Burnsville goaltender Chris Mallon (No. 1) keeps close watch on the puck with Eagan forward Michael Zajac (No. 16) applying pressure in front of the Blaze net on Thursday, Feb. 16. Photo by Adam Crane
Burnsville players walked slowly out of the visitor’s locker room on Thursday, Feb. 16, at Eagan Civic Arena visibly exhausted -- some even with a slight limp as they walked to the bus.
Despite the exhaustion, bumps and bruises, each Blaze player had a smile on their face.
After all, Burnsville had just upset No. 3-ranked Eagan 3-2 in a South Suburban Conference clash that came down to the final seconds.
“This is a big one,” Burnsville forward Mason Wyman said of the win. “They (Eagan) were undefeated in the conference like we were last year when we lost to Apple Valley. I know how that feels coming from the other side -- I mean it feels terrible; you want to win every game.
“It just feels unreal to beat those guys. They're a great team; they have four DI commitments. I think we played a solid game tonight.”
Of course, the Blaze also had an added incentive to avenge an 8-2 loss suffered at the hands of the Wildcats on Saturday, Jan. 14. Burnsville coach Janne Kivihalme said there was more than simply revenge on his players' minds.
“It's a win,” Kivihalme said. “They kinda took it to us last time in our barn, and we wanted to come out and compete against them. We didn't want to give them an easy way out tonight.
“I think the (Burnsville) seniors wanted to come out and work hard. They feel they can play with any of those (Eagan) seniors they played against in youth hockey. They know they can play with them. They wanted to come out and prove that they can do it.”
Other than playing for pride, Burnsville didn’t have an intricate game plan for Eagan.
“Our game plan was to play our game plan which is just play our hockey,” Kivihalme said. “You need to play good defense in your own zone and we knew that Eagan has a lot of skilled, high-level players. We wanted to make sure that (we didn't) allow them a whole lot of space out there.”
Stepping things up defensively is one thing that everyone from the coaches to the players know needs improvement before the section playoffs.
“We started off scoring goals at the beginning of the year and we didn't play much team defense,” Wyaman said. “We kind of went through a struggle and as of late we (improved) on defense and made that our plan. Blocked shots is a part of defense that wins games with good play of Chris Mallon as well.”
Another thing that has helped the Blaze so far is their growth in experience.
“When we got those early wins, I don't think we were playing very well as a team,” Kivihalme said. “We had a lot of holes in there and even when we got the wins, we didn't get the wins necessarily playing well as a team.”
That lack of team chemistry was also apparent in the Blaze locker room.
“Middle of the season we kind of struggled to find our identity,” Wyman said. “I feel like we have. We're a hard-working team that gets gritty down in the corners and plays good team defense.
“We're playing the best hockey of our season at the right time, right now going into the playoffs.”
Having won its past four games, Burnsville has picked an excellent time to get hot -- right before the postseason. But Kivihalme knows some things still need fine-tuning.
“We've started to play a little better and we'll try to learn from this game,” Kivihalme said. “Take the positives and take the opportunities that we can improve on and get back to work tomorrow.”
Burnsville senior forward Mason Wyman (No. 19) carries the puck against Eagan junior defenseman Nick Smallidge (No. 25) on Thursday, Feb. 16. Photo by Adam Crane
Following the tough loss to Burnsville on Thursday, Feb. 16 -- Eagan's first South Suburban Conference loss this season – Wildcats coach Mike Taylor spent several minutes addressing his team to let the message sink in. After emerging from the team’s locker room, Taylor took some time to speak with the MN Hockey Hub about the game and what needs to be worked on as Eagan looks for its second consecutive state tournament appearance.
Question: With one game left in the regular season, there’s still time to fine-tune some things before section playoffs. What did you see in that game that you’re going to work on improving?
Answer: We just got to get better. First of all, we gotta start. We got to show up when the puck drops, we gotta get up and go. We can't sit back like we did. Second, we need to lock down our (defensive) zone. You can't give them shots from 10 feet -- all their goals were scored in that area. And then we have to play at the pace we did in the third period. We finally kind of woke up in the third but up until that point we were in la-la land.
