state, face off at 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Eden Prairie Community Center.
“Like the last game, we know we can play with them.” Townsend said. “They’re a good team, but we’re looking forward to it, home ice, so it should be a fun game. We’re excited.”
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