Eden Prairie was physical. Eden Prairie was fast. Eden Prairie was disciplined.
Eden Prairie is headed to the Section 2AA boys hockey championship game.
The Eagles, beaten 6-2 in a December meeting with Chaska, was the better team from the moment the puck dropped, a 7-3 victory on Feb. 23 at Braemar Arena over a Hawks team looking to play in its first section final.
Eden Prairie was knocked out of the 2018 playoffs by Chaska on the Eagles' home ice.
“We were embarrassed last year at home. That was a good hockey team that beat us in overtime, but that hurt a lot," Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith, now in his 26th year with the Eagles. "We had won four (section titles) in a row. It hurt a lot. And then the Christmas tournament we were definitely embarrassed. We were horrible. We weren't the same team tonight."
Playing with that emotion, Eden Prairie, despite early deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, was shot of a cannon, claiming a 3-2 advantage through one period.
In a second 17 minutes needed to win by Chaska, it was the Eagles that added two goals for the 5-2 lead.
“I haven't had a chance to watch much of Chaska since that December game. They're a hard team to defend, but we had some ideas to help us out and our big guys showed up. I give them all the credit," Smith said.
University of Minnesota recruit Jack Jensen finished with two goals and two assists with John and Luke Mittelstadt adding a tally each.
Carter Batchelder's two goals, one in the first period, and another in the second, staked Eden Prairie to a 4-2 lead.
Chaska did pull within 5-3 on a power-play goal from Mike Koster, but Eden Prairie answered right back, keeping the Hawks from its first 20-win season.
“It was desire. We played with urgency like never before," Smith said of the win. Eagles goaltender Axel Rosenlund, shaky at first according to Smith, was solid, making 31 saves to 24 from Chaska senior captain Justin Bach.
"I do think not being here a lot, it's hard. You can mentally try to prepare your kids to be here, but it's challenge. We don't take lightly the experience of our program playing in a number of games like these," the Eagles coach said.
Rhett Pitlick opened the scoring for Chaska, getting behind the Eden Prairie defense for a breakaway goal.
It was 2-1 Hawks when Blaine Warnert crashed the net, banging home a rebound of a wrister from Charlie Goodrich at the 12:27 mark of the first period.
"It was hard for me going through the line seeing (Mike) Koster, (Blaine Warnert). Those guys are what high school hockey is all about. They came back for that game. They came back for their team. Incredible talent Chaska has," Smith said. "We play this game 10 times, it's 5-5."
Eden Prairie, the No. 3 seed, will be the home team in the Section 2AA championship on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 6 p.m. at 3M Arena at Mariucci at the University of Minnesota.
The Eagles will face No. 5 seed Holy Family Catholic for the second time in three years. The Fire upset second-ranked and defending state champion Minnetonka 2-1 in overtime.
END OF THE ROAD
When Koster walked off the ice after the Section 2AA semifinals in February 2018, it felt like it was the last time the Chaska captain would wear the Hawks jersey.
An opportunity to jump to Juniors on the table, the path numerous high school hockey players have taken in years past, Koster made the right call for him.
He came back to finish things off with his Chaska teammates.
"To my teammates, the countless memories we made over the last four years is something I will never forget. Through the successes and the failures we always stayed together and with that we represented our community well," he wrote on Twitter. "With the help of prior players, we have developed this program and been role models to players who will soon be throwing on a Hawk jersey."
Koster, a Mr. Hockey finalist, the winner announced March 9 in St. Paul, finished with 20 goals and 41 assists in his senior season.
In four years, Koster compiled 69 goals and 120 assists from his defense position.
"Once a Hawk, always a Hawk," the future Minnesota Gopher said.