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No rebuilding necessary

By Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub staff, 12/20/11, 10:00PM CST


No. 8-ranked Eden Prairie uses youth, depth to upset No. 5 Burnsville

Eden Prairie lost a group of talented seniors that won two state Class 2A titles. The Eagles returned less than 10 percent of last year’s roster. All of which seemed to spell out one theme for Eden Prairie’s 2011-2012 season: “rebuilding.”

More like “reloading.”

Eleven players registered at least one point in Eden Prairie’s 7-3 victory over Burnsville on Tuesday, Dec. 20, proving the Eagles have no intention on being the doormat for other teams to wipe their feet on.

“I don't think it's a rebuilding year at all,” Eden Prairie senior Danny Halloran said. “I think it's just like last year. I think we can take a shot if we want, if all the guys believe.”

So far, Eden Prairie’s only setback has been a 4-1 loss to Edina on Saturday, Dec. 17, during the final night of play in the Edina Holiday Classic -- a loss that is now serving as rallying cry in the Eagles’ locker room.

“We had to bounce back after the Edina game,” Eden Prairie junior Andrew Knudsen said. “We thought we put the effort into it, I think the puck was just rolling our way. This is a great win against Burnsville, and I think it shows that we're resilient.

“After the loss against Edina, we wanted to prove that we can play with great teams like Burnsville or any teams out there and I think this really showed that we're confident.”

Despite Eden Prairie playing its fourth game in six days, the Eagles’ desire for retribution overpowered their fatigue.

“We were pretty motivated after that Edina loss,” Halloran said. “We kinda got pretty down on ourselves and we wanted to come back and show people that we're a good hockey team. We wanted to prove that to all the haters -- to everybody that doesn't believe that we're good.”

Though it may have fueled an upset victory, the loss to bitter Lake Conference rival Edina was enough for Eagles’ coach Lee Smith to make some changes.

“We wholesaled everything last night (Monday, Dec. 19) in practice and we really changed lines,” Smith said. “We felt we’re pretty good how we lay out but we're not good enough obviously coming out of (the Edina Holiday Classic) 1-1-1.

“We took a big gamble in making a lot of changes and tonight it paid off.”

For Smith’s players, changing things around made sense.

“We switched up our lines yesterday at practice to kind of balance out the scoring a little more,” Knudsen said. “We all had to step up and we rolled four lines and everyone played really well.”

The line changes are also giving more of the spotlight to the current group of Eden Prairie upperclassmen.

“Those seniors are kind of stuck in the shadow of the seniors last year so now they're proving that they're good players,” Knudsen said.

A chance to prove their worth is all the elder Eagles can ask for.

“A lot of seniors really haven't had a chance, and this is kind of our year to prove that we're good, too,” Halloran said. “We want our shot.”

Yet even with the team’s understanding for the moves, Smith knows shuffling players can create tough situations; but that’s part of the plan.

“Some of the guys we put pressure on -- moving (Brad) Boldenow from wing after Edina to center, moving (Danny) Halloran from the fourth line to the first,” Smith said. ‘”We gotta reward people and sometimes you get so set in, 'this guy can't do this' or 'this guy can do that' but if the guys are proving it on the rink we gotta reward them and that's what we try to do.”

With new lines and new confidence, Eden Prairie is ready for its next series of games: the St. Louis Park Holiday Classic where the Eagles could battle a different top ten opponent every night.

Beyond that, it's safe to say Thursday, Feb. 2, 2012 is already circled on the calendars of Eden Prairie players for a rematch and chance at revenge against a familiar foe.

“When we play Edina again we're going to be ready,” Halloran said. “After this Burnsville game we know we can beat basically any team because (Burnsville) was up there, so it felt good to shut them down.

“This game proves that if we believe that we're going to win, we're going to be able to go out and do it.”

Q & A with Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith

After his team’s 7-3 victory over Burnsville on Tuesday, Dec. 20, Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith took some time to speak with the MN Hockey Hub about the high-scoring game, his team and where the Eagles go from here.

