Eden Prairie girls hockey head coach Steve Persian knew his team would need to be at their best to move past the opening round of the Class 2A Section 2 playoffs.
His Eagles, 12-12-1 coming into their matchup with Chaska-Chanhassen, had opened their season against the Stormhawks, coming away with a 2-0 shutout victory on Nov. 9.
They followed that with a narrow 3-2 in Eden Prairie’s Midwinter Meltdown tournament on Dec. 27.
Friday night at Eden Prairie Community Center, the teams squared off for a third time in a “win or go home” matchup in the quarterfinals.
“We knew that this was gonna be a good game. The two games we had with them prior to this were close games, and they have a very good goaltender,” Persian said. “They run a really effective defensive system. And so we assumed this was going to be a close game for ourselves. It’s kind of how it played out.”
By the time it was over, the game played out to the tune of an Eagles’ win over the Stormhawks in another hard-fought game between the two teams.
Eagles senior goaltender Tegan Swanson posted her second shutout against Chaska-Chanhassen this season and her fourth shutout of the year.
“I was just focused on keeping everything out,” Swanson said. “Before the game, I was thinking through everything that I’ve been focusing on this year and just practicing constantly. So I was ready.”
Swanson was quick to credit her teammates in front of her for keeping the lanes clear and giving her a good view of the puck in the Eagles’ defensive zone.
“I think we played such a good game,” she said. “Something in front of the net we’ve been working on is getting screens out of the way and they did that perfectly tonight. I could see everything. So I’m just so proud of how far my team has come, coming into sections.”
Swanson stopped 16 shots to blank the Stormhawks. The Eagles have six shutout victories on the season, credit to Swanson’s four scoreless finishes, combined with a pair from sophomore goalie Rylee Lorton.
“We’re fortunate that we have strong goaltending not just with Tegan, but Rylee and Nora (Koehler).” Persian said. “It’s one of those games where we knew that they were going to hang around because of the way that they played defensively, and they have strong goaltending.
In addition to picking up another victory, Swanson was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Jori Jones Award, given to the state’s most outstanding senior goaltender.
The Eagles bowed out in the first round sectional game last season with a 2-1 overtime loss to Prior Lake. Friday’s win marks Persian’s first postseason win at Eden Prairie.
But the coach knows something about playoff hockey, after leading Breck to back-to-back state titles before taking over as the Eagles’ head coach.
“It’s always difficult to go into a first round. You can’t overlook anybody,” he said. “And so I was proud of the effort and focus on the girls tonight.”
The Eagles got on the board at 10:24 of the first period when sophomore Allie Dahl launched a rocket from the top of the circle that sailed past Chaska-Chanhassen goaltender Maverick Margraf.
“The puck bounced off my teammate and I picked it up and saw a lane and just shot it top shelf and it went in,” Dahl said. “I don’t think the goalie suspected it because their defenseman was screening it and it went in.”
The goal, assisted by junior Jordan Flam and proving to be the game-winner, was Dahl’s second of the season and her first in postseason play.
“It was super exciting,” she said. “I just can’t wait to play on Tuesday and keep it going.”
The Eagles were playing without the services of junior forward Lauren Pottinger, who suffered a broken clavicle after her skate caught in the ice and she awkwardly slid into the end boards during practice on Monday.
“It’s a significant loss for the team,” Persian said. “Lauren demonstrates constant effort and hustle every time she’s on the ice and is a great example and leader for her team. I know she’ll continue to be an important part of the team even though she won’t be on the ice.”
Persian moved freshman Ella Pinnow up from her spot on defense to play forward, using one of his top players to showcase a new wrinkle .
“She’s played forward this year for us and she’s had some success putting the puck in the net,” Persian said. “So we just wanted to give them frankly a little bit of a different look.”
Adding, “We know what she can accomplish on defense and when we moved her to forward earlier in the year she was really effective. So we just wanted to kind of take a look at that.”
Pinnow said it was good to get in some offensive play, while helping her teammates in the process.
“I’ve been moved to forward once more before,” she said. “It takes a little bit of getting used to. Normally, the first game back at forward is a little shaky.”
Pinnow wasn’t shaky when she assisted on Eden Prairie’s next scoring opportunity.
The Eagles took a 2-0 advantage when good puck control deep in the offensive zone paid dividends.
Sophomore Kate Petrie put away a rebound at close range at 5:29 of the second period, with assists to Pinnow and senior Gianna Kowalkoski, as Eden Prairie built on their lead.
“It was just a great play from my line,” Petrie said. “We were just working the puck well down low. And I just saw the rebound and I attacked it and luckily it went top shelf.”
Petrie is in her first season with the Eagles, having moved back to Minnesota after four years in Connecticut.
Her family lived in Minnetonka before their East Coast venture and she says she couldn’t be happier to be playing hockey in Eden Prairie.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “It’s a great program; great coaches that have helped me adjust and a great team that’s been super welcoming and supportive.”
The two-goal advantage held to the final buzzer, earning the Eagles a spot in the 2AA semifinals.
Persian said he was pleased with the win, but moving forward, he said the team needs to be more efficient with both their puck movement and getting to the net for rebounds, while defensively, they need to be better with clearing the puck.
The head coach liked how the Eagles used their defense in the offensive zone when the Stormhawks packed the front of the net.
“We were trying to use our points and spread them out a little bit,” he said. “Offensively, I think we moved the puck well, we created some good scoring chances. That was probably the best part of the way we played tonight.”
The No. 2 seeded Eagles will move on to play No. 3 seed Holy Family in the Section 2AA semifinals on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. The teams will square off on a neutral site at Braemar Arena in Edina.
“We’re super excited about the win and we just want to keep this momentum going for Tuesday,” Dahl said. “And we’re all super excited to play Holy Family.”
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