Elk River goalie Ben Meyers (33) stops a shot by Eden Prairie's Hunter Johannes (27) in the third period. Elk River held off Eden Prairie 3-2. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
Elk River raced out to an early lead, then survived a fiery third period charge from Eden Prairie to pull off the 3-2 upset Thursday night in the opening game of the Edina Holiday Hockey Classic at Braemar Arena.
The Elks, ranked No. 4-2A by the state coaches’ poll, used a stifling defensive effort to bottle up Eden Prairie’s many weapons, setting the tone early and forcing the top-ranked Eagles to chase the entire way.
“We’ve got a ton of respect for Eden Prairie and all the skill they have,” Elk River coach Ben Gustafson said. “But we preach team defense and buying into that…playing disciplined and working our systems. Sticks in lanes, and taking away their time and space. All those things are extremely important.”
The Elks (5-0) blocked 20 shots and senior goaltender Ben Meyers turned in a strong performance for his fifth consecutive victory in the net, stopping 28 shots.
Elk River senior Nate Horn opened up the scoring with 20 seconds remaining in the first period and Connor Bizal struck just 32 seconds into the second to drop Eden Prairie into 2-0 a hole.
“Hat’s off to Elk River,” Eagles coach Lee Smith said. “They played hard, they played disciplined and they had a great game plan for shutting down our top players.”
In the third, Eden Prairie shortened its bench considerably and rolled with two lines for most of the period. Casey Mittelstadt and Nolan Sullivan scored and the Eagles produced 16 shots on frame, but the equalizer never game.
Despite the flurries of pressure, Meyers was undaunted in the game's final minutes.
“My defense gives me a lot of confidence,” Meyers said. “They work so hard, they block so many shots. It’s nice to have them in front of me.”
Eden Prairie's Casey Mittelstadt (11) gets tangled up with Elk River's Jax Murray in the first period. Photo by Mark Hvidsten, SportsEngine
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