Question:  It looked like we were headed into a shootout there for a second with Burnsville scoring two goals in 98 seconds to start the second period. What was going on in your mind and on your bench during that timeframe?
Answer:  Well it would have been easy to pull the plug and call a timeout there. We decided it's early in the year, we're going to find out what we're made of and I love the way we responded. The rest of the period I thought we played stellar. We got one goal which really helped us a lot going into the third. We come out in the third, we play strong out of the chute, and we just kept the gaps tight -- I mean that's the best we've ever played against their team. They usually have a game plan that gives us trouble -- the gapping and some of that. Our (defensive) core were warriors out there. I'm so proud of our defensemen and our forwards were hard on the forecheck, but man our defensive gaps were great. And (Jake Gerdes) came up big -- he had the couple that kinda put you on a nerve a little bit but he came back and responded really well so he settled in again. We were able to play four lines, I think it helped us. I think their big line got tired at the end and I felt like we could play two or three different lines against them by the end of the game.

Q:  Luc Snuggerud had a big goal, at the time, in the first period and excellent play at both ends of the ice. What did you think about his play tonight?
A:  That was the best game by far that he's had. He's been really solid from the start but he's tried to force some things and tried to do too much. Tonight I thought he just let the game come to him and I was proud of him.

 With losing so many players from last year’s state championship team, are you about where you thought your team would be at this point in the season?
A:  I've got to be honest, I think they're a little ahead of where we thought we'd be just because they have three guys that really played any minutes last year back and the rest of them had to learn the game. We knew we were going to be able to get around the rink but our guys are really com
peting. Even in the Edina game all the way to the end we competed and you can't say enough good things about guys that want to play hard -- even when they're down by three, they played hard. That's the biggest thing that came out of the Edina game.

 It seems as though you’ve done a good job pairing youth with your seniors. What has the presence of those seniors been like so far?
A:  We kept some guys to be role guys. We looked at and we were trying to figure out how we could get the minutes out of our team. We thought we gotta keep a few more seniors around to make sure that we can make it 51 minutes. Tonight, I think it really paid off having a few vets that could really do some stuff.

Q:  You have two sophomore goaltenders you are using -- Derrick LaCombe started in-between the pipes on Saturday night (Dec. 17) against Edina and you went with Jake Gerdes tonight against Burnsville. Have either of them taken the lead for the starting job?
A:  Well I think the most dangerous thing you can do with a sophomore is lock in until you're really sure. We want to make sure and we don't want anyone to give up right now and we gotta to keep playing -- we could have a guy get hurt. We got a team that could with the state tournament again if we can get through a tough section, we've got a team that can make some noise. We're going to keep trying to rotate. Yeah, Derrick (LaCombe) has been playing good and he probably had earned the start but we gotta keep playing them and now we go into Moorhead with some momentum.

Q:  Big night for Andrew Knudsen -- three points (two goals, one assist). What was the reasoning behind a new but what appears to be a successful line for him?
A:  We were such a one line squad at (the Edina Holiday Classic) and we looked at him and we thought; let's try to get him some guys that can go with him because he's so fast and then put him on his backhand where he's coming down on his off wing and see if he can handle it because he's got such good skill. He did a great job. He’s sucked it up -- it's hard to be moved from playing with guys you like to play with but he did it as a team thing and it provided a lot of depth for us and it helped us win.

Q:  What does a win like this do for your squad from here on out?
A:  Well I think this one will help give us a lot of confidence. The teams we still are chasing are Minnetonka, Benidle-St. Margaret's, Wayzata -- they're great teams. But we came in here and we won at a very tough rink and for now we've maybe placed ourselves in a little better spot for a bit.

Lighting the fire

Notorious for being loud and proud of all Burnsville athletics, the Blaze student section can cause headaches for visiting coaches. With its boisterous cheers, it can drown out the full-force pep band, and just the mere thought of it can provoke both fear and motivation -- all at the same time.

Recently it has become a living, breathing feature of Burnsville Ice Center. To an opposing team, the Burnsville student section is not considered a “group of fans” but rather it is considered part of the playing conditions.

“They had a lot of sayings they memorized,” Eden Prairie senior Danny Halloran said. “Basically every number, they'd say something about it and it was tough not to smile. You hear your number yelled and something funny, you just kinda laugh to yourself.”

On occasion, teams traveling to Burnsville can encounter a hockey version of a "Perfect Storm" -- a hard playing Blaze team, a pep band taking up an entire section of seats conveniently located immediately above the visitor’s locker room and that infamous student section practically standing on top of the visitor’s bench.

