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No. 5 Eagan eases past Anoka

By Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff, 12/27/11, 2:11AM CST


The powerful Wildcats roll into South St. Paul tourney finals

Eagan's Nick Kuchera beats Anoka goalie Lane Kocovsky with a backhander late in the first period. Photo by Adam Crane, MN Hockey Hub

Eagan's Nick Kuchera skates around an Anoka player on his way to the fifth Wildcats score. Adam Crane, MN Hockey Hub

Eagan burns opponents from defensive zone

Eagan scored plenty of goals against Anoka on Tuesday night, but one goal in particular stood out.

With just seconds remaining on the clock in the first period, the Wildcats were stuck with a defensive-zone faceoff. All teams have some kind of “burn” play off a draw in their own end, but few are able to execute it.

Those teams should watch the tape of Eagan’s fifth goal.

A clean win slid the puck straight back to Connon McGovern. McGovern looked up, saw teammate Nick Kuchera streaking out of the zone and threw a pass off the far wall, knowing he could catch the Tornados sleeping.

“Kuchera is one of the fastest right-wingers. I knew he could catch up to it,” McGovern said. “We’ve done [that play] in a couple games this year, but it didn’t work. Tonight it did.”

Kuchera, being the skilled forward that he is, finished with a pretty little forehand-backhand deke with 12.6 seconds to go in the opening period.

“Connor made a nice pass. I kind of took off when I saw it, the pass came right to me and I buried,” Kuchera said of the play. “We don’t work on it too much in practice, it’s just a special play we like to run.”

The Wildcats play in the South St. Paul tournament final tomorrow at 8:15 p.m. against either North St. Paul or Woodbury. With this faceoff play in their pocket, Kuchera is sure that if it works again it will give his team a boost mentally.

“It’s a goal that really gets the team going,” Kuchera said.

Even if the play doesn’t get the chance to be showcased tomorrow, Kuchera knows that other factors will get Eagan into the game.

Said Kuchera: “We have to come out fast, we know that no game is going to be easy out there. We know all the other teams are going to come out after us.”

Wildcat blue-liner Connor McGovern holds the puck in at the offensive line as an Anoka forward pressures. Adam Crane, MN Hockey Hub

Rink rat McGovern

Connor McGovern admits that he doesn’t come from a hockey family.

Good thing, then, that he grew up next to one.

McGovern, a rangy blue-liner for the No. 5-ranked Eagan Wildcats, lives next to Eagan forward Michael Zajac. Zajac’s dad put up boards and flooded a rink in their backyard each winter when they were coming up through youth hockey.

“I went out in their backyard and that’s where I learned hockey,” McGovern said.

Like many other kids that play pond hockey on a regular basis, the extra skill practice has paid off for McGovern.

His hands and hockey sense have led to a goal and nine points on the season, including a goal and three helpers against Anoka on Monday night.

McGovern credits more than just his rink rat upbringing for his abilities. In fact, he says watching others has made him better.

“Scott Niedermayer,” said McGovern when asked who he tries to model his game after. “I got to see him play, and I try to play like he did.”

Along with his Eagan defensive mates, McGovern is now part of a top-ranked group of pointmen in the state. He thinks that their success is because of the consistent amount of the pond hockey skills they possess.

“As a defensive unit, we’re good at moving the puck up the ice quick,” McGovern said. “We obviously don’t like giving up goals, and that helps us do that.”

Game Recap

Fifth-ranked Eagan scored five first-period goals, and Connor McGovern and Michael Zajac combined for seven points as the Wildcats cruised to an 8-1 win over Anoka on Tuesday, Dec. 27, at Wakota Arena in the semifinals of the South St. Paul Premier tournament.

Seven Wildcats recorded goals, ten Eagan players had at least a point and Christian Butler stopped 13 shots between the pipes.

Zajac opened the scoring just 3 minutes, 16 seconds into the game off an offensive zone faceoff. McGovern, Cullen Willox and Wlll Merchant all scored in the next 12 minutes before Kuchera’s pretty goal with 12 seconds to go in the first.

Off a faceoff in their own end, McGovern threw a bank pass off the far wall, Kuchera won the race to the loose puck and finished the play with a top-shelf backhander off a pretty deke.

After Eagan built a 7-0 lead, Anoka scored their lone goal on a power play as Cale Grinde batted home a loose puck to temporarily stop the bleeding.

Lane Kocovsky was tested early and often in net for the Tornados (2-7-0), stopping 33 of 41 shots he faced.

Zach Glienke and Will Peterson also scored for Eagan, who improved to 7-1-0 win the win. Derick Kuchera and Cody Mason each tallied two assists.

Anoka will battle the loser of Woodbury and North St. Paul in the third place game tomorrow night at 6 p.m.

The Wildcats advance to face the winner of that game in the championship matchup at 8:15 p.m. Eagan has won the tournament the last two seasons.

Eagan's Michael Zajac powers through Anoka players on his way to the net. Adam Crane, MN Hockey Hub

1. Michael Zajac, Eagan

The gigantic forward was overpowering with his body, speed and shot – he scored twice and assisted on another. Zajac just missed on a couple other chances, and his aggressiveness and persistence made it tough on Anoka defenders in all situations.

2. Connor McGovern, Eagan

The slick puck-moving blue-liner had a big statistical night for the Wildcats. His goal and four total points led all players in scoring, but his steady play in all three zones was what really stood out about McGovern’s game.

3. Nick Kuchera, Eagan

Kuchera used his lethal combo of wheels and ice presence to rack up a goal and an assist. His goal came off a beautiful defensive zone faceoff win, where McGovern send a pass off the far wall right to a streaking Kuchera – a perfect example of his deadly speed.

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