By 9:25 p.m. on Saturday, Rink 1 at Eden Prairie Community Center was empty with the exception of Ryan and Nick Koering. The two brothers sat on the Eagles bench, looking out on the darkened arena after the Eagles’ loss to sixth-ranked Wayzata.
Ryan, the Eagles’ captain and only senior, had just played in his final game on the rink where he learned to skate at the age of three.
“It’s my 18th birthday today,” he said. “I started skating here 15 years ago.”
Both the Koerings grew up on the ice at EPCC, but with a two-year age difference between them, this is the first season the two brothers have played on the same team.
“It’s hard to believe that he’s leaving just after this year,” Nick Koering said. “Being with him for this long, having the opportunity to play with him this year, it’s so special. I’m blessed to have that opportunity to play with him, so I’m really sad that it’s coming to an end.”
The Koering brothers, along their teammates on the Eden Prairie boys hockey team, had hoped to celebrate Ryan’s birthday with a victory over Wayzata, but it wasn’t meant to be.
The Trojans jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, cruising to a 4-0 win over the Eagles.
“I just think we weren’t ready to go from the get go,” Nick Koering said. “We were kind of slow to start. The effort wasn’t as high. It’s just kind of all those things put together.”
Eden Prairie entered the game winners of three straight, including an impressive 2-0 win over fifth-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s last Saturday.
Moreover, they had outplayed Wayzata in the first meeting between the two teams back in December, taking the Trojans, ranked No. 1 at the time, into overtime before losing a 2-1 decision.
“We got beat in all facets of the game,” Eagles assistant coach Tom Gerdes said. “We weren’t physical. We didn’t play good defensive hockey. We lost on faceoffs. And we gave up more shots  than we have all year.
“I don’t know if we took our win from Benilde and everybody thought, ‘Okay, we’re here’ but we didn’t show up.”
Gerdes stepped in to lead the team behind the bench in Saturday’s game in place of head coach Mike Terwilliger, who was out with an illness.
“He called around 2 p.m. [Saturday] and he said, ‘I can’t believe it, but I’ve got strep and it kills me to not be there,'” Gerdes said. “So he was very disappointed, but he talked to the athletic director [Russ Reetz] and said, ‘I’m not going to risk getting these guys sick at the end of the year, too.’ So he just watched the game and he was texting us between periods.”
Terwilliger may have worn out his thumbs.
Wayzata opened the scoring just 1:50 into the first period, when the Trojans’ Jibber Kuhl buried a rebound from the slot past Eagles goalie Isaiah Paulnock.
It appeared as though the Trojans would take their 1-0 lead into the locker room at the first intermission, but odd-man rushes plagued the Eagles for much of the game. Brooks Gengler finished off a 2-on-1 break to give Wayzata a two-goal advantage with 22.3 seconds remaining in the opening period.
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Ryan Koering said. “Slow start, two quick goals and we got shut out so hard to win a game when you don’t put the puck in the net.”
In the second period, Wayzata emerged from one of many scrums in front of the Eagles’ net with a goal from Cade De St. Hubert at 14:02.
It was a physical game with a number of battles in front of both nets. Eagles forward Connor Crowley left the game after an injury late in the second period.
Wayzata’s open-net goal in the closing minutes of the third period drew the Trojans’ dominating 4-0 win over the Eagles to close.
“When we don’t play physical hockey, our season could be over really quick,” Gerdes said. “And I think they all bought into that and they all know. They’ll watch the game tomorrow on tape and watch each of their own shifts and see where they could have checked instead of doing fly-bys. And they’ll learn or they will come back and we’ll be stronger.”
The Eagles (11-11-1) drop back to .500 on the season and have two games remaining on the regular season schedule, which doesn’t get easier. They’ll play top-ranked Minnetonka on Thursday and will close out the season at Buffalo on Saturday.
“We’ve got two pretty tough matchups left so we have to give it our all,” Nick Koering said. “We don’t want to end the season on any losses. So finish strong and then go into sections tough.”
Ryan Koering now knows the finality of playing his last game on the Eagles’ home ice. It’s a feeling he now shares with his teammates, in hopes of motivating them to extend the season as far as possible.
“The big thing is that you got to play every game like it’s our last,” he said. “They can rally around the cause of just not wanting to lose this family that we’ve built.
“So we’re going to come to work Monday with the start of a new season and understanding that days are running out so we got to take advantage of every day.”
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