Randy Koeppl didn't mince words. He firmly believes Holy Family Catholic will win a girls hockey title in the coming seasons.
It's hard to argue.
The Fire, 21-game winners in 2019-20, return 11 of 15 varsity skaters, not just for next year but again in 2021-22. Their standout goaltender, Sedona Blair, is just a freshman.
Sixty goals from underclassmen return. All eleven skaters registered at least one goal as well. Holy Family Catholic has some impressive seasons ahead of them as players grow from freshmen into sophomores, sophomores into juniors.
Reaching the Section 2AA semifinals Feb. 11 was only the beginning.
This season, though, still belongs to Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. The Eagles advancing to its eighth straight section championship game with a 3-1 win over the Fire at Braemar Arena.
Eden Prairie, section champions in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018, were beaten 3-1 in the 2019 final by Minnetonka.
The Skippers and Eagles will play for the Section 2AA title for the fourth time in five years on Friday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. at Braemar.
Minnetonka beat the Eagles 4-0 and 4-3 in December, and lost 2-1 in January. Expect another one-goal game, as two previous section championship wins from Eden Prairie came by 2-1 scores. One in double overtime in 2017.
Eden Prairie, ranked No. 3 in the final rankings, now 20-6-1 overall, features 12 upperclassmen on its varsity roster, including leading scorer Sydney Langseth.
That experience, that maturity, showed versus Holy Family Catholic.
Koeppl felt the Fire could win if it became a 5-on-5 game, Holy Family Catholic deeper with three scoring lines, Eden Prairie getting most of its points from its top line.
That was not the case Feb. 11.
After failing to score on four first-period power-plays, the Fire credited with three shots in the game's opening 17 minutes, spent nearly 10 minutes the final two periods on the penalty kill.
Suddenly Eden Prairie took over the game's momentum, scoring twice over the first 12 minutes of the third period, to put the game away. The Eagles were credited with a 41-10 shot difference.
A one-goal game through two periods, in large part due to Blair and her 26 saves, as well as a hard-working kill unit captained by Caitlin Rock at the top, an early third period goal seemed to deflate Holy Family Catholic.
Langseth fed Grace Kuipers in front of the goal, a quick redirect finding the back of the net just 11 seconds in. The Fire did not record a shot in the period until 10 minutes had elapsed in the third period.
Kuipers' tipped shot off a Langseth wrister found room over her left pad for the 3-0 Eden Prairie lead, completing the hat trick.
Holy Family Catholic, which hit a crossbar down 2-0 and had a chance to take the lead in the first period on a shot with an open net, did get on the board with a power-play tally from Maddie Morgan from the point with 39 seconds remaining.
Blair finished with 38 saves for Holy Family Catholic (21-6).
The Fire graduate four seniors in Rock, Sydney Paulsen, Cecily Cronin, and Lauren Hickey.
MINNETONKA 2, SHAKOPEE 1
What has made Minnetonka so successful over the years in girls hockey? Defense.
If you can't score a ton of goals, don't let teams score on you.
Minnetonka held fourth-seeded Shakopee to 17 total shots, four over the third period, in a 2-1 win in the Section 2AA semifinals Feb. 11 at Braemar Arena.
The Skippers will play in the championship game for the fourth time in five years since being moved from Section 6AA to 2AA. Minnetonka is the defending section champions, beating their Friday, Feb. 14 opponent, Eden Prairie, 3-1 in last year's finals.
After Shakopee took an early lead, a goal from Olivia Grabianowski, Minnetonka weathered a two-minute penalty kill, scoring just four seconds later, Grace Sadura netting her ninth goal of the season with an assist to Olivia LaRoche.
Tied at one into the final period, senior Ellie Alvarez, just two goals in 22 games this season, scored the winner at 5:12, LaRoche again with the lone assist.
Goaltender Brynn Dulac and the Skippers held the rest of the way, despite three Shakopee power plays, for the 2-1 final. Dulac stopped 16-of-17 shots faced for Minnetonka (20-6-1), ranked No. 5 in state.