The Tradition Holiday Invitational tournament was aptly named for the Eden Prairie Eagles boys hockey team, who let their traditional victory chant be heard loud and clear as their bus pulled away from the Dakotah! Ice Center in Prior Lake over the long holiday break.
Sounds of “Ooh! Rah! Rah!” emanated from the large orange vehicle, which returned the team to Eden Prairie after the final day of the tournament.
“That’s our Eagles win song,” sophomore forward Mason Moe said. “When we win all our games, we yell, ‘ooh, rah, rah’ seven times and pull all the windows down. It‘s just kind of our win song. It’s fun.”
The Eagles certainly have had reason to cheer in recent weeks.
Eden Prairie won all three games in the Tradition tournament and outscored their opponents 22-3 in the process.
The Eagles defeated Lakeville North 5-0 to open the tournament, followed that with a 9-2 victory over Moorhead on Thursday and finished off the three-game run by trouncing Chaska 8-1.
With such a thunderous offensive output, it would seem Eden Prairie is placing its focus on scoring. Not so, according to Eagles head coach Mike Terwilliger who, in his second season at Eden Prairie, says it all starts in the defensive zone.
“There’s certain things we want them to do and, for lack of a better term, just playing the right way,” Terwilliger said. “And usually take care of your defensive end first. So that will translate to more offensive chances anyway.”
The Eagles are now 7-3-1 on the season.
In losses to Hill-Murray in the season opener and later to Grand Rapids in the Edina Holiday Classic, they fell 4-3 in both contests. But with a focus on defense, the team has bounced back, going 4-0-1 in their last five games.
“They’re figuring it out a little bit,” Eagles assistant coach Tom Gerdes said. “On the defensive side, we’ve given up too many goals in some of the games we’ve played, but the Wayzata game was really sort of a turning point for us.”
The Eagles skated to a 2-2 tie against the No. 2 ranked Trojans on Dec. 22, giving the team a boost of confidence ahead of the holiday tournament.
“We didn’t give them a lot of scoring chances. The tie was huge for us,” Gerdes said.
The Eagles are also getting solid play in net from senior goaltender Isaiah Paulnock, returning as the No. 1 goalie this season and posting a 4-1-1 record with a stingy goals against average of 1.30.
Paulnock was in net for the tie against high-powered Wayzata, which served as an early litmus test for the Eagles; an indicator that they can skate the upper-tier programs in the state.
“We’re right there with a top team,” Moe said. “That is definitely a confidence booster and definitely a turn of the momentum for sure.”
Terwilliger likes what he sees off the ice as well, pointing to a camaraderie that has translated to better performance in practices and games.
“The kids have been working really hard and they’re hanging out all the time,” he said. “They’re thick as thieves, so off the ice, it’s been really good. And I think a lot of that is showing on the ice but they’re practicing hard and we’re getting better. So it’s been a good start.”
Their play in the holiday tournament reflects a spirit of togetherness as well, with 18 players scoring goals in the three victories.
Senior forward Billie Jacobson-Couch had a pair of goals in both the Moorhead and Chaska victories; junior forward Rio Treharne had two in the win over Lakeville North, while senior defenseman Dylan Vornwald notched a two against Chaska as well.
“I think we’re just moving the puck well as a team,” Vornwald said.
Vornwald, who is one of three senior captains along with Paulnock and senior Tommy Moen, likes the aggressive play in the offensive zone to generate chances.
“We’re doing well on the forecheck,” he said. “And that’s just creating opportunities for us to score.”
Moe is tied with junior forward Alex Hall as the team’s leading goal-scorer with eight. Moe also leads the Eagles with 19 points on the season.
“It’s been great,” Moe said when asked about the first month of the season. “A really good start and I think our team has just been super close this year, which has helped us and it’s been perpetuating our wins and it’s been super fun.”
The Eagles lost just one senior, captain Ryan Koering, from last season’s squad. But later bid farewell to standout forward Teddy Townsend before the season began. Townsend, a would-be senior, opted to play in the USHL this season.
“We obviously miss Teddy and wish he were back,” Terwilliger said. “We wish him the best; we wish he was here. And I think, in some ways, he’s always kind of been the guy with this group.
“So maybe the fact he’s not here, this team has had to band together that much more.”
Moe, a freshman sensation for the Eagles last season, has stepped into a new role with the team, a year older and a year wiser. He believes his teammates have done the same, assuming bigger roles left behind Koering and Townsend.
“Losing players is always a thing you’ve gotta deal with and almost expect, especially with your seniors,” he said. “That just helped us be close and rely on each other. And other guys have been stepping up which has been good.”
With their goals set on making it to the state tournament in March, the Eagles will be tested in the month of January, starting with a trip to Hermantown on Saturday to take on the No. 1 team in Class A.
They will follow up with games against No. 5 Benilde-St. Margaret’s, top-ranked Minnetonka and No. 4 Edina, whom they lost to 3-1 in a hard-fought contest in the Hornets’ holiday tournament.
“To get to St. Paul, we know we’re gonna have to get through some really, really tough and excellent teams,” Terwilliger said, already thinking ahead.
The head coach is focused not just on the day-to-day grind of the regular season schedule, but section competition as well, where he knows the Eagles must adhere to their defense-first philosophy.
“You’re gonna have to play three really good games (in sectionals),” he said. “And if you can’t play quick, good, sound team defense at the end of the year, you’re not going to get to St. Paul.”
But in the meantime, ahead of the bus ride home to Eden Prairie after the holiday tournament in Prior Lake, Terwilliger liked what he saw on the scoring sheet as well.
“We’ve got enough skill and guys who can put the puck in the net,” he said. “So yeah, it’s fun to see a few go in.”
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.