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Eagan rates perfect 10

By MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/01/12, 9:04AM CST

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Wildcats have nine goal scorers as they overwhelm Hastings 10-1 to earn state berth


Eagan's Cullen Willox stretches as he tries to push a shot past Hastings goaltender P.J. Piotrowski. Photo by Helen Nelson

By the time Eagan went up by four goals in the Wildcats’ 10-1 victory over Hastings in the Section 3AA championship, Raiders coach Russ Welch knew his game plan wasn’t working. 

When faced with a powerful team such as Eagan, Welch decided that in order to have a shot at a comeback, he needed to think a little outside of the box. 

In the second period of the game on Thursday, March 1, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul, he implemented a unique tactic in an effort to shake things up and get some offensive chances. 

The hockey equivalent to a ‘Hail Mary’ in football, the Raiders sat a cherry-picker on the far blue line whenever the Wildcats had possession in the Hastings defensive zone. The idea was, if a Hastings player were to get possession, he could lob it to the deep man for a shot at a breakaway.

“Well, if it would have been one or two to nothing after one we would have stayed with what we had,” Welch said. “We knew if they got more than three goals we were gonna have trouble winning this game. When they got four in the first period we decided to go with it.”


Cody Mason (5) of Eagan skates the puck past Andrew Bussey (15) of Hastings. Photo by Helen Nelson

With a fifth skater permanently out of the Hastings defensive zone, Eagan was free to operate with plenty of space and continue to show off its dynamic scoring ability.

“We were just thinking, ‘It’s a power play,’ ” Eagan senior forward Tommy Nowariak said. “It’s a five-on-four in the zone, and if we just move the puck and get shots on net … that’s all we had to do pretty much.”

As they often do, the ‘Hail Mary’ plan fell short for the Raiders, as the Wildcats calmly and patiently moved it around, scoring six goals with the Hastings plan in motion.

The early scoring that led to the curveball in strategy was due in large part to Nowariak. He scored the Wildcats' first goal by posting up in the slot and burying a rebound just 1 minute, 40 seconds into the game. 

His three points  (1 goal, 2 assists) pushed his total points in the playoffs to eight, an impressive number for a forward who had only five in the regular season.

“Towards the beginning of the season I didn’t play much,” Nowariak explained. “I was playing on fourth line and all that. I worked my way up and worked hard every day in practice and every game when I got a chance.”

Put on a line with brothers Eric and Will Peterson, Nowariak has found sudden success and been a key piece of the Wildcats' run to the state tournament.

“Tommy Nowariak isn’t that fast but he works hard and he’s a tough kid -- he was a linebacker on our football team,” Eagan coach Mike Taylor said. “He’s not afraid to just get dirty. He just goes in front and bangs home goals or throws pucks in front. He’s the type of kid that competes and does all the little things.”

Affectionately nicknamed ‘gramps’ because, in the words of Taylor, “he skates like a grandpa,” Nowariak was understandably delighted about his role in the win.

“It’s beyond any words I can say,” Nowariak said. “Last year we obviously went to the state tournament too, but this year as a senior, I’m gonna remember it my whole life. It’s just a great experience overall.”

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Section final blowout of epic proportions

Section championship games typically are hotly contested showdowns between teams peaking in the postseason.
 
Overtime is always a distinct possibility.
 
Running time?
 
Those sorts of blowouts are commonplace in the first round and quarterfinals of the playoffs but as a rare as a Midwestern hurricane in section title games.
 
Eagan’s 10-1 dismantling of Hastings in Thursday’s Section 3AA championship game was an anomaly of the highest order.
 
“We knew we had to keep Eagan under three goals -- three goals or less -- to win,” longtime Hastings coach Russ Welch said “When they get four in the first 10 or 12 minutes, it’s pretty tough to beat them.”
 
Top-seeded and No. 4 state-ranked Eagan led 4-0 after two periods and 7-0 heading into the third. By state high school league rule, the third period was played under running time because the Wildcats had a lead of six goals or more.

