Eagan's Tommy Muck (2) celebrates with defense partner Nick Wolff after Wolff scored early in the third period against Burnsville. Photo by Loren Nelson
Eagan was trailing rival Burnsville by a goal with one period to play, and Wildcats coach Mike Taylor was holding court in the locker room.
While not all of the fiery Taylor’s words might be fit for family consumption, the gist of his message most certainly got through to his players.
“We really stepped it up in the locker room and said some powerful things,” Eagan junior defenseman Nick Wolff said about the emotionally charged break before the final period. “We said, ‘We’ve got to get going and score some goals,’ and that’s what we did.”
Eagan defenseman Tommy Muck, left, celebrates his third-period goal with defense partner Nick Wolff. Photo by Loren Nelson
When the subject of scoring goals was discussed, it’s unlikely Wolff and defense partner Tommy Muck were the expected go-to guys. But there they were, taking the message literally and finding the back of the net early in the third, sparking the No. 7-ranked Wildcats to a 7-3 runaway victory over the No. 10 Blaze.
Wolff scored 2 minutes, 12 seconds into the third period and Muck added a goal 3:21 later as the Wildcats (16-3-1) turned a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead. The goals were the third this season for each of the junior defensemen, who have scored a combined 38 points.
Not bad for a couple of players who, as sophomores, were stuck behind a star-studded, all-senior defensive corps and managed only one penalty each in limited playing time.
“They are really good for us,” Eagan senior and scoring leader Zach Glienke said. “They are probably one of the best third and fourth defensemen in the state. For them to score goals like that -- it’s always nice to get goals from your defensemen and not just forwards.”
“Best No. 2 Defense Pairing” isn’t among the usual statewide debate fodder, but Glienke raises an interesting topic. It’s hard to think of another “second” pairing -- senior captains Will Peterson and Nick Smallidge got the start on defense -- that has been as effective at both ends of the rink as the 5-foot-11, 160-pound Muck (3 goals, 21 assists) and 6-foot-4, 195-pound Wolff (3 goals, 11 assists).
Eagan junior defenseman Nick Wolff, right, moves the puck before the arrival of Burnsville's Nick DiGregorio. Photo by Loren Nelson
Just as impressive as the duo’s third-period scoring was their shutdown defensive play. As in the Wildcats’ 4-2 victory at Burnsville on Dec. 18, the Blaze were limited to just a handful of a quality scoring chances during 5-on-5 play (all three of Burnsville’s goals came on the power play). Other than a breakaway in the third period, the Blaze had just one or two chances off the rush and never established a consistent forecheck.
“We had great backchecking throughout the game, that’s been the key to our game plan throughout the year,” Muck said, crediting Eagan’s forwards for their conscientious play. “We did it tonight, and look what happened.”
Muck and Wolff are perfectly comfortable joining the rush when there’s an opening. While Muck’s goal came on a shot through traffic from the point, Wolff’s involved a nifty bit of freelancing as he skated the puck into the Burnsville zone.
“On Tommy’s, we saw that if we went from low to high and snapped it, and didn’t stickhandle it, we could get it through,” Taylor said. “Because they were playing us pretty good down low.
“Nicky’s was just a self-made (goal). He comes in, stickhandles. You never know what you are going to get. But that turned out all right.”
Wolff said he’s encouraged to use his skating and playmaking ability for offensive purposes.
“I got the puck, saw the hole, and took it,” he said. “Sometimes mistakes will be made. It’s risk versus reward, and today it paid out."
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor
No. 7-ranked Eagan used a dominating third period to surge to a 7-3 South Suburban Conference win over No. 10 Burnsville in a game that was much closer than the score indicated.
Burnsville (11-8-1) led 3-2 heading into the third period, when Eagan (16-3-1) scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes, 52 seconds to take the lead for good. Those goals came courtesy of Nick Wolff and Tommy Muck, juniors and defense partners, and senior forward Josh Loew.
The goals by Muck and Loew came just 31 seconds apart and put Eagan ahead 5-3 just 6:04 into the final period.
The victory gives Eagan a rare season sweep over Burnsville and a six-point cushion over the Blaze and Prior Lake in the South Suburban standings. The Wildcats have played one more conference game than the Lakers.
Junior forward Kyle Stebbing opened the scoring in the first for Eagan and added another goal in the second as the Wildcats tried to keep pace with the Blaze.
Eleven Wildcats registered at least one point, with five of those players getting two. Zach Glienke, Muck, Loew and Wolff each had a goal and an assist for Eagan.
Tyler Sheehy lead Burnsville with a goal and an assist.
Andrew Lindgren made 22 saves for the Wildcats. Burnsville's Chris Mallon made 31 saves.
-- Ben Bakker, MN Hockey Hub staff
Eagan's Tommy Muck.
1. Tommy Muck, Eagan
The junior defenseman scored the winning goal for the Wildcats on a shot that found its way through heavy traffic. He also added an assist and joined Nick Wolff to form a defense tandem that allowed precious few scoring opportunities.
3. Josh Loew, Eagan
The senior forward had a goal and an assist, and his goal came just 31 seconds after Muck's, capping a game-turning three-goal outburst to start the third period and all but sealing the victory for the Wildcats.
-- Ben Bakker, MN Hockey Hub staff