Through the first three games of the season, No. 4 Minnetonka's defensive play has been nothing short of spectacular.
The Skippers only allowed three goals, one in each of those games coming into a showdown with No. 10 Eagan on Dec. 4 at the Pagel Activity Center.
Self-inflicted wounds in the third period tested the Skippers' tough defense, which had to deter Eagan from scoring on two five-minute major penalties -- a checking from behind major on Connor Thie and Charlie Huminski for kneeing.
On top of that, right after Huminski's penalty was over, Minnetonka was tagged with a penalty for too many men on the ice.
"I think we showed something there," Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said. "In the past, I think some of our teams would get down about that and having a team come back and tie, then all of the sudden, after that, you are down two goals.
"This team seems to be a little different in not letting that happen and this was a good test for them to prove that they can handle some adversity."
Eagan's Max Elsenheimer tied the game at three early in the third period with both teams down a player because of penalties.
Just after Thie's penalty expired, Minnetonka wasted little time in regaining the lead.
Tommy Brandabur buried a rebound after Eagan goalie Andrew Lindgren made an initial save on a shot from the point.
After the puck went in, Brandabur celebrated right in front of the student section, but as quickly as that celebration erupted, it fizzled to a panic when Huminski was penalized 5 minutes for kneeing just 39 seconds later.
"We spent a lot of time on the kill, way more than we liked to," Minnetonka defenseman Tommy Vannelli said. "It's a long time to be out there, especially against a top 10 team like Eagan has."
With a solid penalty kill, the Skippers were able to survive another major penalty without any harm, but again, they were hit again just four seconds after Huminski's major penalty expired with the too many men on the ice penalty.
Minnetonka was able to do more than kill off one last penalty. It iced the game with a shorthanded goal by Max Coatta, his second of the game with only 1 minute, 24 seconds left.
Huminski was able to spring Coatta loose on a breakaway, and Coatta made a slick move to his forehand to beat Lindgren's glove side.
"Coatta has a knack for scoring some big shorthanded goals," Urick said. "That was big for us because we finally had some cushion at the end of the game and you never know what could happen at the end of a game when you spend that much time on the kill."
"I wasn't really thinking about anything but just to get a good shot off and hopefully score," Coatta said. "When it went in it was just a great feeling."
On the other side, it was moments of missed opportunities for the Wildcats.
With 12 minutes of penalty time, Minnetonka gave Eagan every opportunity to at least tie the game up, but was unable to crack the stingy Skipper defense.
"We just didn't execute," Eagan coach Mike Taylor said. "That is all it really comes down to and hopefully that changes as we move on. We have a young team that doesn't have a lot of experience in games like these, but I hope we will be able to execute more as the season goes forward."
Minnetonka killed off all four penalties which totaled 14 minutes of power play time for Eagan.
"I just told the guys I was really proud of our penalty kill," Urick said. "We have a number where we don't want to give up more than two goals, but when you spend so much time in the box as we did in the third, I think you can be happy about that."
Eagan coach Mike Taylor took a few minutes after the game to discuss the Wildcats' 5-3 loss to Minnetonka.
MN Hockey Hub: There were some chances for your team to at the very least tie the game. Were you thinking you would at least get to that point?
Taylor: That was the plan. That is why we took a timeout after their last penalty to set something up. Bottom line is we didn't do it tonight against a great team, but hopefully that will change later in the season. Some of these guys have not seen a lot of action in big games like this, so it might take some time.
Hub: Considering that your team may not have the experience yet, are you happy with how they performed tonight?
Taylor: I am really proud of them for how they performed. Again, we had our chances and did not execute, but the chances were there and we at least got some shots on them.
Hub: Zach Glienke got your team on the board and has scored some big goals for your team. How important is he to your team?
Taylor: Zach is a great player and is one of our captains, so we are going to lean on him a lot. He knows how to score and has done so in some big games for us, like he did again tonight. He wasn't feeling all too good today, but he showed up and still played a great game for us. He is just a great kid and a terrific hockey player.
