ST. PAUL, MN — St. Thomas Academy must not have heard that I moved them down from No. 2 to No. 4 in my Minnesota Class AA weekly Top-10 rankings this week as they played like a team looking for any reason to lose to a struggling Eden Prairie team.
St. Thomas Academy (10-1-1) turned the tables on Eden Prairie (5-7-1), however, winning the game 3-2 over the Eagles at home Tuesday night as the Cadets were never able to pull away over a team trying to understand what has gone wrong after being pegged as a preseason dark horse to win the state title.
Right from the first puck drop, the game appeared it was going to be a physically demanding and low scoring affair. Yet, it initially appeared St. Thomas was going to douse that theory in gasoline and light it up because Rob Christy (Jr.) — not to be confused with his senior older brother and Mr. Hockey candidate, Ray — slipped the puck past Eden Prairie goaltender Andrew Dietrich (Sr.) only 46 seconds into the opening frame.
The rest of the first saw plenty of scoring chances for both sides as the Cadets were able put the puck on net 13 times to the Eagles’ 11, but nothing but Christy’s early goal appeared on the scoreboard. Although the score and shots were not showing it, St. Thomas was in near complete control, physically, until Eden Prairie’s Jack Jensen netted his 12th goal of the season at the 10:06 mark of the second. Every chance Eden Prairie had in St. Thomas’s end always seemed to end with a shot from the point, an Eden Prairie rebound, and a St. Thomas defender muscling him off the
puck and passing it out of the zone.
Although Eden Prairie tied it at one late, the Cadets were able to answer exactly three minutes later of the passing of forwards Payton Matsui (Sr.) and Ray Christy (Sr.) and a great open-net shot by defender Chase Foley (Sr.) to go up 2-1 heading into the second intermission.
Speaking of open-net shots, St. Thomas had a lot of them through the first two periods. Yes, their passing was stellar as it has been all season, but the real reason for their chances came from Dietrich in between the pipes. On three separate occasions he came completely out of the crease while St. Thomas was camped in their zone. Over-pursuing pucks and misreading ricochets blew my mind as Dietrich is a seasoned veteran for the Eagles. His confidence appears to be nearly shot as he has lost his last four starts while allowing a goal-against average of 4.25 over that stretch.
Even though Dietrich was erratic in his movements, the Eagles remained in the game until late in the third. They even tied the game at 2-2 at the 9:18 mark off junior Carson Jones’s 7th goal of the season, assisted by Jack Jensen.
It would not last, however.
Jensen was called for a blatant slash at 11:37 that allowed Rob Christy to swoop down off a pass from Matsui along the near boards and come up and around Dietrich for the go-ahead goal at 12:58.
The Eagles would not go away though. Pulling Dietrich in favor of the extra attacker immediately after winning the
ensuing faceoff after the goal nearly worked. The Eagles hit the post twice in the final minute and a half, but continued to absentmindedly pass the puck past the red line. All St. Thomas had to do was impose themselves at that point to secure their 10th win of the season.
Looking at the Eagles, they need something to go their way heading into conference play. Playing in the Lake Conference with foes #3 Edina, Hopkins, #2 Minnetonka, and nearly-ranked Wayzata, Eden Prairie cannot focus on their shocking record, but instead need to focus on motivation. This is due to the appearance that head coach Lee Smith has only seen success when he has near-generational talents in the like of 2017 Mr. Hockey winner and current USA World Juniors star Casey Mittlestadt.
As for the Cadets, this game validated the drop in my rankings. Having trouble with teams they should beat by more than one or two goals has become a trend for them as six of their 10 wins are of that nature. One of those is even against Eden Prairie in the Schwan’s Cup Gold on December 27th where they needed overtime to put the Eagles away in a 5-4 victory. They have the pieces to compete with the best in Class AA, but need to start proving it against better opponents.
1. F Rob Christy (St. Thomas Academy) – 2 G, GWG
2. G Atticus Kelly (St. Thomas Academy) – 38 Saves
3. F Payton Matsui (St. Thomas Academy) – 2 A
Next Game Outlook:
Expect St. Thomas to roll out their younger players and test their depth with a match-up against Hastings (2-10-1) at home on January 11th. I would be shocked if the Cadets don’t put six or more goals on them without allowing a single one from Hastings, which is scoring only 1.77 goals-per-game while yielding 4.46.
When your leading scorer has only six goals through 13 games in senior forward Morgan Sweeny, it is going to be a forgettable season.
As for Eden Prairie, they host the competitively-intriguing Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (10-5-1) from Northern Minnesota near Duluth on Friday the 12th. Cloquet is on a surprising roll this season with a surprising offense that has six players surpassing the 15-point mark at this point in the season.
They are also coming off a head-turning win over Duluth Marshall, 4-2, whom I ranked No. 7 this past weekend. Maybe Cloquet will be the freshest face to appear in those rankings this year. In regard to the Eagles, head coach Lee Smith is going to need a rally the troops game to try and stave off rumors of unemployment when the off-season comes around.
Key Players for Hastings:
F Morgan Sweeny (Sr.) – 6 G, 2 A, 8 Pts
F Logan Boogren (Jr.) – 3 G, 6 A, 9 Pts
F Leo Otto (So.) – 4 G, 5 A, 9 Pts
Key Players for Cloquet-Esko-Carlton:
F Landon Langenbrunner (Jr.) – 16 G, 13 A, 29 Pts
F Jon Baker (Jr.) – 9 G, 9 A, 16 Pts
F Jedd Anich (Sr.) – 7 G, 12 A, 19 Pts
G Owen Carlson (So.) – 8-4-1, 2.27 GAA, .895 SV%
*All statistics, names, and schedules provided by MN Boy’s Hockey Hub
Main Image: Rob Christy (11) scores the game-winning goal for St. Thomas Academy in its 3-2 victory over Eden Prairie on January 9, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Rick Olson – @rickolson77)
Written by Jack Kewitsch / @JackKewitsch
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