The season has ended for the Eden Prairie girls hockey team. But it didn’t go quietly.
Before it found its place in the webpages of prep hockey sites, the Eagles raced and chased, bumped and battled, grinding their way through an extended, hard-fought contest – which included two overtime periods to settle a 1-1 deadlock – in the section 2AA quarterfinal game at Dakotah Ice Center.
After 71 minutes of hockey, the Eagles bowed out to Prior Lake at 12:03 into the second overtime, when a shot from Lakers forward Ava Guillemette found its way past Eagles junior goaltender Tegan Swanson.
“It was just a fantastic game,” Eagles head coach Steve Persian said. “I really wish Prior Lake nothing but the best of luck. It was just a really well-fought hockey game.”
The final outcome, with its dramatic finish, was quickly filed under the “you hate to see one team have to lose” category.
It was that close.
Swanson played brilliantly in the net for Eden Prairie, stopping 39 shots in the game, with 10 of those saves coming in the two overtime periods.
Prior Lake goaltender Olivia Hansen was equally masterful, stopping 38 shots on the night, with 11 coming in the two extra periods.
“Up and down the ice. Both goaltenders played just awesome,” Persian said. “Both teams played really well, really sound in the defensive end. It was hard to get shots through. Once you got them through, it was hard to stay on the puck because people were getting cleared out.
“So it’s a tough loss. But it doesn’t take away from the pride I feel for the girls. They played their hearts out.”
The Eagles jumped on the board early at 7:45 of the first period. Senior captain Annabel Mehta’s pass from behind the Prior Lake net deflected off a Laker defender and slid into the net.
Senior captain Jordan Hirsch stood watch from the crease area, blocking any Laker defenders from access to the puck as it slowly moved across the goal line.
Eden Prairie held onto the slim 1-0 lead through two periods and much of the third. Swanson was backed by exceptional play from the defensive core, led by sophomore Ella Konrad, along with Lucy Guild, Gianna Kowalkoski, Natalie McNeil, Ella Pinnow and Genevieve Streed.
But with 6:23 remaining in regulation, Prior Lake’s Guillemette put away a rebound after Swanson was down on the ice to make the initial save, tying the game at one.
“She’s a really good player,” Persian said of Guillemette, whose line with Brooke Holmes and Lula Swanson was on the Eagles’ radar all evening.
“We knew [Guillemette] was gonna be good,” Persian said. “We knew 23, 24 and eight, we’re just a really, really effective line. So we were trying to match up with them as best we could.”
The first overtime period, despite being only eight minutes in duration, wasn’t lacking for drama.
Swanson made two game-saving stops just two minutes into the period.
Kowalkoski made a rush up the ice, creating a chance with just three minutes remaining in the first OT.
And with 46.6 seconds left in the sudden-death period, the Eagles line of senior captains, Mehta, Hirsch and Paige Holt, took a faceoff in the defensive zone. Hirsch made her way up ice with the puck to get a shot off.
After a flurry in front of the net, the puck bounced out to Pinnow, the Eagles’ eighth grade sensation at the point, whose shot narrowly missed the net as Prior Lake’s Hansen was laid out on the ice.
Seconds later, the horn sounded, taking the game into a second overtime.
“Anybody watching this game saw the Eden Prairie Eagles girls’ team play for three periods and overtime and almost through another full period of hockey,” Persian said. “To play with that level of passion, it shows the character of the team at the senior level all the way down to Ella Pinnow, who’s an eighth grader.
“And so you just saw this passion to continue the season, and it just wasn’t meant to be tonight.”
The second overtime period was an extension of the first, with both teams battling fatigue, coupled with a relentless effort to find the elusive game-winning goal.
The Lakers were called for a tripping penalty with 6:49 remaining in the 17-minute second overtime period. With just nine seconds remaining in the Eagles’ power play, Prior Lake’s Guillemette gained control of the puck and launched a shot from Swanson’s left side.
The puck went in. And in an instant, the game, as well as the season for the Eagles, was over.
“Essentially it’s a 1-1 game for a long, long, long, long time and it was a fabulous shot by number eight,” Persian said. “I think that Tegan didn’t pick it up until after it got past Konrad and credit goes to a great hockey play to end the game.”
Persian completes his first season as the Eden Prairie head coach after leading Breck to back-to-back state titles. He has seen more than his share of victory and defeat, and knew the message he wanted to share with his team following a well-fought, but heartbreaking finish to their season.
“I think the conversation is about their effort, and the fact that sometimes you come out on the short end of a game like this, and it doesn’t take away from the work that you put in for those 70 minutes or so.”
The Eagles finished their regular season with a mark of 10-15, winning five of their last eight games. Last Friday night, they honored six seniors playing in their final home game.
The Eagles have much to look forward to in the coming season. The current roster, with six juniors, six sophomores, three freshmen and an eighth grader set to return next season, signals an exciting Eagles team to watch in the coming year.
“The takeaway here is hope,” Persian said of Friday’s outcome. “It’s a launching pad for kids that continue their hockey career to realize that the game is never over.
“And despite the fact that you lose some close ones like this, the lesson learned is: how do I bring this forward, not only playing hockey, but just in life in general.”
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