“It's unbelievable,” Eden Prairie junior Andrew Knudsen. “They got their whole band here and all those students here and they're always yelling. They're always yelling at you trying to get you off your game, but you kind of just laugh and throw it over your shoulder.”

Not even coaches who have won multiple state championships are immune to its influence.

“I'm so glad we didn't have to take a timeout,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said. “We've taken a timeout here one time and when we did when we started to try to talk to our guys they all screamed over the glass -- no one could hear it. So we actually had to move the guys off the bench onto the ice so we could talk to them, that's how bad it is. But good for them.

"It's great to see that. And I think the Eden Prairie fans are right there.”

Though its team may have lost 7-3 to Eden Prairie on Tuesday, Dec. 20, the Burnsville student section -- dressed in festive holiday sweaters and singing Christmas carols during the intermissions -- stood and cheered until the final buzzer.

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Andrew Knudsen

Andrew Knudsen scored twice and had an assist for Eden Prairie and ten other Eagles registered at least one point in a 7-3 victory over Burnsville on Tuesday, Dec. 20.

Knudsen kicked off the scoring 26 seconds into the game. Luc Snuggerud and Steven Spinner also scored for the Eagles in the opening period, giving Eden Prairie a 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

Burnsville's Hunter Anderson had the lone goal in the first period for the Blaze scoring on a mid-range slap shot.

Burnsville scored twice in 98 seconds at the beginning of the second period -- a power play goal by Mason Wyman and an even strength goal by Tyler Sheehy -- however the Eagles would lock down defensively and hold the Blaze scoreless for the remainder of the game.

Eden Prairie also answered offensively with four straight goals -- scoring two empty-net goals late in the third period.

Danny Halloran (one goal, one assist), Brad Boldenow (one goal, one assist) and Danny Thayer (two assists) recorded two points each for the Eagles. Snuggerud, Spinner, Chad Dahlquist, Luke Sudman, Hunter Warner, Harry Pajor and Mike DeCesare contributed one point.

Eden Prairie goaltender Jake Gerdes made 31 saves for the sophomore's third victory of the season. Gerdes has a 3-0-1 record.

Also making 31 saves was Burnsville junior netminder Nic Anderson.

Bouncing back from a 4-1 loss against Edina on Saturday, Dec. 17, Eden Prairie (5-1-1) heads into the St. Louis Park Holiday Classic at the St. Louis Park Rec Center and will face Moorhead at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 28.

After suffering only the first defeat since losing its season opener to Minnetonka -- ironically also by a score of 7-3 on Thursday, Dec. 1 -- Burnsville (5-2-0) travels to Prior Lake for a South Suburban Conference game at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22 before taking on top-ranked Duluth East at 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 26 in the Schwan Cup Gold Division quarterfinals at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

1.  Andrew Knudsen, Eden Prairie
A total of 10 goals were scored in the Tuesday, Dec. 20, matchup between the Eagles and Burnsville. Perhaps the two most important goals were scored by Knudsen. One of those goals came just 26 seconds after the opening facing which effectively set the game's high scoring tone. HIs second goal came in the second period that stopped the bleeding for Eden Prairie as the Eagles had surrendered two goals in 98 seconds -- Knudsen scored three minutes, 14 seconds the Blaze's scoring spurt. The junior forward also added an assist in the third period on Danny Halloran's goal.

2. Luc SnuggerudEden Prairie
In what Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith described as the defenseman's "best game by far that he's had", Snuggerud was solid at both ends of the ice. The sophomore scored an unassisted goal in the first period that came two minutes, six seconds after Burnsville's Hunter Anderson had tied the game at 1-1 on a crowd-pleasing slap shot. Though Snuggerud's go-ahead goal would not stand as the eventual game winner, it was a perfect display of Eden Prairie's unwillingness to be intimidated.

3. Danny HalloranEden Prairie
After spending a majority of the season on the lower half of the Eagles' depth chart, Halloran suddenly found himself starting on Eden Prairie's top line with Andrew Knudsen and Brad Boldenow. How did the senior forward respond? Assisting on Knudsen's quick opening goal in the first period and adding a goal of his own in the third period as well as a tenacious forecheck that left Burnsville forwards frustrated. 

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