A full house watched with great interest on Saturday as the puck dropped for the third period of the Section 2AA semifinals at Braemar Arena in Edina.
Fifth-seeded Eden Prairie trailed top-seed Chanhassen 1-0 in what was already a thrilling hockey game. But the third period would deliver a level of excitement which hockey enthusiasts don’t often see.
Eden Prairie swarmed in and around the Chanhassen defense to begin the third, launching nine shots in the first four minutes on Storm goaltender Kam Hendrickson, and not stopping until they found a way to tie the game.
“That’s the leadership of Ryan and Teddy,” Eagles head coach Mike Terwilliger said, giving credit to captains Ryan Koering and Teddy Townsend for keeping their team focused during the second intermission.
“We just just told them to be patient, stick with it,” Terwilliger added. “We don’t want this to be our last period of the year, so let’s tilt the ice our way.”
Koering, the team’s only senior and heart of the defensive core, and Townsend, the engine that powers the Eagles’ offensive attack, found a receptive audience in the Eagles’ locker room before the third period began.
“Nobody lost faith in the locker room,” Koering said. “We knew we had to score one anyway. So the boys stayed together. We’re a family so it’s easy to keep these boys together and nobody lost hope.”
Both teams had traded shots through the first two periods. The Eagles, delivering on their season-long mantra of “grit over skill,” brought their physical style of play to the Braemar ice, determined to take out Chanhassen’s potent finesse game, which had garnered 23 wins for the Storm over the course of the season.
Eden Prairie had used the same physicality to defeat Holy Family the night before in a game delayed by 24 hours due to the winter storm. The Eagles were playing their semifinal game on 19 hours of rest. Meanwhile, Chanhassen, whose quarterfinal game was Tuesday against Bloomington Jefferson, had four days between starts.
But Terwilliger chose to turn the Eagles’ short turnaround into a positive for his team.
“We felt like the silver lining to that was to say, ‘Hey, we played well last night.’ We had some good momentum,” he said. “So sometimes it’s really easy to play well the next day after you have a good outing.”
The Storm broke a scoreless deadlock on a power-play goal with 2:23 remaining in the second period. Chanhassen’s Jack Christ centered a pass from the corner to Caden Lee, who knocked a one-timer at close range past Eagles goaltender Isaiah Paulnock.
“We told them that one goal is not going to win this game,” Eagles assistant coach Tom Gerdes said. “If we keep playing physical, the game is going to change and the kids responded.”
As Chanhassen played the third period cautiously, the Eagles were clearly the aggressor.
Junior forward Andy Earl was relentless in front of the Storm net. An early third-period scoring chance concluded with three Chanhassen players having to wrestle Earl away from the goalmouth.
The Eagles line of Dawson Miller, Chase Klute and Billie Jacobson-Couch created a massive scrum in front of Hendrickson that continued for 35 seconds before the puck was cleared.
And with 11:09 to play in the third, sophomore John Kleis found himself all alone with the puck, following a faceoff in the Storm zone, only to be stopped by Hendrickson.
Meanwhile, Paulnock played brilliantly in goal for Eden Prairie, stopping 30 shots from Chanhassen’s talented lineup of skill players.
“The arena was going crazy,” Townsend said. “There were a lot of people there. That was our game plan in the third, to try to get out there and get good shots.”
Townsend never stopped, continually finding ways to push the puck into the Chanhassen zone, generating wave after wave of chances for the Eagles.
“We have the privilege of watching him every day and coaching him,” Terwilliger said. “He’s like that every day in practice so we’re not surprised. He’s got a reservoir of energy and intensity that’s pretty incredible. The harder the game gets and the more intense it gets, the more he rises to the occasion.”
The Eagles line of Townsend, Earl and Kleis enveloped the Chanhassen net throughout the third period, with Townsend creating opportunities when they were least expected.
“He’s such a hunter,” Gerdes said. “He hunts pucks and he’s so fun to watch and to coach because the other team thinks they got him and he just keeps going and picks them and goes the other way again.”
With 6:17 remaining in the third period, the Eagles caught a break with a Chanhassen tripping penalty. As the power play began, Townsend took the faceoff in the offensive zone to the right of the Storm net.
He won the draw and got the puck back to Koering at the right point, who made the short pass to junior Dylan Vornwald at the left point.
Vornwald walked the puck in and launched a shot past Hendrickson to tie the game at one.
The Eagles’ power play had lasted just six seconds before they capitalized with Vornwald’s game-tying goal.
As the third period drew to a close, Townsend, Earl and Kleis had another quality chance with 39 seconds left. Meanwhile, sophomore Alex Hall took one final shot from point-blank range in front of the Storm net as time expired.
The 1-1 contest moved to an eight-minute overtime.
After 51 minutes of regulation play, the Eagles never appeared fatigued. Despite having played the night before, Eden Prairie remained the aggressor throughout the third period and into overtime.
“As we told them, we’re a super-young team,” Gerdes said. “A lot of our kids played bantams last year, where they’re used to playing three games a day in tournaments. So I said, ‘Hey, we can’t think about that.’”
But the overtime period wouldn’t last long.
At the 1:39 mark, Chanhassen centered a pass in front of the Eagles’ net, which appeared to deflect off an Eden Prairie defender. Paulnock had no time to react to the puck, which flew by him in an instant.
For a game racing at a breathless pace, played with electrifying speed from end to end, the abrupt conclusion was jarring.
And for the Eagles, the season’s unwelcome finish was suddenly at hand.
“We felt like the guys really dug down and had a great effort in the third,” Terwilliger said. “That’s what we were obviously hoping for, and they did it, so we’re proud of them for that.
“But it just stinks coming out on the short end of that.”
The game marked the end of an exceptional high school career for Koering. The Eagles’ captain will move on to play at Colorado College next season.
“It’s always hard to see any senior peel off their stuff for the last time,” Terwilliger said. “I really feel for him, but he did a tremendous job this year.
“Down the stretch this last month and a half, we were playing our best hockey and he was really a catalyst to that and did a great job leading and he’s got nothing to hang his head about. He left it all on the ice.”
For Koering, the end has arrived far too soon. The Mr. Hockey finalist has spoken in recent weeks about rallying “around the cause, not wanting to lose this family that we’ve built.”
“I love these guys,” Koering said after the game. “This is a family and I’m gonna miss coming to the rink, spending time with them. But you know, these guys are incredible players, teammates. And the sky’s the limit for them.”
While Koering’s departure leaves an enormous hole in the Eagles’ lineup, the fact that he’s the only departing senior means next season holds tremendous promise for Eden Prairie.
“We still have a long, long time until the start of next season, but it’s in the back of our heads for sure,” Townsend said. “So we’re looking forward to it.”
With 14 seniors on the roster next season, five juniors and Mason Moe coming back as a sophomore, the future looks bright in Eden Prairie.
“Those young guys, they got a taste of it and how hard it is,” Terwilliger said, speaking reluctantly about next year so soon after a heartbreaking loss. “But we felt like the last month, the last five or six weeks, we were starting to play the way we wanted to.
“The guys were really working hard. So if we can just start like that, we should be able to hit the ground running next year.”
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