Eagan's 10-1 victory over Hastings is tied for the largest in a Class 2A title game since 1990, when Bloomington Kennedy beat Minneapolis Southwest 11-1. Photo by Helen Nelson

“Hard work and just dedication to win is what let us get all those goals,” Eagan senior Michael Zajac said. “Nine goal scorers is pretty nice to have. When you are getting contributions from all those people, that’s a pretty deep lineup.”
 
Eagan’s victory was the most lopsided in a Class 2A section title game since 1998, when Welch-coached Hastings of all teams matched the 10-1 final score with a triumph over Cretin-Derham Hall for the Section 2AA title. Bloomington Jefferson beat Burnsville by the same 10-1 score in the Section 5AA title game in 1994.
 
The most recent margin of victory in a section championship that trumps Eagan’s thumping of Hastings dates to 1990, when Bloomington Kennedy beat Minneapolis Southwest 11-1 for the Section 5AA title.
 
In Thursday's victory Eagan scored 1:40 into the opening period, led 4-0 by the end of the first and scored three more times in the second period to take a 7-0 lead into the third.
 
“They were just too good,” Welch said about the Wildcats, who led 7-0 heading into the third period.
 
Eagan beat Apple Valley 1-0 to win the Section 3AA title last season. In 2010 the Wildcats lost 3-2 in overtime to Apple Valley in the section semifinals.
 
Although Eagan had defeated No. 6 seed Hastings 8-1 on Dec. 1, the Wildcats were fully prepared for another tension-loaded playoff showdown.
 
“We’re not going to overlook our opponents,” Eagan senior defenseman Eli May said.  “Hastings is a good team. 
 
“We’ve got people that can score on the team. Everyone can score. We had really good passing and a really good forecheck. Anything can happen when we have that going.”
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Senior forward Tommy Nowariak scored a goal and added two assists, and junior Will Peterson scored twice in the third period as top-seeded Eagan cruised past No. 6 seed Hastings 10-1 in the Section 3AA championship game on Thursday, March 1, at the State Fairgrounds Coliseum in St. Paul.
 
Eagan (24-3-1) led 4-0 after the first period on goals by Nowariak, Cody Mason, Nick Kuchera and Derick Kuchera and continued the dominance in the second period, when it scored three more times.
 
Nine players scored for the Wildcats, who earned their second straight appearance in the state Class 2A tournament. Eagan finished in third place last season and returns most of its top players as seniors this year.
 
Hastings (14-12-2) played much of the second period and all of the third with one if its forwards stationed at the Eagan blue line, waiting for a potential quick pass and breakaway opportunity. Those opportunities never came, as Eagan controlled the puck in the Hastings zone much of the time, the Wildcats routinely setting up as if they were on the power play.
 
Hastings senior Nate Flynn ended Eagan's shutout bid with 1:03 remaining.
 
The Wildcats finished with a 49-19 advantage in shots on goal.
 
Christian Butler and Andrew Lindgren shared the goaltending duties for the Wildcats. Lenny Weiss started in goal for Hastings and was replaced in the second period by P.J. Piotrowski.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Eagan senior Tommy Nowariak

A senor forward, Nowariak had five points in the regular season (four goals, one assists) but apparently has found his scoring groove in the playoffs. Nowariak’s goal and two assists against the Raiders gives him eight points in three postseason games. That ties him for the team scoring lead in the playoffs.
 
On a night when most every Wildcats player etched his name on the scoresheet, Peterson, a junior forward, was the only one to score more than once. Peterson scored twice in a span of 34 seconds in the third period.
 
Willox was around the net all night, wreaking havoc in the crease area with his tenacious play. He scored a goal and added an assist and, teamed with equally tenacious linemate Zach Glienke (one goal, one assist) gives the Wildcats a high-powered forward unit. Willox has eight points in the postseason.
 
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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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