Before the season started, the Eden Prairie High School boys hockey team had circled Saturday, March 7, on its calendar.
That’s the day of the Class AA state championship game, and Eden Prairie had a date, it hoped.
Two weeks ago, the Eagles inched closer to Saturday with a section-winning victory over Chaska.
On Thursday, No. 3-seeded Eden Prairie opened state tournament play with a 4-0 shutout of Lakeville South. Kai Stansberry, Luke Mittelstadt and Ben Steeves (2) scored Eden Prairie goals.
Like bees, the Eagles buzzed.
On Friday, Eden Prairie busted No. 2-seeded Blake, besting the Bears 4-1. Steeves, Jackson Blake, John Mittelstadt and Drew Holt counted Eden Prairie goals. Goalie Axel Rosenlund stopped 32 of 32 shots.
Again, the Eagles buzzed.
The win confirmed Saturday’s date.
Hill Murray would sit on the other side of the table. The Pioneers’ championship-game invitation had come with a hard-fought 3-2 overtime victory over conference rival St. Thomas Academy.
On Saturday, Hill Murray defeated Eden Prairie 4-1.
The Eagles’ buzz was a hum, ho-hum
“The best team won,” said Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith.
Hill Murray scored first, making good on its only power play opportunity of the game. The goal came at the 9:38 mark of the first period.
The first period ended with the Pioneers leading 1-0. Shots on goal favored Hill Murray 7-5.
“We didn’t score on an early three-on-two,” said Smith. “They score on their power play and we didn’t score on ours.
“That happens,” he added, “and it put us on our heels.”
Hill Murray made it 2-0 four minutes into the second period.
“We were fighting it all game,” said Eden Prairie assistant coach Paul Ranheim. “It was a confidence thing, and we never got it going.”
“They’ve got a really goalie,” said Smith. “The guys know that.”
With a little over one minute left in the second period, Hill Murray’s Charlie Stroble took the puck from just inside the blue line to behind the Eden Prairie net. He’d finish with a wraparound.
The goal extended the Pioneers’ lead to 3-0.
“That goal was the dagger,” said Smith.
Shots on goal through two periods favored Hill Murray 22-11.
End of story.
Steeves put the Eagles on the scoreboard with his fourth goal of the tournament six minutes into the third period.
“We made a little run,” said Smith. “We got it to 3-1. The energy returned to the bench and we thought if we could get it to 3-2, we could...”
Hill Murray scored its fourth goal of the game at the 10:59 mark of third period.
“That pretty much ended it,” said Smith.
Eden Prairie pulled its goalie with four minutes remaining, but neither team scored the rest of the way.
Final score: Hill Murray 4, Eden Prairie 1.
Eden Prairie finished its season with a 24-6-1 record. It won a Lake Conference title, it won a section championship and finished runner-up at the state tournament.
“We accomplished a lot and have a lot to be proud of,” said Smith.
Still, Eden Prairie wanted more.
“Sad end to a great season,” said the coach.