After a tough win, Minnetonka will not have much time to heal any wounds that may have been a result of a hard-fought game with Eagan.
Notorious the last couple of seasons for being a big and physical team, Eagan proved that against a Skippers team that will have to adjust to a completely different style in just two days with the two-time defending state Class 1A champions, St. Thomas Academy, coming to the Pagel Activity Center.
"It's a good contrast in styles to go against early in the season," Urick said. "Eagan is a more in your face team with physical play and St. Thomas (Academy) uses their speed a lot more. It will be good to see which of our players will be able to handle it."
Lake Conference play does not begin for the Skippers until mid-January. The Lake widely considered to be one of the toughest conferences in the state.
It also features a vast varieties of styles of play, so one way for Minnetonka to prepare for the daunting task of winning the Lake Conference is to schedule similar difficulty early in the season for nonconference games.
"I look forward to the teams we play on our schedule," Coatta said. "It prepares us for the Lake (Conference)."
"Teams in our conference are physical, some use their speed more than others, so the way we have our schedule set is good for us," Vannelli said. "Playing Eagan and going right to St. Thomas (Academy) is probably really good for us."
No. 4 Minnetonka was able to hold off No. 10 Eagan 5-3 even after having to spend nearly 12 minutes in the third period killing off penalties at the Pagel Activity Center on Tuesday, December 4.
Max Coatta scored twice for the Skippers, which included a shorthanded goal in the closing minutes to extend Minnetonka's lead to two.
He almost had a chance at the hat trick, but was tripped up on a potential breakaway with 30 seconds left in the game.
Eagan was the first team to score two or more goals against the Skippers this season and could had plenty of opportunities tie the game the game in the third period.
Minnetonka got the scoring started in the first with Connor Thie threading a shot by Wildcats' goalie Andrew Lindgren, who made 22 saves in the loss.
The score remained that way until Eagan's Zach Glienke, who played with a possible flu, scored on a hard wrist shot that found the upper left corner.
It did not last long as Coatta scored the first of his two goals just 2 minutes, 30 seconds later to take the lead back for Minnetonka.
With just over a minute to go in the second, Minnetonka extended its lead to two when Justin Bader knocked in a loose puck in from of the Wildcats net.
That would not be the end of the scoring for the period as Zach Schultz made things really interesting when he tallied a goal as time expired in the second.
After Thie was called for a major penalty, Eagan began its run of power play time, but it was a short-lived one.
Nick Wolff received a two-minute holding penalty to take some power play time away from the WIldcats.
However, that did not stop Max Elsenheimer from tying the game with a hard, low wrist shot to beat Minnetonka goalie Paul Ciaccio.
Minnetonka took the lead back when Tommy Brandabur capitalized on another rebound in front of the net, which proved to be the game-winner.
Coatta iced the game with his short-handed breakaway.
The loss will drop Eagan to 1-2-0 on the season.
It will host Rosemount next on Saturday, December 8 at the Eagan Civic Arena.
Minnetonka improves to 4-0-0 on the season and will host the two-time defending Class A champions, St. Thomas Academy on Thursday, December 6.
1. Max Coatta, Minnetonka
Both of Coatta's goals were pretty, but his shorthanded goal late in the third period provided the Skippers with some much-needed breathing room, as they had an abundance of time on the penalty kill in the third period. Coatta came close to completing the hat trick, but was taken down before getting a shot off on another breakaway. He was not awarded a penalty shot.
2. Charlie Huminski, Minnetonka
Yes, he may have received a five-minute boarding penalty and only had an assist, but he was one of the key penalty killers for the Skippers. Huminski also made the play to spring Coatta loose on a breakaway, which iced the game. Huminski's solid performance may not be reflected on the scoresheet, but it mattered the most when Minnetonka needed it.
3. Zach Glienke, Eagan
Glienke was said to not be feeling well coming into the game, but he fought through whatever illness it was to score a goal and insert himself in the offensive picture for the Wildcats. He used his size and strength as an asset to help Eagan stay with one of the elite teams in the state.