EDINA, MN — Regaining the top spot in many state rankings, including my own, the No. 1 Edina Hornets hosted the No. 12 Centennial Cougars at Braemar Arena in Edina, Minnesota on Tuesday.
The Hornets, who were coming off season-defining victories over in-conference rival No. 4 Minnetonka and No. 23 Eden Prairie, were looking to not succumb to the pressure that has swallowed other top-ranked teams so far this year. As for the Cougars, they had been up and down since the calendar flipped to 2018 and desperately wanted to play spoiler on the road.
When the snow settled, however, the final 3-2 Edina victory was not the score line either team had in mind coming into the game.
The first went about as well as anything Centennial could have expected while looking for the upset. Only 1:50 in the game, senior Carter Wagner top-shelved a pass from Lucas McGregor to put the Cougars up one early.
That would not be all from the Centennial in the first, either, as just six minutes later in the game senior Jack Menne netted his 15th goal of the season off another McGregor assist after he snuck the puck through the five-hole of Edina goaltender Garrett Mackay on the power play.
McGregor’s 24th and 25th assists this season pit Centennial up by a surprising score of 2-0.
It was a frustrating period for the Hornets as they out-shot Centennial, 14-11, but were unable capitalize on any of the chances they had. A lot of which has to be credited to Centennial’s play in the defensive zone. They consistently knew which plays Edina was trying to run that have seen success and were able to clog their passing lanes along while laying down on the ice multiple times to stop passes to the front of the net.
Those tactics could become the Achilles’ Heel for the Hornets if they do not adapt in future games.
Down 2-0 entering the second period, Edina came out swinging. They continued to run their game predicated on putting the puck on net and aggressively forechecking and hitting their opponents at every chance. It was an all-around better period for the home squad as they put 18 shots on net while holding Centennial to eight in comparison.
Yet, Edina could still not get anything going to mount a comeback.
That was until Centennial received another power play opportunity off a Jake Boltmann holding call midway through the period. Edina is one of the best teams in the state at killing penalties at an 87.5% clip, and it was on display again Tuesday.
Edina did give up one in the first, but this time around they continued to dump it out of their zone and even had opportunities with their speed to chase Centennial players back deep into their own zone to kill the penalty. This led to their best play of the night to that point when junior Jett Jungels came right off the bench, skated into the offensive zone and stole the puck right off the stick of the defender in front of the net to score shorthanded.
With Jungels’ goal being the only scoring the second, the period would ultimately end uneventfully even with Edina on the power play and 1:20 of carryover to begin the third. If you didn’t look at the box score, you would have no clue Edina was the dominant team. At the end of two frames, Edina had fired 32 shots to Centennial’s 15, yet capitalization early on was key and Cougars’ goalie Travis Allen was on fire saving 31 of them.
It was not Centennial’s time to win, however, as Edina continued to press the attack in the third after coming out on the power play and tying the game at 2-2 after a deflected Ben Brinkman shot landed at the stick of Sammy Walker, who put it home.
Edina capitalized again off a Lewis Crosby’s one-timer to take a 3-2 lead moments later and never looked back.
When asked about taking two periods to really find their rhythm and what he told the team in the locker room during the intermissions, Edina head coach Curt Giles said, “Absolutely nothing, to tell you the truth.”
He mentioned it was initially a disappointing effort in the first, but they “just let them go.”
Giles, who played 14 seasons in the National Hockey League for the Minnesota North Stars, New York Rangers and St. Louis Blues, said he has faith in this squad, as he should, and knows they can compete with anyone in state.
But no one is safe and anyone can be beat on any given night if the effort is not there.
For the Cougars (11-5-3), the loss is only their fifth, but streaky play has become the norm. They will get the opportunity to bounce back against a North Metro foe in No. 10 Andover on Thursday but will need a better offensive showing if they are going to hold a team averaging nearly five goals a game in check.
Edina (19-1), on the other hand, picked up their 11th win over a ranked opponent and a chance to add another on Thursday at No. 11 Wayzata.
Giles says the game will provide, “a good opportunity for us and a good challenge for us,” along with Waytata being “always well-coached and well-prepared.”
It will be a match-up to watch after the way Wayzata played Minnetonka last week in a game that was physical from start to finish.
1. G Garrett Mackay (Edina) – 25 saves
2. G Travis Allen (Centennial) – 32 saves
3. F Lewis Crosby (Edina) – Go-ahead goal
Written by Jack Kewitsch / @JackKewitsch
Special to HockeyClan
Main Image: Edina celebrates its 3-2 victory over Centennial at Braemar Arena on January 30, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Jon Whear)
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