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Eagles rule against Hill-Murray

By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff, 01/17/12, 10:00PM CST

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Eden Prairie thrives in win over Pioneers as rule changes make for faster-paced game


Sophomore forward Steven Spinner (25) of Eden Prairie had two assists against Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

The annual “Best Forward Line” in the state debate is always a fun exercise.

Of course, there is no right answer, which makes the back-and-forth all the more enjoyable.
 
Duluth East, Minnetonka, Maple Grove and Eagan – among other highly ranked teams – all can trot out forwards that could contend for the “Best Trio” title.
 
After losing most of its 2011 state Class 2A championship team to graduation, Eden Prairie didn’t figure to be this conversation.
 
Juniors Andrew Knudsen and Mason Berg had solid seasons in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League season in the fall, but they were hardly dominant talents.
 
Sophomore Steven Spinner was a high-scoring Bantam last season. It’s a big jump from Bantams to high school, much less the top-level schedule Eden Prairie plays.

Eden Prairie's Andrew Knudsen (5) and Mason Bergh (15) crash the net in pursuit of the puck as Hill-Murray goaltender John Dugas makes the save. At left is Hill-Murray defenseman Logan Sharp. Photo by Helen Nelson

Turns out the sum of Eden Prairie’s Knudsen-Berg-Spinner combo is greater than most any line in the state. And these guys are only going to get better.

“These new rules are going to be good for them,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said after the No. 7-ranked Eagles beat No. 9 Hill-Murray 5-3 on Tuesday, Jan. 17, at the Eden Prairie Community Center. “They are so fast, and they move the puck well.
 
“If the game really is refereed like it was tonight, it will be good for that line.”
 
With tougher penalties in effect this week for checking from behind, boarding and head contact infractions, teams are more tentative with their physical play, opening up the ice. The likely dramatic increase in 5-minute major penalties (all three of the above-mentioned infractions now are automatic majors) also will lead to more skating room.
 
“We were split up for a little bit,” Spinner said about the brief breakup of the line, “but we came back together because we needed each other. We just know each other on the ice really well, and it works out.”
 
Kundsen and Berg each scored goals against the Pioneers, and Spinner had two assists. They are 1-2-3 for the Eagles in scoring this season, as Bergh has a team-high 24 points, Knudsen has 22 and Spinner 18. Knudsen and Spinner are the top goal scorers with 11 and 10.
 
“We’ve had them separated until we could get some more balanced scoring,” Smith said. “Now some other guys have stepped up, so we put them back together.”
 
Smith unleashed his top trio on the Pioneers’ young defensive corps from the drop of the puck. The line, often matched against a Hill-Murray trio featuring junior star Jake Guentzel, was ultra aggressive chasing loose pucks and bottling the Pioneers in their zone.
 
“They had more speed than the teams we’ve been playing in the last couple of games,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “We are very young on D. So it was a good move by them to be aggressive with their forecheck.”
 
One of six sophomores in the Eagles lineup – standout defenseman Luc Snuggerud and star goaltender Derrick LaCombe also are sophomores – Spinner doesn’t play or speak like a youngster.
 
“It’s a young team,” Spinner said. “We lost, obviously, a lot of good players – (Kyle) Rau, (Nick) Seeler. 
 
“So we just need the younger guys to step and keep playing how they are.”
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Eden Prairie's Mason Bergh celebrates his second-period goal against Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

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Game Recap

Tuesday marked the first action most hockey teams statewide saw since the Minnesota State High School League imposed tougher penalties on potentially dangerous hits.

For the remainder of this season, players called for a check from behind, boarding or head contact will get at least a five-minute major penalty. The "major" designation puts the player's team at greater risk of being scored on because it must play shorthanded for the duration.
 
Lee Smith, coach of No. 7 Eden Prairie (10-3-1) gave his support to the changes before Tuesday’s 5-3 victory against No. 9 Hill-Murray (9-5) but also noted they were “drastic changes and they will impact games.”
 
A check from behind penalty in the second period gave credence to Smith’s opinion. Eden Prairie senior defenseman Luke Sudman left the ice to serve a 5-minute major and 10-minute misconduct penalty and the Pioneers took full advantage.
 
Already down a man from a previous penalty, Eden Prairie gave up a power-play goal 5-on-3 and a second goal one man short. The goals got Hill-Murray back in the game at 4-3.
 
Eden Prairie had stormed to a 4-1 lead in the first period on goals from John Sullivan, Andrew MacLeod, Andrew Knudsen and Dan Halloran. A breakaway from Hill-Murray’s Andy Faust late in the period got the Pioneers on the board.
 
Hill-Murray's Charlie Sampair drew a 5-minute major for boarding with a little more than one minute to play in the third period. Otherwise, the game was played fast and physical but in a more subdued fashion along the boards and it front of the net.
 
Hockey observers throughout the state noted similar playing styles.
 
The tougher penalties measure earned approval by the National Federation of State High School Associations barely two weeks after Benilde-St. Margaret's sophomore Jack Jablonski was checked from behind and crashed headfirst into the boards. Jablonski's doctor said it’s unlikely Jablonski will regain the use of his legs.
 
The tougher penalties are aimed at making players aware of serious injuries their bigger, faster and stronger bodies can cause or sustain through reckless physical play.
 
Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said before Tuesday’s game he supported the changes.
 
“If the rules will help educate the guys and keep them more focused on playing the pure game of hockey, great,” Lechner said.
 
The hockey powers have combined to win three of the past four Class 2A state tournaments. Hill-Murray won it all in 2008 then lost to the eventual champion Eagles in the 2009 quarterfinals. Eden Prairie’s stellar Kyle Rau-led senior class won its second career title last March.
 
The Eagles defeated the Pioneers 2-1 last January at Aldrich Arena.
 
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

1. Mason Bergh, Eden Prairie
Bergh, a junior who played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall, scored a goal and added two assists as part of a potent Eagles top line. Hill-Murray, which trailed 4-0 at one point in the first period, had climbed back to 4-3 when Bergh took a perfect cross-ice feed from linemate Steven Spinner and lasered a shot into the upper left corner to give the Eagles a 5-3 lead heading into the third. 

The sophomore goaltender made 10 of his 24 saves in the second period, when Hill-Murray took full advantage of a 5-minute major penalty called on Eagles’ defenseman Luc Sudman. Although the Pioneers scored twice during that power play, they could have had several more goals if not for the acrobatic stylings of LaCombe.
 
The senior forward scored a goal, registered an assist and was one of the Pioneers’ most effective forwards all night. Faust’s breakaway goal with 51 seconds left in the opening period allowed Hill-Murray to go into the locker room with a glimmer of hope after falling behind 4-0.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Eden Prairie sophomore goalie Derrick LaCombe. Photo by Helen Nelson

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com