Eagan junior forward Michael Zajac (No. 16) carries the puck against Lakeville South during a regular season game. Photo by Adam Crane
Within the ever-changing state Class 2A rankings, one team settled into a familiar position each week – Eagan.
The Wildcats consistently found themselves at the No. 10 position in the rankings each week and rode that consistency to the top eed in Section 3AA.
Eagan goaltender Tommy Bodeker (left) locks his eyes on the puck as Eagan defenseman Sam Wolfe (No. 10) and forward John Carroll (No. 8) clear out the front of the net. Photo by Adam Crane
Eagan was chosen as the No. 1 seed over South Suburban Conference rival Apple Valley after defeating the Eagles 4-2 in their first meeting on Jan. 6. The teams skated to a 3-3 tie in the their second meeting on Feb. 5.
With Apple Valley as the No. 2 seed, the Wildcats may see their rivals in the section championship, a trip to the state tournament on the line.
Eagan coach Mike Taylor is no stranger to how tough the Eagles are.
“If one team doesn’t show up to play, the other team can drill ’em,” Taylor said about Apple Valley. “You’ve got to be focused when you play them.”
Eagan is looking to rebound in section play after ending the regular season with a 3-2 loss to surging Bloomington Jefferson. That loss snapped an eight-game unbeaten streak.
Despite Eagan’s recent loss, Apple Valley is still not overlooking anyone.
“We feel real good about how well we’re playing but we also understand the teams we’re playing against in our section,” Apple Valley coach Jerry Hayes said. “Eagan is on a run. (Cretin-Derham Hall) is on a run. Hastings is on a run. So we have a lot of teams in our section that are playing real good hockey so it should make it fun.”
Both Eagan and Apple Valley are fueled by underclassmen but these young players aren’t hindered by inexperience.
Junior forward Michael Zajac led Eagan in scoring with 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) in 25 games after being Wildcats’ top scorer last year during the playoffs with six points (five goals, one assist) as a sophomore.
Zajac was chosen as a co-captain for this season along with senior goaltender Tommy Bodeker, who has posted an 11-6-2 record along with a 2.22 goals-against average and .888 save percentage.
Apple Valley's Hudson Fashing (left) brings the puck in against Eagan goaltender Tommy Bodeker (right) during a regular season matchup. Photo by Adam Crane
Apple Valley’s young leadership starts with junior forward and University of Minnesota-bound A.J. Michaelson (29 goals, 31 assists) and sophomore standout Hudson Fasching (16 goals, 29 assists).
Hayes knows he’ll need his young stars to shine in the postseason.
“This time of year, it’s cliché, but you need your big time players to play big in big games,” Hayes said.
Lurking in the shadows of Section 3AA are upset-hopefuls Cretin-Derham Hall and Hastings.
Cretin-Derham Hall's season résumé includes a win against Section 2AA No. 1 seed Edina, a 4-4 tie against Section 4AA No. 2 seed White Bear Lake and a one-goal loss to Section 4A No. 1 seed St. Thomas Academy.
After posting a 9-15-1 record last season, Hastings went 12-12-1 this year thanks to an impressive 54-point (31 goals, 23 assists) performance by senior forward Austin Nelson. Several close games against section opponents make the Raiders a team with ‘bracket-busting’ potential.
Apple Valley may hold a 0-1-1 record against top-seeded Eagan but the Eagles may be peaking at the right time. All cylinders seem to be clicking for Apple Valley. A.J. Michaelson and Hudson Fasching are fueling the offense, defensemen Vince Pedrie and Derek Smith are producing at both ends and senior goaltender Aaron Gretz picked a great time to heat up, going 4-0-1 in February.
Hastings may not make it to the state tournament this year but they won't lie down and allow other teams an easy road to the Xcel Energy Center. Echoing their 12-12-1 regular season record, the Raiders have a .500 win percentage (5-5-0) against section opponents this year - and three of those losses were by one goal. If senior forward Austin Nelson - 54 points (31 goals, 23 assists) in 25 games - can stay hot, look for the section's No. 4 seed to cause a stir.
2010 – Apple Valley
2009 – Cretin-Derham Hall
2008 – Woodbury
2007 – Hill-Murray
2006 – Hill-Murray
2005 – White Bear Lake
2004 – Centennial
2003 – White Bear Lake
2002 – Hill-Murray
2001 – White Bear Lake
2000 – Hill-Murray
1999 – Hill-Murray
1998 – White Bear Lake
1997 – Hill-Murray
1996 – White Bear Lake
1995 – White Bear Lake
1994 – White Bear Lake