Defense is the reason that many preseason pundits have pointed to Eastview as a boys’ hockey team to be reckoned with this season in the South Suburban Conference.
The Lightning returns five defensemen from last year’s state tournament team, and has a slew of reliable, two-way forwards, head coach Drey Bradley said. It also has arguably the metro’s best goalie in junior Zach Driscoll.
“We should be tough to score on,” Bradley said.
But through two games this season, Eastview has given opponents another reason to take notice: Its offense.
The Lightning won a back-and-forth conference game with Lakeville North 4-3 on Nov. 26 before blowing out East Ridge 7-2 on Saturday. Eleven goals in two victories for the “defensive-minded” Lightning.
“It starts with playing good D, but you still have to get pucks in the net,” Bradley said. “We have to bring that every night and have that consistency. If we do that, we should be pretty tough to beat.”
Finding the right mix
After finishing in the middle of the South Suburban last season, Eastview went on a run through the Class 2A, Section 3 tournament and reached state for the first time since 2001.
The Lightning lost to top-ranked Hill-Murray in the first round, but the carry-over from that postseason charge has the team itching for a return trip to St. Paul.
“That’s definitely the end-of-the-season goal,” senior forward Jake McGlocklin said. “I think we have a good chance, but there are a lot of little things that have to come first.”
McGlocklin, who led the team with 16 goals last season, provides the bulk of the returning offensive firepower. No one else on this year’s roster scored more than nine times a year ago.
“We’re going to have to have people step up into those roles,” Bradley said.
Each line’s ability to find the right chemistry will be key, the coach added.
Through two games, seniors Mitchell Cerrato (five points), Cole Cooper (four points) and John Snodgrass (three points) have teamed up to score five of the team’s 11 goals.
“We played together most of last year,” Snodgrass said. “It makes a big difference having that comfort level with each other. We know where each other are and where we’re going to be.”
McGlocklin said he considers the South Suburban to be the best conference in the state. While that makes for a grinding regular season, it should help prime the Lightning come playoff time.
“You just get used to playing really good teams each game,” he said. “There aren’t any easy wins.”
The key, Bradley says, is to have sound fundamentals and be able to bounce back when things go off track.
“It’s all easy when things are going good,” he said. “When you hit a rough stretch, that’s when you learn.”
That’s likely where Eastview will rely heavily on its one obvious advantage this season: goaltender Driscoll. He sported a 16-6-1 record last year to go with a 2.04 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage. He was named to the Star Tribune’s 2013-14 preseason “Dream Team.”
“Having a great goaltender is something you dream of, and the fact that we have that is great,” Snodgrass said. “It won’t be easy, but knowing that we have that good backstop, we know we can just go play.”