St. Paul, MN
The Eden Prairie Eagles continued their march toward a State Final but had to work to get there Thursday afternoon as they defeated the Hill Murray Pioneers by a score of 3-2 in overtime to win a thrilling quarterfinal game. It was the perfect start to the Class 2A quarterfinals as the Eagles were stretched to the limit and had to rely on their key players to get the job done.
After the game, Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said, “I give all the credit to Hill Murray for them really starting to move their feet. Any time you are trying to take out the defending State Champs, you know you are in for a battle.”
The Eagles jumped on the Pioneers early as David Rath converted on a loose puck that he picked off at the Pioneer line. He walked in and took a bomb that beat Hill Murray goalie Tim Shaughnessy to the low glove hand side at 1:42 for the 1-0 lead. About nine minutes later, Nick Leddy went on a patented rush as he weaved his way through the Pioneers and blasted a puck from the left circle on goal. Shaughnessy made the initial save with his right pad and Leddy followed up his shot and buried it for the 2-0 lead.
It was a first period that the quick and deep Eagles had the edge on and carried a significant level of momentum. The Pioneers regrouped in the locker room and as their leader and coach Bill Lechner said, “We talked about life and feeling that you gave it your all. We thought we played a little soft in the first period. Basically (the message) was don't be an old guy like me and say, 'Why didn't I give it a little more effort,' and they all kicked it in.”
Kick it in they did, as the Pioneers were revived in period two. They won the battles in the second period that led to an Eagle penalty. It was Jack Walsh who deflected a blast by Jordan Johnson past Eagle goalie Andrew Ford to pull within 2-1. The Eagles found their sledding a little tougher as they Pioneers took away ice and were physical in slowing down the Eagles.
Pioneer senior leader Tyler Zepeda commented after the game and said, “Eden Prairie's is a great team. They have a lot of young guns, a lot of talent. We are glad we came back and gave them a run for their money.”
They continued to “run” with the Eagles and tied the game at two at 3:20 of the third period.
Ben Bahe shelved a backhander past Ford as the power play clicked as defenseman Chris Casto rushed a puck up the left boards and found Bahe at the same side of the net. As Casto sent the puck to Bahe, he was Johnny on the spot to tie the game. As the third period wore on, overtime became a reality as the teams tightened up their play.
The game advanced to overtime as the Eagles were staring a quarterfinal round loss down their collective noses. They were un-fazed by the pressure and took control of the extra session. The Eagles owned the offensive zone and fired six shots on goal. It was their sixth shot was heard around the Xcel Energy Center. Nick Leddy fired a bomb from the point that resulted in a rebound and a scramble ensued. Mike Erickson reached back and sent a back hand to the net with players falling and scrambling on Shaughnessy.
It rolled in off the post and tucked itself in the back of the net. The Eagles celebrated and went to center ice for the game ending handshake.
Not so fast.
Public address announcer Jim Carroll calmly stated, “The goal is under review.” A collective sigh could be heard in the arena as the Eagles waited at center ice for the final verdict. Lee Smith and his Eagles were dumbfounded as Smith said, “My heart was racing. I'm just thinking the community deserves a chance for us to get to the State Championship (game).”
When asked about the review on his winning goal Erickson said, “The thing I thought they might review is if it went off one of our player's skates. I knew for a fact that I was not in the crease and I saw that (his teammates) were not in the crease.” He was correct with that as the replay judge was actually looking to see if there was goaltender interference. There was not and the Eagles were allowed to celebrate again.
Smith felt the win would be good for his community as he said, “This is my 16th year here and our 4th State Tournament appearance. I would have to say that this goes down as the highlight game of my career in a sense of seeing 20 guys that all stuck around Eden Prairie, committed to the cause, and now we are one step closer to our goal.”
The are one step closer and while there was joy in the Eden Prairie locker room as they advanced to the State Semi-finals it was the Hill Murray Pioneers who not only clawed back from down 2-0 to force overtime and almost keep their amazing journey of a season going. As coach Bill Lechner said, “They're one of my most memorable teams in 28 years.” That they are.
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