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Wildcats make statement

01/31/2012, 10:30pm CST
By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff

No. 4-ranked Eagan outlasts No. 10 Hill-Murray in rare matchup with ranked team


Eagan's Will Peterson (23) and Derick Kuchera, right, join Eli May in celebrating May's first-period goal against Hill-Murray. Photo by Helen Nelson

Eagan’s schedule this season has been good-but-not-great.
 
Could the same be said about the Wildcats?
 
Eagan has two losses – and more than a few doubters as both setbacks came in the Wildcats’ only two games against bona fide top 10-ranked teams (Eden Prairie and Minnetonka).
 
With the section playoffs fast approaching, No. 4-ranked Eagan’s trip north to Aldrich Arena in Maplewood to play No. 10-ranked Hill-Murray (12-6-0) served as an ideal sparring session against another team heavily favored to reach the state Class 2A tournament.
 
“We felt, with the the kind of weaker schedule we play, without playing the top 10 teams everyone else is playing, that we had to win this game to prove that we were among the elite teams in the state,” Eagan junior forward Zach Glienke said. “I feel like we did that tonight.”
 
Glienke and linemate Cullen Willox, also a junior, each had a goal and an assist in the third period of the Wildcats’ 4-2 triumph over the Pioneers on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
 
“It was a great statement win, to show everyone we’re still up there,” Eagan senior defenseman Eli May said.
 
In a game in which the first four goals were scored on special teams, it was the even-strength work of Willox and Glienke that powered the Wildcats (18-2-0) to victory. Their third-period passing and finishing allowed Eagan to break a 2-2 tie and cruise to the confidence-boosting victory.

Eagan defenseman Sam Wolfe, left, races for the puck with Hull-Murray forward Jake Guentzel. Photo by Helen Nelson

Meanwhile, Eagan’s line featuring seniors Michael Zajac and Will Merchant was effective in limiting the damage inflicted by Hill-Murray’s top line featuring the speedy, crafty Jake Guentzel.
 
The way Eagan coach Mike Taylor sees it, he has a line 1 and a line 1a. Take your pick as to who is who, considering the Nick Kuchera, Glienke and Willox trio has outscored the Merchant-Zajac-plug-in-another-forward-here combination.
 
“We’re lucky enough to have (two top lines), and that creates problems for most high school teams,” Taylor said. “Believe me, I’ve been doing this 20 years and it’s the first time I’ve had that. “
 
Eagan’s depth was integral in its victory Tuesday. With leading scorer Nick Kuchera sitting out a 5-minute major and 10-minute misconduct for checking from behind, the Wildcats moved Will Peterson from defense to forward to replace Kuchera on the forward unit with Glienke and Willox.
 
The plug-and-go move worked, as Glienke and Willox were just as effective creating scoring chances with either Kuchera or Peterson on their line.
 
Throw in one of the state’s deepest and most skilled defensive corps, and the Wildcats proved they belong in the upper crust of state teams.
 
“We don’t really have a top line right now,” said May, who also had a goal and an assist. “Obviously we have got special talent on both lines and they are clicking. Everyone is finding each other. 
 
“When we pass the puck and play as team, we play really good.”
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

First meeting, and hopefully not the last


Michael Zajac, right, and Eagan secured a 4-2 victory over Dan Cashman, left, and Hill-Murray in what is believed to be the teams' first meeting. Photo by Helen Nelson

Eagan and Hill-Murray don’t run in the same circles.

The Wildcats and Pioneers play in separate conferences and sections. 
 
The teams’ home rinks are separated by 27 miles and plenty of high-caliber opponents.
 
Why should they play? 
 
Well, Eagan is a senior-dominated team with aspirations of winning a state Class 2A title. The Wildcats are hungry for state-caliber, state-ranked opponents.
 
Hill-Murray, which has beefed up its non-conference schedule the past few years after reducing the number of Classic Suburban Conference games it is required to play, also has been on the lookout for high-caliber foes.
 
Eden Prairie has been added to the Pioneers’ schedule each of the past two years. Hill-Murray will play Lakeville South later this season. 
 
On Tuesday, the Pioneers and Wildcats met for what was believed to be the first time.
 
Hill-Murray coach came away from the 4-2 loss at Aldrich Arena hoping for a rematch. The sooner the better.
 
“These are two good teams, top teams I think,” Lechner said. “Hopefully we are going to see them later.”
 
Of course Lechner is fully aware a “later” matchup this season would have to come at the state tournament.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Eagan coach Mike Taylor admitted his team was in danger of losing itself in the third period.
 
A Hill-Murray goal led to Wildcats players barking at a teammate who blew an assignment. The unrest turned to euphoria, however, as Cullen Willox scored what proved to be the game-winner in a 4-2 Eagan victory on Tuesday at Aldrich Arena.
 
No. 4 Eagan (18-2-0) won its 10th consecutive game, beating No. 10 Hill-Murray (12-6-0) with a two-goal rally in the third period.
 
Hill-Murray forward Jake Guentzel scored his second power-play goal of the game at 3 minutes, 9 seconds of the third period to tie the game 2-2. The rink announcer barely completed his call of the scoring play when Willox responded with a goal just 44 seconds later to put the Wildcats ahead 3-2.
 
“That gave us a great lift,” Taylor said. “There were a lot of swings in this game.”
 
Eagan got the better of those swings. From the Wildcats’ perspective, the second period started badly and seemed in danger of getting worse.
 
Guentzel’s first goal tied the game 1-1 on a power-play goal just 57 seconds into the period. Eagan’s Nick Kuchera later drew a 5 minute major and 10 minute misconduct penalty for checking from behind at 11:53.
 
“We were very afraid of their power play,” Taylor said. “We knew Guentzel does a great job.”
 
In danger of falling behind, Eagan instead went ahead 2-1 as Will Merchant forced a turnover at the Wildcats’ blue line. He streaked up the ice and buried a shorthanded breakaway at 13:41. Inspired, Eagan killed the remainder of Kuchera’s penalty.
 
“It was frustrating to tie it up, get a five minute penalty and give up a goal,” Pioneers coach Bill Lechner said. “Our first unit had good intentions but they were on the ice too long. That hurt and gave them the momentum.”
 
Trailing 3-2 after Willox’s goal in the third period, Hill-Murray became the aggressors and seemed poised to put a third goal past Eagan goaltender Christian Butler.
 
Instead, the Wildcats mounted a final rush. Zach Glienke, staying onside, scored the clincher with 56.1 seconds left.
 
Eagan's Eli May scored the game’s first goal on a power-play at 6:35 of the first period.
 
-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

Hill-Murray's Jake Guentzel

The junior forward set up linemate Cullen Willox’s winning goal early in the third period with a perfect feed from the corner, then capped the night with a goal of his own in the final minute on a nifty deke. Glienke has scored 21 of his 28 points in the Wildcats’ last 10 games. He's had multi-point performances in seven of those games.
 
Guentzel, a junior forward, scored twice while quarterbacking the Pioneers’ power play, with both goals coming on slap shots from the point. Guentzel’s two goals boosted his team-leading point total to 35.
 
A senior forward, Merchant scored a gorgeous breakaway goal while the Wildcats were killing a 5-minute major penalty to Nick Kuchera in the second period. Merchant put a series of moves on Hill-Murray goaltender John Dugus before snapping his wrists and launching the puck into the upper right corner of the net.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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