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Notes from the AA title tilt: super sophs

By Tim Kolehmainen, 03/14/09, 7:38PM CDT

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Eden Prairie's super sophomore class helps win title

Before the season started, Eden Prairie was looked by many at as a team with plenty of potential, but one that might need another year to jell.  The Eagles lost five of their expected upperclassmen for various reasons and coach Lee Smith had to promote a slew of sophomores – 10 in total.

It turns out that most observers underplayed the maturity of the Eagles’ “Super Sophomores.”  Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center, they became champions.  The Class AA state title is the fourth straight for the sophomores, who also won the last two state Bantam A championships.  But winning this one had to be the sweetest.

Smith talked about how having senior defenseman Nick Leddy and "mix that in with a group of sophomores that just refuse to lose and you're going to have a lot of successes."

Six of the sophomores played major roles, including the team’s leading scorer, Kyle Rau (27-27-54), two of its top defensemen, Dan Molenaar and Curt Rau, and the starting goalie for much of the playoff run, Andrew Ford (16-1-0, 1.40, .941).

“This group of kids is very talented and we’ll get seasoned and grow together and play as a team,” Smith said before the season.

What an understatement.

Kyle Rau proved to be a potent offensive force, despite his small stature.  He was teamed up with senior Taylor Wolfe and junior Mitch Rogge on the Eagles’ top line and its top power play unit.

“He has incredibly quick feet and hands and is very unselfish,” said Smith.  “He can finish for himself, but he’s really willing to give it up.”

Sophomores Jack McCartan and David Rath also rounded out Eden Prairie’s forward lines.  On defense, Curt Rau was partnered with junior Nick Leddy on the Eagles’ front defensive unit, while Molenaar was a stout defenseman all season.

“He’s got the whole package – power, speed.  He has the total package as a defenseman,” said Smith.

Will it be a five-peat for the Eagles’ super class next winter? With their history, it would be wise not to bet against it.

Mr. Hockey?

Did Eden Prairie senior defenseman Nick Leddy solidify his candidacy as a Mr. Hockey finalist in this year’s tournament?

Forget the rhetorical question.  Eden Prairie fans had it right when the chanted “Mr. Hockey, Mr. Hockey, Mr. Hockey…Leddy!” after the Eagles’ state title victory.

Leddy was the most dominant player on the ice in all three games Eden Prairie played.  He led the Eagles in scoring in the tournament (3-2-5), but it was his steady play on defense that really shone.  Throughout the title game, Moorhead tested Leddy on rushes to his side of the ice.  But he was impenetrable.

Moorhead forward Trent Johnson just shook his head as he talked about playing against Leddy.  He commented that the Spuds just couldn't get around him wide all game long.

"He's probably the best defenseman I've ever played against," said Johnson.

The goal that wasn’t

Needing a quick start, Moorhead appeared to take a 1-0 lead just over midway through the first period.  The Spuds’ Tyler Larson jumped on a rebound in the slot and hammered it past Eagles goalie Andrew Ford.

But while the Moorhead faithful rocked the X, officials sent the play for review.  After a very short recess, word came down that the goal was disallowed because a Spuds player had knocked into Ford in the crease for goaltender interference.

Moorhead coach Dave Morinville looked disappointed in the call, but didn’t argue much.  Replays seemed inconclusive.

During the postgame press conference, Morinville lightened the mood by opening with a joke.

"Who was the dope who proposed that replay rule?" Morinville asked.  After a pause, he added.  "Oh yeah, that was me."

Morinville also concluded that he felt the officials got the call correct, even though he had not yet seen the replay.

Seven-time bridesmaids

For Moorhead, it was the seventh trip to the state title game in the past 18 years – and the seventh time the Spuds have come in second.  The Spuds also finished as bridesmaid in 1992 (Jefferson), 1994 (Jefferson), 1995 (Duluth East), 2001 (Elk River), 2004 (Centennial) and 2005 (Holy Angels).

Morinville said this was probably the least talented group of the seven, with no D1 prospects or players moving on to play a high level.  But what they accomplished this season was remarkable.

"This was just a team," said Morinville. "It was a really proud and gratifying season with the guys we had."

Johnson named Herbie winner

One of the Moorhead seniors, Trent Johnson, was named the Class AA Herb Brooks Award winner at the conclusion of the game. 

The award is given to the most qualified hockey player in the state tournament who strongly represents the values, characteristics, and traits that defined Herb Brooks.  Morinville felt that typified Johnson, an undersized but extremely hard-working forward for the Spuds.

"Herbie loves players that are like Trent Johnson and that's good to see (him get the award)," said Morinville.  "I know that Herbie would be smiling tonight."