No. 1 Team in Minnesota Undefeated No More
Another trip to the Twin Cities from Duluth, another game against a struggling opponent for the No. 1 Duluth East Greyhounds (9-1-3). Yet, Eden Prairie (6-8-1) had the role of spoiler on their minds, at least subconsciously, entering the game Saturday afternoon against the last undefeated team in the state.
Eden Prairie were at least looking to keep the score to a respectable margin after failing to impress throughout the season and riding a winless streak building up to six games. In all honesty, not many were giving Eden Prairie a chance to win this game and I do not think the team would blame them — a six-game losing streak versus the only remaining undefeated. It was not the hardest game to predict prior to puck drop. Eden Prairie looked lackadaisical and disinterested in warm-ups and during the National Anthem. The game even started nearly 30 minutes late after a stray puck crashed, and ultimately shattered, one of the plexiglas panels in what was the ultimate statement of the Eagles’ season.
The Hounds, on the other hand, looked to be on a mission. Huddling around each other and starting the game on a quick note as they wanted to prove that Northern Minnesota teams are worthy of the top ranking in state. Initially, they did just that with a bullet of a shot from North Dakota commit Ryder Donovan (Jr.) going right under the blocker side of Eagle’s goalkeeper, Andrew Dietrich (Sr.), only 19 seconds into the first. One shot. One goal. Having a fan base that travelled two hours to watch them play and took up half of the arena’s seating gave Duluth East a large advantage throughout the first period. The Eagles were able to get on the board and tie it at one at 12:12 in the first off a slow roller that sneaked in net off Tim Piechowski’s (Jr.) stick, but Duluth East responded less than a minute later after junior Ricky Lyle took an outlet pass right on his stick and streaked out of the zone and beat Dietrich one-on-one with a beautiful wrist shot leading to a 2-1 Duluth East lead at the end of the first.
If a lack of motivation was the issue for Eden Prairie heading into the game, they must have found some of Michael Jordan’s secret stuff because they came out of the locker rooms gunning for the upset that had been lurking in their subconscious up to that point. Mimicking almost exactly what East did to start the first, Eden Prairie started the second. This time with Ryan Lesko (Sr.) snaking through the Hound’s defense and slipping a neat backhand through the five hole to re-tie the game at two only eight seconds in. Yet the momentum for the Eagles began to fade after Duluth East’s Jack Fitzgerald (Jr.) slapped in a rebound to put the Hounds up 3-2 following an amazing effort to gather in the loose puck. The outlook continued to look bleak for Eden Prairie after they went on a five on three with 2:22 left in the period, but were completely shut down and unable to capitalize when they needed to.
Eden Prairie were somehow able to open the third the same way they were able to start the second and Duluth East the first by scoring within the first minute of the period when Jack Jensen (Jr.) grabbed the puck and rocketed it home for the third tie of the game. Eden Prairie was able to cash in again 11 minutes when senior Joey Graen netted a stunning top-self pass to take their first lead of the evening and all the confidence they could ever have. Panic began to settle in for Duluth East as they began to dial the pressure up, but Dietrich and the Eagles held strong for a season-defining victory.
It was an especially interesting game to watch for Dietrich after I had criticized his sporadic play in Eden Prairie’s loss to No. 2 St. Thomas Academy earlier in the week. He was outstanding even with allowing three goals in. Some of his saves baffled me as to how he stopped the puck and 43 out of 46 stops is above serviceable for a goalie who has been struggling in his senior season. This win proves that Eden Prairie has the talent to compete with everyone in state, as their preseason rankings and hype justified, but they had not been putting the pieces together. It was especially meaningful due to their competitiveness in the majority of their losses including the 3-2 game to St. Thomas and 4-3 contest against rising darlings, Cloquet-Esko-Carlson.
In regard to Duluth East, this could be considered a setback in terms of their rankings in the coming weeks. But with rankings meaning squat outside of a gauge to how a team is playing, their schedule is highly favorable to get them a high seed entering the section tournament. They will need to find their footing again, however, as Eden Prairie was able to completely shut out Garrett Worth who I have as a top candidate for Mr. Hockey. If other teams can get solid goalkeeper play and find a way to minimize Worth’s damage, the Greyhounds may be in for some close calls.
— Bo Johannes (@bo_johannes) January 14, 2018
- G Andrew Dietrich (Eden Prairie) – 43 Saves
- F Tim Piechowski (Eden Prairie) – 1 G, 2 A
- F Ryan Lesko (Eden Prairie) – 1 G, 2 A
Next Game Outlook:
Duluth East heads back to the Northland to take on the floundering defending state champions, Grand Rapids, in a game that was rescheduled from this past week to next week for undisclosed reasons. East should handle the Thunderhawks with relative ease as the team has faced massive change in the past year from losing their top players to graduation and their head coach to a job change. Grand Rapids is beyond an embarrassment for the city this year as they currently sit at 3-11-1 and are scoring only 1.20 goals a game and giving up nearly five. They are also coming off a loss to Class A Hermantown. That isn’t much to scoff at as Hermantown is a Class A power, but losing 3-1 and being completely manhandled is no way to build any confidence.
Eden Prairie on the other hand will be hungry to knock of another No. 1 team when they go to Minnetonka on Thursday in Lake Conference battle. Tonka was tested on Saturday with a 5-3 win over Hermantown at home, but the score line was closer than it looks as they struggled to put them away until late in the third. Do not expect another Eden Prairie upset as this is appearing to be a classic let down game. But no one saw the win against Duluth East coming either. It will be important for both teams though, as it is within the most competitive conference in the state and the conference crown is a highly coveted title to have during a successful season.
Key Players for Grand Rapids:
D Mike Heitkamp (Sr.) – 2 G, 6 A, 8 Pts
F Jack Burnson (Sr.) – 3 G, 2 A, 5 Pts
G Gabe Holum (Sr.) – 3-7-1, 3.89 GAA, .913 SV%
Key Players for Minnetonka:
F Jack Bayless (Jr.) – 10 G, 13 A, 23 Pts
F Luke Loheit (Sr.) – 11 G, 10 A, 21 Pts
G Charlie Glockner (Jr.) – 9-1-1 2.20 GAA, .906 SV%
*All statistics, names, and schedules provided by MN Boy’s Hockey Hub
Written by Jack Kewitsch / @JackKewitsch
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