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Powerhouse Eagan isn't sneaking up on anyone

By Aaron Paitich, Special to the Star Tribune, 12/03/10, 2:00PM CST


Wildcats return much of last year's squad to make a run in the South Suburban

Michael Zajac

Among the surplus of high-end high school hockey teams this season, Eagan won't be sneaking up on anyone.

A team that went 21-5-1 a season ago, including a victory over the Class 2A state champions from Eden Prairie, showed everyone the Wildcats belonged.

And most of them are back for more.

Junior Michael Zajac emerged as one of the top forwards of his class, posting 21 goals and 22 assists.

"I don't know if a lot of teams knew about him early," head coach Mike Taylor said. "If they didn't know about him late, I'd be surprised."

Zajac gained some valuable experience as a freshman but really came into his own last season as a sophomore. His 6-2, 195-pound frame is a great place to start – helping lead to his skill, strength, passing, puck protection and ability to finish.

"I think he's got it all," Taylor said. "He can come down and beat you on a move, but he can also come down and run you."

The power forward scored four goals and added one assist in the Class 2A, Section 3 quarterfinal against Rosemount before tallying another goal in the season-ending loss to Apple Valley.

Fellow juniors Will Merchant and Nick Kuchera will help round out the scoring, but Taylor first wants to clean up the team's defense. It's a point of emphasis that fills his team-first philosophy, and he needs every player to buy in if Eagan is going to have much success.

"If we don't, we'll have trouble. I think the Miami Heat proves that," Taylor said. "If you don't buy in and everybody do their job, it's not going to work. You can have all the talent in the world, but it's a team game."

Backstopping the Wildcats will be senior goalie Tommy Bodeker, who posted a 1.87 goals against average, .921 save percentage and five shutouts last season.

"He's got the perfect mentality for a goalie," Taylor said. "He doesn't get rattled too much. Doesn't lose focus. Not loud. Not theatrical."

That consistency didn't happen overnight. In fact, Bodeker claims he wasn't a very good goalie as a youngster. That's when he learned having a short memory is the only way to survive.

"I got mad when I let goals in," said Bodeker, who's also a catcher for the baseball team and a center for the football team. "I figured out the madder I got, the worse I played.

"And it turned out to be the same for all sports I played. The teams we play are so good, they'll just come back down and score on you again if you're thinking about that last one."

The teams aren't going to be good – they're going to be the best. The first month or so of Eagan's schedule includes Edina, Burnsville, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

And, of course, there's the rest of the South Suburban Conference, including Bloomington Jefferson, Apple Valley and rivals from Eastview. Eagan will have to play well every night.

"If you don't, you can get beat or you can get really whooped," Taylor said. "You can get defeated or all out butt-kicked. And that's a good thing."

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