The unusual circumstances, the festival atmosphere and the pageantry that come along with Hockey Day Minnesota weren't lost on Eden Prairie senior Casey Mittelstadt.
But when Mittelstadt was on the ice, all those distractions were effectively shelved, and the dynamic forward was able to get down to business.
In Eden Prairie, business has been booming since the beginning of 2017.
The Eagles knocked off host Stillwater, handing the Ponies a 4-1 loss at Lowell Park on the banks of the St. Croix River.
“You try to block out that stuff, but every time you are on the bench and you look up, you realize you’re playing outside, and it kind of brings you back to where you started,” Mittelstadt said.
“It’s definitely a special game and a special feeling. The boys were probably a little bit more nervous today than a regular game, but this is something special and something we will remember the rest of our lives.”
The Eagles are hoping it’s just another chapter in a season full of grand ambition.
Mittelstadt finished with a pair of goals to help lead Eden Prairie (11-4-2, 3-1) to its fifth win in a row, an unbeaten stretch that dates back to the start of January.
Eagles’ senior goaltender Nick Wiencek came through with 28 stops and left the high-powered Stillwater offense feeling snakebitten. In the first period especially, Wiencek kept the Eagles in the game before they found their groove and took control.
“He made some big saves to bail us out when they were on their toes, and we were on our heels,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said.
“There is no question that if you want to make a run at it, you have to have a great goalie,” he added. “Wayzata proved that last year. Winnie had a great Elite League season, and he’s carried it over into our season. He’s a great kid who has a lot of mental toughness. Nothing rattles him this year, and he’s had a calming effect on his teammates. Everyone trusts him.”
Stillwater, ranked No. 1 in Class 2A by the state coaches’ poll, was able to tie the game at 1-1 early in the second period when Matthew Stanton scored for the Ponies. That, however, would be the extent of Stillwater’s scoring as Wiencek kept a lid on the Ponies' offense.
The loss is Stillwater's (14-2, 9-1) second this year, and second in a week. The Ponies will feel the sting of dropping this special game in their own backyard for awhile.
“They’re all lessons, whether you win, lose or tie,” Stillwater coach Matt Doman said. “You need to figure out ways to get better. Right now (it hurts). But next week, when I see the pictures of our team, and pictures of me with my little guys out there, there will be no sour memories at all of this weekend.”
After winning just twice over an eight-game span in late December, No. 6-2A Eden Prairie's victory should help solidify a new-found confidence for the club that began the season as the top-ranked squad in Class 2A.
“We struggled a little bit around the holidays, but every team has to go through adversity,” Mittelstadt said. “I think our team is doing a good job of responding to it.”
Getting back to the basics helps, and for Eden Prairie’s rink rats, there is nothing more basic than what Hockey Day Minnesota ultimately delivers.
“You get to play outside with your buddies, and that’s how it all started, and that’s how you fall in love with the game from the beginning,” Mittelstadt said. “This helps show how great hockey is in Minnesota.”
Eden Prairie jumped out early and never trailed as the Eagles, ranked No. 6 in Class 2A in the coaches' poll, spoiled Stillwater’s hosting of Hockey Day Minnesota, handing the Ponies a 4-1 loss at Lowell Park on the banks of the St. Croix River.
Eagles’ senior Casey Mittelstadt finished with a pair of goals to help lead Eden Prairie (11-4-2, 3-1-0) to its fifth win in a row, an unbeaten stretch that dates back to the start of the new year.
Applying tons of pressure early, No. 1-2A Stillwater (14-2-0, 9-1-0) was able to tie the game at 1-1 early in the second period when Matthew Stanton scored for the Ponies. That, however, would be the extent of Stillwater’s scoring as Eagles’ goaltender Nick Wiencek stopped 28 of 29 shots.
Stillwater’s Seth Eisle made 26 saves on 29 shots he faced at the other end.
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