Q: Any specific things you are going to work on with your team?
A: We need to get better at our (defensive) coverage, locking it down, and we need to get better at scoring dirty goals. We try to be too cute and we've gotten away with it a lot -- but not this time of the year. You've got to get dirty. So I believe we'll work on some of that. The game doesn't hurt us. I mean, losing sucks but if we learn the lessons. If we don't, you guys know how that ends.
Q: The late rally came up just short. Was anyone saying anything on the bench to motivate the team?
A: Well they're competitive kids and they hate losing. I think when (Burnsville) got to three, then our kids really all of a sudden got pissed and they got going. To (Burnsville's) credit they packed in the slot, they used good sticks, they blocked a ton of shots and we were not gritty enough until the third either. We kind of stayed no the perimeter. We controlled the zone a lot but we really didn't get much out of it.
Q: What lessons or coaching points did you gather from tonight’s game?
A: The pace of the game, the intensity of the game -- when I saw the schedule come out, I was pumped at (playing) Burnsville. Janne (Kivihalme) always has them ready. It's always a good game with them. Prior Lake will be tough, they're good at home. I knew Jefferson would be good at home. Those are three really good tune-up games.
A gloveless Teemu Kivihalme (No. 26) carries the puck as he is pressured by Eagan's Will Merchant (No. 24) on Thursday, Feb. 16. Photo by Adam Crane
Using a quick start and solid goaltending Burnsville upset No. 3-ranked Eagan 3-2 on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Blaze sophomore Tyler Sheehy scored 3 minutes, 22 seconds into the first period after Burnsville had killed off an early penalty. Cory Chapman would score another goal for the Blaze one 1 minute, 38 seconds later.
Mason Wyman assisted on both of Burnsville's first-period goals. Burnsville's Hunter Anderson also had an assist on Chapman's goal.
Chapman repaid the favor in the third period with a slick no-look drop pass to Anderson who slammed the puck home on the backdoor. Anderson's goal would prove to be the game-winner.
Finally solving Burnsville goaltender Chris Mallon, Eagan would get on the board 6:11 into the third period with a goal by Cullen Willox.
After pulling netminder Christian Butler, the Wildcats pulled within one as senior forward Michael Zajac scored with 30 seconds remaining, but Eagan's rally ran out of time.
Mallon finished with 37 saves for the Blaze to collect his 10th victory of the season. Butler made 21 saves for Eagan in the loss.
Despite a penalty-filled second period, neither team managed to net a power-play goal and both squads were penalized 12 minutes each.
Looking to head into the Section 3AA playoffs on a positive note, Eagan (20-3-1) will conclude the regular season at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, when the Wildcats travel to the Dakotah Ice Center for a South Suburban Conference game against Prior Lake.
Burnsville (15-8-1) has won its last four games but will put its winning streak on the line Saturday, Feb. 18, at 3 p.m. when the Blaze host Lakeville South at the Burnsville Ice Center.
1. Cory Chapman, Burnsville
The senior forward displayed his toughness in the first period, sacrificing his body to block a pair of hard Eagan shots. After blocking one of those shots, Chapman skated gingerly to the bench in apparent pain. Good thing for Burnsville that he toughed it out. Chapman didn't miss any time -- skating his next shift -- scoring a first-period goal and assisting on Hunter Anderson's eventual game-winning goal in the third period.
2. Chris Mallon, Burnsville
Four straight starts in February, four straight wins. Mallon has been red-hot between the pipes for the Blaze posting a .962 save percentage in February, and the Thursday, Feb. 16, game against Eagan was no different. The Wildcats peppered Mallon in the third period with 18 shots but the junior goaltender would hold on, making 37 saves for his 10th victory of the season.
3. Mason Wyman, Burnsville
Clearly Wyman's two assists in the first period helped Burnsville to the upset victory but it was his all-around effort that should be recognized. The senior forward was excellent forechecking, backchecking and blocking shots, making it difficult for Eagan to gather momentum.