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Eagan's win just a matter of time

By Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff, 02/24/12, 8:00PM CST

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Eagan scores six goals in third period to upend Park (Cottage Grove)

Section 3AA has seen its fair share of upsets already in just the quarterfinals alone.

Three of the top four seeds, Apple Valley, Cretin-Derham Hall and Eastview all bowed out in its opening games, with only top seed and No. 5-ranked Eagan surviving.

In the semifinals, the Wildcats were in a fight with Park (Cottage Grove) to stay away from another upset bid in Section 3AA.

For two periods, the Wolfpack survived just about every blow Eagan hit them with, but the Wildcats scored six goals in the final 17 minutes of play to pull away from Park and advance to the finals with a 7-1 win.

It did take Eagan some time to net its first goal, 25 minutes, 16 seconds of actual game time to be exact, and that was to just tie the game.

Park scored the first goal of the game just 1 minute 40 seconds in, while the Wildcats could not solve Erick Majerle in goal.

"We just kept saying stick to it," Eagan coach Mike Taylor said. "Another nice shift, get another guy in front.

"There was really no negative. We were only down by one."

What the Wildcats were sticking to was a formidable plan of constant attack on Park, throwing all kinds of rubber at the net.

Senior forward, Michael Zajac finally broke through for Eagan with a backhand shot in the second period and was able to tip in a shot in the third, which opened the floodgates.

"We just had to trust ourselves and our training," Zajac said. "We believe that we work just as hard as anyone in the state, so we feel that we can come through as long as we continue to work."

The work paid off with Eagan scoring the games last seven goals, six in the third alone, and unloaded 49 shots on goal.

Through the first two periods, Park held one of the state's best teams to just one goal, despite being on the wrong end of a huge shot differential.

Eagan was not getting the odd man rushes, breakaways or the high number of quality scoring chances that would be expected from a high shot total.

"They had a great game plan, packed the neutral zone, packed it in tight, did not chase us on the break out and were very disciplined," Taylor said. "That's a game plan that I would have gone with, but we just had to keep wearing them down and keep making them play defense."

"Naturally you might become a little frustrated," Zajac said, "but you have to keep doing what we did, because you have to expect to get some goals if you get the quality chances we did."

Big time games, big time scorer

Throughout his high school career, Michael Zajac has come up with huge goals for Eagan.

In what has been a postseason full of upsets and even some already in Section 3AA, Zajac put to rest of any such possibility happening to the top-seeded Wildcats.

After Park-Cottage Grove held Eagan scoreless for nearly half a game, Zajac got the Wildcats going in the right direction when he scored his first of two goals in the second period, which tied the game, 1-1.

In the third, he put Eagan up for good with the game-winner, a tip in that beat Wolfpack goalie, Erick Majerle.

"There's a reason why he's our all-time leading points scorer," Eagan coach Mike Taylor said. "He's a warrior and he made his mind up that enough was enough.

"You saw what happens when he makes his mind up that enough is enough and he just took it upon himself to make something happen."

Zajac scored his 24th and 25th goals of the season on Feb. 25 and now has four in the postseason.

A year ago, he was a force for the Wildcats, which had their best season in school history, taking home third place honors at the state tournament.

One of the reasons why they got there was because of Zajac's presence on the ice throughout the section playoffs and in the state quarterfinal game against Moorhead, where Zajac was not 100-percent, but was still a factor on the scoresheet.

"I have a lot of trust in my linemates and we work really well together," Zajac said. "Those two have helped me a lot."

Zajac centers the Wildcats top line of Cody Mason and Mr. Hockey finalist, Will Merchant.

In addition to having the scorer's touch, Zajac is not afraid to use his size to gain access to the areas that blue-collared type goals are scored.

His two against Park are not ones that will make the highlight reel, but they all count the same on the sheet.

"I really don't care how I get them," Zajac said. "I like to score, just like anyone else does that plays."

"He isn't fussy how he gets them," Taylor said. "Part of that is what makes him such a great leader on our team because he is the guy that seems to do that."

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

No. 1 seed Eagan advances to the Section 3AA championship game with a 7-1 victory over No. 5 seed Park-Cottage Grove on Saturday, Feb. 25 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

After Garrett Mahigan scored for Park in the first period, the Wildcats scored the next seven goals, which included six in the final period.

Michael Zajac scored the first two goals for Eagan and Nick Kuchera, Derick Kuchera, Will Peterson, Cullen Willox and Cody Mason joined him with multi-point nights.

With the win, the Wildcats will take on No. 6-seeded Hastings, which beat No. 7 seed East Ridge in the second semifinal.

Eagan and Hastings will play for a state tournament berth on Thursday, March 1 at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum.

1. Michael Zajac, Eagan
Zajac buried the first two goals for the Wildcats after Park-Cottage Grove was able to keep them at bay for most of the game. Known as one of the big-time goal scorers for Eagan, Zajac lived up to that title with clutch goals near the front of the net, where he used his combination of size and skill to score his 24th and 25th goals of the season.

2. Nick Kuchera, Eagan
It was not only his goal and assist that puts him in the No. 2 spot, but his overall play of constant offensive pressure on Park, allowed Eagan to stay on its game plan of continuing to pepper the Wolfpack with 49 shots. Kuchera had an abundance of shots on goal, but they were also quality ones that forced rebounds and second chance opportunities for his teammates.

3. Derick Kuchera, Eagan
Like his brother, Derick netted a goal and helped with as assist as well. He also created scoring chances on his own and was able to set up teammates, which seemed like was happening from the drop of the puck.

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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