The clock was nearing the eight-minute mark of the first period before a packed house at Pagel Activity Center in Minnetonka on Thursday night.
With the score tied at one and Eden Prairie on the power play, defensemen Dylan Vornwald and Tate Bloch worked to get the puck to forward Mason Moe in the Eagles’ defensive zone.
It was then that Moe recognized an opportunity.
“I just picked it up from one of our defensemen,” he recalled. “I just saw open ice so I just took it.”
The freshman raced up the ice, weaving around Minnetonka defenders to make his way to the Skippers’ net. Moe’s first shot was stopped by goalie Kaiser Nelson, but he picked up his own rebound and buried the puck for the go-ahead goal with 7:54 remaining in the period.
“He’s a tremendous kid,” Eagles head coach Mike Terwilliger said of Moe. “He works really hard, but he really wants to learn and so he’s very coachable. He’s been getting better all year.”
Moe’s goal marked a watershed moment for Eden Prairie. For the first time this season, the Eagles held a lead over top-ranked Minnetonka.
In their first meeting on Jan. 21, the Eagles had roared back to tie the Skippers with two goals in the third period – one from senior captain Ryan Koering and the other from Moe – only to give up the game-winner to Tonka with 38 seconds remaining in regulation.
The second chapter in the series resumed where the first had left off. But this time around, the Eagles were intent on making it as difficult as possible for Tonka’s skilled roster to move about the ice, dispensing a physical barrage at every opportunity.
“Coach told us that they haven’t played any team that’s gotten physical against them. Everyone’s tried to out-skill them.” Bloch said. “They’ve got a lot of skill. So the only way to do it is to play physical and that’s what we did.”
With the game scoreless, the Eagles struck first. Skating on the power play, sophomore John Kleis put away a rebound off a shot from Cole Saterdalen at 6:40 of the first period.
“It was just a puck battle in the corner and then kicked out to Sats,” Kleis said. “He just hit it past me at the slot and then I just tapped it in.”
Minnetonka earned their No. 1 ranking by striking fast when it’s needed. They wasted no time to even the score just a minute later with Javon Moore’s blast from the right circle.
Moe’s end-to-end scoring play gave the Eagles a 2-1 advantage, which remained until the end of the first period. The Eagles’ performance was hallmarked by a physical presence up and down the ice.
“They’re about the most skilled team in the state,” Terwilliger said. “You need to check them and stay with your guy and stay on the defensive side of the puck and do little things like that, otherwise they can end up in your net in a hurry.”
Minnetonka quickly found their way to the Eagles’ net in the second period, despite Eden Prairie’s physical approach. The Skippers’ Jack Sand scored at 14:26, followed by Moore’s second goal just 16 seconds later.
In the blink of an eye, Minnetonka had regained the lead, up 3-2.
The Eagles were undaunted, maintaining their pounding of Tonka skaters in corners and along the boards. It paid off with just 41 seconds remaining in the second period when No. 41, Cole Saterdalen, unleashed a rocket from the left circle.
“In the beginning of the season, I think we were not the same team,” Bloch said. “We wouldn’t have scored that goal to tie it up going into the third. So that was huge. I think we’re just getting better and better.”
The score remained tied at the second intermission.
To start the third, Minnetonka worked quickly once again with Hagen Burrows’ goal just one minute into the period.
Eden Prairie created chances throughout the final period but couldn’t answer with another score. Minnetonka held for a 4-3 victory and another one-goal win over the Eagles.
“It’s a tough loss,” Kleis said. “But you know, our heads are high. We’ve got a big game Saturday and we’re staying positive going to sections when it matters.”
The Eagles are 6-4 in their last 10 games, dropping their last two, with defeats to Tonka (22-2) on Thursday and sixth-ranked Wayzata (16-6-2) last Saturday.
Eden Prairie (11-12-1) will travel to Buffalo to take on the Bison (13-9-2) to finish out the regular season on Saturday.
“It’s great to end the season with tough games. So that’s what we want,” Terwilliger said. ”It’s going to prepare us for next week. We’re gonna have to be ready. It will take another good effort.”
Puck drop for the Eagles’ season finale with Buffalo is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at the Buffalo Ice Arena.
The Eagles will find out who they’ll play in round one of the section playoffs before the end of the weekend. The first round of the Section 2AA postseason begins on Thursday.
Crowley out for season
Junior forward Connor Crowley suffered a shoulder injury in Eden Prairie’s 4-0 loss to Wayzata last Saturday. Crowley will undergo surgery and is out for the remainder of the season.
“We just found that out this week,” Terwilliger said. “The guys are feeling for him. So it’s a bummer but the good news is he’ll be healthy for his senior year, but he’s been kind of battling it off and on all year.”
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