It wasn't just another Lake Conference game at the Eden Prairie Community Center Thursday night, it was a rematch of the Section 6AA Finals from last year that resulted in a State Tournament clinching 7-2 Minnetonka win over Eden Prairie. Nobody was saying it, yet the feeling abounded throughout the arena.
The Eden Prairie Eagles bounced back to even that score, a feeling that stuck with them for eleven months, by defeating the Minnetonka Skippers by a score of 4-2.
Mark Rath tallied a goal and an assist in his most complete effort for the Eagles all year as he played both ends of the ice effectively from the center position. The goal was scored as a result of Rath winning the face-off and going to the net like a grizzled veteran. It is a familiar spot for Rath as he played center last season and was put back at the position by head coach Lee Smith. Rath also assisted on the all important 2nd goal of the game to his brother David at 15:08 of the second period to give his team some critical momentum and breathing room.
Eagle defenseman Luc Sudman made a key keep at the blue line as he handled a bouncing puck. Sudman flipped it in the air toward a waiting Mark Rath in the right circle. Rath pulled it down and played it to his stick and in one motion, found twin brother David who lurked off the back door as the Skippers were frozen in puck watching mode. Mark fed David for the easy blast from short range as Skippers goalie Alex Glockner could not get across in time to make the save.
"Mark and David (Rath) were phenomenal," Eagle head coach Lee Smith said. "They played hard." Smith added that the depth of his team was a key to the game and said, "We had some more chances, the Rau, Shavlik and Gerdes line had some great looks but just didn't bury it."
The Eagles and the Skippers played an impressive back and forth affair in the first period with limited whistles and it was the five on five play for those stretches that worked in the favor of the Skippers who were able to maneuver with their typical puck possession game. The teams were dead even in shots at 10-9 in favor of Eden Prairie, and it was a dead heat in scoring chances.
The Eagles dialed in on the offensive side of things as they outshot the Skippers 15-5 for the second period and 36-26 for the game. EP had numerous chances that Glockner came up huge on for the Skippers. He was a difference maker and a shot in the arm for his club through the second period.
The Eagles opened a 3-1 lead in the third period on a Dan Molenaar short handed effort. It was business as usual for the Eagles in the third as they picked up where they left off from the second period. That meant winning battles off the end boards, out muscling the Skippers, and creating chances in tight spaces on Glockner.
A veteran team, the Eagles boast 8 seniors leading their team in scoring and that included the Rath brothers, Rau, and Molenaar who all figured not only on the score column but the overall play as they took over the game in the second period and never looked back.
Erik Baskin scored two goals for the Skippers and continued his hot streak as he now has 10 on the season and has tallied 5g-2a-7pts in his last four games.
David Rath deposited the empty net goal for the Eagles as he picked up his 2nd of the game and 17th of the season.
When asked if the game meant a lot to win as the Skippers were playing well coming into the game, Mark Rath didn't hesitate when suggesting the 7-2 Section 6AA final drubbing stuck in the backs of their minds and said, "Definitely, especially after losing to them last year 7-2, we had a little chip on our back and wanted to get some pay back. They had our number last year." He also knows this is different year but also noted they were coming off their big win against Edina.
"I think the biggest thing you take out of this is you try to get better," Skipper head coach Brian Urick said. "I am not naive about the way we played tonight I think we gave up 40 shots. They were bigger and stronger and won the battles tonight."
For the Eagles, it is a feeling being on a roll once again, while the Skippers now are another team in a long line that are top rated that have to lick some wounds, bounce back, and find a way to get their swagger back.
1. Mark Rath, Eden Prairie
Rath delivered a well rounded effort and was dominating in the face-off circle, in the offensive and defensive zones, and notched a goal and an assist for the Eagles.
2. David Rath, Eden Prairie
Scored a pair of goals for his 17th on the season. He had a big goal late in the second period and delivered the empty netter at the end of the game. Utilized his strength and was strong in front of the net and won his one-on-one battles.
3. Alex Glockner, Minnetonka
Made 33 saves and gave his team a chance to win. He made several circus saves to rob the Eagles of plenty of scoring chances.