Steve Persian is eager for the rest of the girls hockey season to begin.
The Eden Prairie girls hockey head coach has seen his team continue to improve over November and December and is looking forward to seeing where it takes them as the season rolls on.
“What really stands out to me is that we continue to battle,” Persian said after the Mid-Winter Meltdown, the Eagles’ annual holiday tournament at Eden Prairie Community Center.
The Eagles picked up two wins in the first two rounds, with a 3-2 victory over Chaska/Chanhassen in the opening game and followed up by blanking Cretin Derham-Hall 1-0 in the next round.
Senior goaltender Tegan Swanson had 21 saves in the shutout over the Raiders, while senior forward Gianna Kowalkoski picked up the lone goal to break a scoreless deadlock in the third period and secure the win.
Kowalkoski also scored the game-winner in the third period in the Eagles’ victory over Chaska-Chanhassen.
“I see a lot of tenacity, a lot of effort and urgency to attack the puck,” Persian said of his team’s success in the closing weeks of 2023. “One of the things that really stands out with this group is that there’s this constant level of intensity.”
Intensity is something Persian knows a little something about.
Before arriving at Eden Prairie last season, he coached Breck to back-to-back state championships. And he likes the trend he’s seeing from his team as they head down the stretch toward the section playoffs.
“As we continue to build towards even more effective play, when we’re playing with that style, it is going to bode well as we head into January and February,” he said.
In his second season at Eden Prairie, Persian notes the progress his team has made over the first two-thirds of the season. The Eagles had won four of five games heading into the final round of the Midwinter Meltdown, before falling to No. 4 ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3-1 in the championship game.
Freshman forward Ella Pinnow notched Eden Prairie’s only goal in the final round, while Swanson had a solid performance with 37 saves in goal.
“We just ended up playing a team that is having a great deal of success this year,” Persian said of the high-powered Red Knights. “They’re well coached, they work hard. And you know, they just put three in and we just put one in.
“I really liked the first period and the third, especially the number of constant opportunities we were creating for ourselves on the offensive end.”
The Eagles have returned six seniors and seven juniors from last season’s 10-16 squad, a team that, much like this year’s edition, showed continual improvement from the start of the season to its finish.
Kowalkoski, along with juniors Addy Mitchell and Ella Konrad, are among Eden Prairie’s top scorers.
Konrad, Swanson, Haley Schiel and Jordan Flam wear the “C” as the Eagles’ captains.
“What I really see in this group is just this level of motivation,” Persian said, citing newcomers to the program who have embraced the system and have begun to elevate their level of play.
“Whether it’s Kate (Petrie) or Jordan Elvecrog, or Ava Moe. They’re really starting to pick up what we’re doing,” Persian said.
Petrie is a sophomore in her first season at Eden Prairie, after moving to the Twin Cities from Connecticut.
Meanwhile, Moe, only a seventh grader, has played in all 18 games so far this season, picking up four goals and five assists. She joins her sister, senior Sienna Moe, on the Eagles’ roster.
Elvecrog and Pinnow represent the freshman class, while the team features five sophomores: Genevieve Streed and Sarah David, both of whom saw significant ice time last season; Allie Dahl and Petrie, and goalie Rylee Lorton.
“Oddly enough, we’re still young in terms of some of our forward players and frankly all over,” Persian said. “But what they’re demonstrating this year is maybe a little bit more of a level of higher urgency and motivation to be successful.”
The Eagles – currently 9-8-1 on the season – are running the usual gauntlet, facing the state’s elite programs. Their losses have, for the most part, come against top-10 teams like Hill-Murray, Edina, and Maple Grove.
And despite coming up short in a 4-1 decision to No. 2 Minnetonka on Tuesday, they’re ready to bounce back against Buffalo this Saturday, bringing their intensity to a new challenge.
“The truth is, you see a lot of teams that have a lot of success on the scoreboard, applying that type of pressure and really trying to take as much time and space away as they can,” Persian said, always exploring new ways for his players to excel in the offensive zone.
“It’s just this constant flow of trying to take control of the puck,” he explains with the enthusiasm of a coach certain of his team’s inevitable breakout.
“And then you try to create a framework to put the puck in the net.”
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