Benilde-St. Margaret's defenseman Patrick Graham and Eden Prairie's Andrew Knudsen were in battles like this all afternoon. Photo by Brian Nelson
If the cards are played right No. 2-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's and Eden Prairie could meet in the Section 6AA playoffs.
It would be the second time this season they would play one another and if the encore is anywhere near the excitement as the first version, hockey fans will be in for a treat.
In a clash between the last two state champions Benilde-St. Margaret's survived a surge in the final two periods from the Eagles to escape with a 3-2 win on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Eden Prairie Community Center.
Red Knights' goalie Andrew Sprang made 36 saves and was tested in the final two periods where he faced a combined 30 shots.
"They were coming from everywhere on us," Sprang said. "They got a lot of shots on goal, but our boys did a good job in front of me."
Benilde-St. Margaret's had a 3-0 lead and was about to take that into the third period.
T.J. Moore ripped a power play goal home from the slot after Spencer Naas and Grant Besse connected together on a perfectly executed cycle.
Naas came out of the corner and fed the puck to Besse who had all sorts of room to work with.
He found Moore wide open in the slot and hit him with a pass right in his wheelhouse.
"Grant called for the puck when I was coming out and I was able to get it to him," Naas said. "He just gave Moore a perfect pass and we went up 3-0."
The Red Knights had some breathing room and were showed no signs of letting off the gas.
However, Eden Prairie started to come alive.
Slowly it started to build momentum with each shift in the latter half of the second period.
Shift after shift it started to gain some ground and finally Andrew Knudsen put the Eagles on the board with 23 seconds left, which capped off a period where the Eagles fired 18 shots on goal.
"We just started to play and didn't have any nerves anymore," Eagles coach Lee Smith said. "Once we started to play with more confidence we really played a lot better."
"They are a great hockey team and we knew that coming in," Naas said. "We were able to get three on them early and we needed all of them."
The Eagles kept the pace throughout the third and with 7 minutes, 52 seconds left in the third they had a chance to tie with a power play.
They did not convert on it, but continued to pummel shots on goal.
With 4 minutes, 14 seconds left in the third Mason Bergh pulled Eden Prairie within one on a one-timer from the slot on a perfect pass from Steven Spinner.
Bergh's goal sent the Eagles student section into a frenzy and the boisterous crowd did not stop there.
In the final minute of the third when the Eagles pulled Gerdes they put even more pressure on the Red Knights.
To make matters worse for Benilde-St. Margaret's T.J. Moore was called for slashing with 25 seconds left.
Eden Prairie had a few close calls with one shot glancing the post, but were unable to get the tying goal.
"It's been the story of our season," Smith said about the Eagles close games.
It was the sixth time this season Eden Prairie lost by one goal.
"It was kind of a tale of two games," Red Knights' coach Ken Pauly said. "I thought we played really well in the first half and they kind of took control in the second. We had moments where I thought we played really well, especially to open the third, but they had their chances."
Benilde-St. Margaret's and Eden Prairie are in the highly competitive Section 6AA and could face each other again if the seedings and outcomes play out that way.
"You never know, we might see them again," Smith said. "It's a tough section and we will probably get the four-seed and will have a tough game in the quarterfinals that we will have to worry about first, but I like our team and the way we have played down the stretch."
"This was a good test for us," Pauly said. "You look at Eden Prairie's record of 11-10 coming in and they very well could have four or five more wins, but didn't win some close games. They are a very good team and will be tough in sections if we get a chance to play them again."
Mason Bergh celebrates after scoring a 3rd period goal that brought Eden Prairie to within one. Photo Brian Nelson
Red Knight junior Spencer Naas comes away with the puck after a wild scrum in front of the net. photo Brian Nelson
Benilde-St. Margaret's Grant Besse found himself in the goal rather than the puck after a wild play in the first period. Photo Brian Nelson
Andrew Sprang made 36 saves and Spencer Naas scored a goal and recorded two assists in No. 2-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's 3-2 win against Eden Prairie on Saturday, Feb. 9 at the Eden Prairie Community Center.
Sprang faced 30 shots in the final two periods, which included 18 alone in the second.
The Red Knights faced a final surge from Eden Prairie in the final minute of the third when the Eagles pulled goalie Jake Gerdes for an extra attacker.
To make the task even more difficult, Red Knights' forward T.J. Moore was called for hooking with 25 second left in the third.
Benilde-St. Margaret's got on the board first when Chis Hickok put a shot by Gerdes. Naas and Patrick Graham got assists on the goal.
Naas followed later in the first when he took a pass from Dan Labosky and buried a wrist shot to make it 2-0.
Moore gave the Red Knights a 3-0 lead with a power play goal in the second period.
He received a perfect pass from Grant Besse and one-timed the shot in.
Andrew Knudsen got the Eagles on the board with just 23 second left in the second period when his shot beat Sprang.
Amidst the chaos in the third period for Benilde-St. Margaret's, Sprang stood strong until Mason Bergh put away a one-timer on a backdoor setup play from Steven Spinner.
The Eagles stormed Benilde-St. Margaret's in the final minutes, but were unable to get another shot by Sprang.
Benilde-St. Margaret's improves to 18-5-0 and will be back at it again against Totino-Grace on Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Eden Prairie now holds a record of 11-11-1 and will be back in Lake Conference play against Minnetonka on Thursday, Feb. 14.
Red Knights goalie Andrew Sprang . Photo Brian Nelson
1. Andrew Sprang, Benilde-St. Margaret's
Sprang faced 38 shots, 30 coming in the final two periods alone. He remained calm under the pressure that was delivered to him by a determined Eagles team. Sprang made several big saves, including some where he was forced to sprawl back-and-forth in net as the Eagles continued to mount a comeback.
2. Spencer Naas, Benilde-St. Margaret's
Naas continues to find ways to get on the scoresheet with his creativity and scoring touch. The junior scored a goal and two assists to lead all scorers and had his hand in all of the Red Knights' scoring.
3. Mason Bergh, Eden Prairie
Bergh has a goal and an assist to nearly lead Eden Prairie to a comeback. His goal late in the third period sent the arena in chaos as the Eagles climbed to within one goal after being down 3-0.