Last night, Eden Prarie and Minnetonka tied 2-2 in a D6 game played at the Eden Prairie Community Center.
There is no evenness to youth hockey district schedules. One peewee A team (not D6) a few years ago always under scheduled their games, playing almost two thirds of a 16 game schedule in the last three weeks of the season. At one point, that team scheduled three games in one day and won them all.
That team had an interesting philosophy. In the standings, they sat like an alligator waiting to strike. One week they would be lost near the bottom of the standings and the next week they would be in the title fight.
People sometimes just look at the standings and do not notice the total games played.
Last night the two Blacks played each other; the Minnetonka Black played the Eden Prairie Black or if you prefer the two AA teams met in what was a key game for the Skippers if one looked closely at the standings.
This game mattered because the regular season title this year doesn’t matter; it may not for the best path to the state title.
Last night game was the seventh D6 game (of 12 games scheduled) for the third place Skippers and they held a single point edge over the Eagles. It was the fifth D6 game for the Eagles. A Eagle victory would virtually lock the Skippers in a position behind the Eagles and most likely consign them to finish fifth ahead of Jefferson (after the Jags win at Woodbury, that maybe in jeopardy) and Burnsville.
A loss to the Eagles would mean the Skippers would trail Eden Prairie by a single point and the Eagles have two more D6 games to play. Eden Prairie is positioned in January to win their next three D6 games (Prior Lake, Jefferson, and Burnsville). At the end of January, Minnetonka would be playing Eden Prairie again still trailing by 1 point if they won their next three D6 games (Jefferson, Edina, and Burnsville).
But Tonka would have only one more D6 game to play after the January game with the Eagles and the Eagles would have three games left. All the Eagles would have to do is show up for these games to move ahead in the standings. They would suddenly rise like the alligator.
Minnetonka dominated the game last night. In the first ten second of the first period, the Skippers scored when Tonka’s Ryan Elder picked the puck of the side boards in the neutral zone off the opening face off, beat the defense on the left side and fired a high hard shot into the upper right corner from the left face off circle. Just like that, Skippers led 1-0. Joel Molenaar got the assist.
The Eagles came back with a burst, pressuring the Skippers net after that score, but it was all the scoring chances the Eagles would have. Minnetonka returned the puck to the Eagles zone and set up like a ship moored to a dock.
For the next few minutes, they held the Eagles in the zone by taking away the side breakouts and forcing the puck back. The Skippers defense would recover if the Eagles manage to clear the blue line and would force the puck away from the Eagle forwards in the neutral zone.
Occasionally the Eagles would breakout with a burst, but they could never control the puck in the Skipper’s zone.
At the six minute mark, after pressuring the Eagles in their zone for more than two minutes, the Skipper’s K’Andre Miller picked up the puck in the neutral zone and soled through the Eagle’s right side defense and scored from the right face off circle putting the puck into the left upper corner of the Eagles net. It was an unassisted goal and put the Skippers up 2-0.
The Eagles finally got a good shot on the net 10 minutes into the opening period, but couldn’t score. The Skipper’s picked up the rebound and returned to attack the Eagles net. The first period ended with Minnetonka leading 2-0.
Because so much of the first period was spent in the Eagles’ zone, there was little pace to the game as the Skippers moved the puck around the perimeter. The Eagles’ defensemen played well. Despite all the time spent in the Eagles zone, the Skippers managed only 9 shots on goal.
The second period opened with the Skippers attacking the Eagles in their zone. When the Eagles were called for tripping two minutes into the second period, Eden Prairie looked ready to call it a night. They didn’t.
Instead, the Eagles killed the penalty easily and after the penalty ended, upped the game pace. The game started to have a little flow. Still Minnetonka had the edge. At the 6 minute mark, the Skippers were still controlling the puck in the Eagles zone and still not scoring. Only now they were beating the defense men and putting pressure on the Eagles goalie Will Joos forcing Joos to make some good stops.
Suddenly the game became wide open with both teams taking the puck the length of the ice and taking shots on net. When the puck became lose in the slot in front of the Skipper’s net at the 2 minute mark, the Eagles Jake Olson shot it into the net to cut the Skipper’s lead to 2-1. Samantha Burke and Ryan Lesko got the assists.
Eden Prairie turned up the pressure after that goal and it resulted in a Minnetonka cross checking penalty. Ten seconds later the Eagles scored a power play goal to tie the game 2-2. Andrew Erwin scored from the right point, beating the goalie with a shot to the upper left corner. Jackson LaCombe and Keegan Langefels got the assists. The second period ended in a 2-2 tie.
No one scored in the third period. The opening minutes of the third period was raggedly played. Both teams had opportunities to score and both goalies came up with good saves. But as the third period wound down, the Skippers had the better chances.
The Eagle defense started to “turtle” (go into a shell). They started to play five across in the neutral zone, trying to turn the Skipper attack and dump the puck back into the Skipper zone. They almost lost the game.
The Skippers beat the defense in the neutral ice more than once and each time they turned it into a good scoring opportunity that just missed because the Skipper forward could not make the shot. They missed a wide open Eagle net three times because they missed the puck on the shot or directed the puck wide of the net.
The shots on goal were even, 17 for the Eagles, 19 for the Skippers. But in the first two periods, the Skippers controlled the puck in the Eagles zone for more than 70 % of the game time. They could not beat the Eagles defense men.
First and second place are usually coveted in the D6. This year first and second place have lost their playoff relevance as a result of the AA/A split. With four seeds at stake (three to the AA East Regionals and one to the South Regional) and seven D6 teams contending, the best chance a D6AA team has to make a regional is to not finish fourth, sixth or seventh.
The irony is that the best spots to finish in (if you can’t be the top two) is third or fifth. Last night, the Skippers’ tie gave them a shot at fifth place assuming D6 uses the playoff format they have used for the last 25 or more years.