The up and coming Eden Prairie Eagles were flying high through the first portion of their schedule, tossing aside their Lake Conference foes with a perfect 4-0 record. They are a team that mixes both veteran leadership and young spirited skill. After scoring an impressive 37 goals in Lake Conference and Edina Holiday Classic play, the Eagles were set to prove that they belonged with the elite in High School hockey as they prepared to battle the Edina Hornets
The Edina Hornets were banged up with two key defensemen out of the lineup. Understanding that injuries are part of the game, the Hornets were set to prove that a younger lineup could withstand the offensive test of the Eagles and their free wheeling ways.
The Hornets passed the test with a 3-2 come from behind victory over the Eagles. The only problem is this test was just a mid-term as they will have a final exam coming up in few weeks as they rematch will occur at the Eden Prairie Community Center.
The opening ten minutes belonged to the Hornets as they peppered junior goalie Matt Halloran with a number of shots, many with screens and deflections. Hornet sophomore Steven Fogarty scored his first varsity goal at 5:22 of the first period as he fired a shot through the five hole.
Eden Prairie regrouped at intermission and in the second period got under the Hornets skin as they drew an elongated five on three power play. Mike Erickson squeaked one in off the left side of the net to tie the game at 1. The Eagles still had over a minute to work the five on four advantage and Kyle Rau tapped in a pass from Taylor Wolfe who made a sensational move off the right bottom circle and walked toward the slot he showed shot to Edina goalie John Ankeny and fed Rau off the net who ripped it into the open goal for the 2-1 lead.
With a penalty kill of legendary proportion, the Eagles had been perfect to date on the pk. That was until Brendan Baker made a quick move from the left point to gain open ice and a chance to walk down the slot. He rifled a bullet to the top glove hand side as he tucked the rising shot under the cross bar. It was the type of goal that energizes a crowd, while it can also deflate a crowd. Nothing the goalie can do about a shot like that, and both levels of emotion could be felt on each side of the arena.
Ankeny and Halloran dueled hard through the remainder of the second period as the natural ebbs and flows of the game rotated back and forth from team to team. As they entered the third period, it was evident the Eagles were playing with a renewed energy and challenged the Hornets in all three zones. Ankeny was forced to make a number of difficult saves in the third period as he too was forced to work through a high volume of screens, deflections, and back door opportunities.
It was Baker again who factored in the game winning goal for Edina. The Hornets were back on the power play, and it was the slick footwork of Baker that opened up another scoring chance. This time he danced to his left away from an Eagle player and sent another rocket at the net from the top of the umbrella. The puck was deflected by Connor Gaarder from the slot and who watched, as it blew by Halloran. The EP goalie was forced to play the shot to his right as the deflection took it to his left. Official scoring gave credit to Baker for the goal, although it was Gaarder that redirected the shot.
Sensing they did not like their predicament, the Eagles (6-1, 4-0) responded and worked a couple of great scoring chances that saw Ankeny shutdown. His best save was a left pad save from a Chase Loken blast that he saw through traffic. It was the final 2 minute that were the most impressive for Edina as the worked the puck into the Eden Prairie zone hemming the Eagles in. They could not break the forecheck from Anders Lee, Marshall Everson, and Gaarder to mount any last second heroics, let alone get Halloran to the bench.
Both teams passed the test in ways as the Hornets held back a very good Eden Prairie team. They were able to score two power play goals against the league's best unit and also had contributions from other player not named Lee, Gaarder, or Everson. Ankeny was big in a big time game and showed his quiet confidence and steady style will fit well with his team,
The Eagles were able to take away the understanding they can play with the elite and should be considered among the elite the State has to offer. Kyle Rau showed how much of a competitor he can be and is a nifty shifty player. Halloran is a bone-a-fide goaltender, Nick Leddy is on the short list for Mr. Hockey, and Taylor Wolfe can flat out play the power forward with the best of them. The Eagles are blessed with veteran depth and youthful enthusiasm that will take them a long way.
There were plenty of things to smile about as the 27th annual Edina Holiday Classic closed with a bang.