Eventual champs stop top-seeds in state semifinals
Eden Prairie senior Nolan Sullivan scored with one minute, five seconds left in overtime to give the defending Class AA state champions the third place trophy in 2017.
The Eagles edged Lakeville South 3-2 on Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center for the trophy on the same ice where 18 hours earlier Grand Rapids won the semifinal by a 3-2 score.
Two third place trophies and a state title over three seasons. Not bad for any state hockey program.
The program also won on the outdoor rink at Lowell Park in Stillwater during Hockey Day Minnesota, Jan. 21, by a 4-1 score with two goals from Casey Mittelstadt and one each from Hunter Johannes and Tim Piechowski. The Eagles and Ponnies were the focal point on StateOfHockey.com’s six-episode “Dream State” series, documenting the trials and tribulations on the way to the state tournament.
The Eagles came into state as the top seed while bouncing around the top of the big-school rankings all season before finishing with a 23-5-2 record. They came into state on a 17-game winning streak that stretched back to a 7-0 shutout of Prior Lake on Jan. 7 which served as the 2017 opener and post-holiday portion of the schedule.
Add to that the list of individual accolades including Mittelstadt, the standout senior forward who finished the season with 23 goals, 49 assists and 72 points and was named 2017 Minnesota Mr. Hockey, an award presented to the top senior for the last 33 years.
Mittelstadt plans to play the University of Minnesota next season after finishing out the 2016-17 season with the USHL’s Green Bay Gamblers and is projected to be a first-round draft pick in June’s National Hockey League’s Entry Draft. The Mr. Hockey Award is voted on by a panel of professional and amateur scouts and coaches and is presented annually by the Minnesota Minute Men.
Mittelstadt’s intention to return to Eden Prairie for his senior season was well-documented. He wanted to win a state title, but even more, as he wrote on Twitter after state, he wanted one more chance to play alongside friends he grew up with.
Classmate Nicky Leivermann was a finalist for the award along with Matt Anderson, Holy Family; Noah Cates, Stillwater; Ben Meyers, Delano; Micah Miller, Grand Rapids; Bauer Neudecker, St. Louis Park; Nick Perbix, Elk River; Dylan Samberg and Ryan Sandelin, both of Hermantown.
Leivermann, a Notre Dame commit and one of the top defensemen in the state, collected 40 points on 28 assists and 12 goals over 26 games.
Samberg was named the Reed Larson Award recipient as the top senior defenseman in the state.
Hill-Murray’s Jake Begley took home the Frank Brimsek Award which is presented to the top senior goaltender.
Maple Grove’s Breanna Blesi was named the Let’s Play Hockey Senior Goalie of the Year.
Coach of the Year honors went to Dave Esse of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in Class AA and Moose Younghans of South St. Paul in Class A.
Three unanswered goals in the third period put Eden Prairie into the Class AA state semifinal after defeating Wayzata for a third time this season in the state quarterfinals 3-1 on March 9.
Noah Deraney’s one-timer tied the game with 6:29 left in regulation. A wrist shot from Leivermann with 1:22 left pulled the Eagles ahead 2-1 and an empty net goal from Mike Sullivan made it 3-1. Eden Prairie senior goaltender Nick Wiencek stopped 14-of-15 shots while Wayzata senior Reid Waszczenko did one better, stopping all 23 shots he faced through the first two periods before finishing with 35 saves in the game.
The all-Lake Conference contest was a rematch of the 2016 championship game that went to the Trojans by a 5-3 score.
The win set the Eagles up with a date against the 2016 third-place champion Grand Rapids Thunderhawks led by former NHLer and Gophers great Trent Klatt.
The Thunderhawks defeated Eden Prairie 3-1 at the Edina Holiday Tournament at Braemar Arena on Dec. 16. Gabe Holum made 25 saves in net that night while Blake McLaughlin, Gavin Hain and Drake Anderson provided the goals. Jensen was the lone goal-scorer for Eden Prairie and Wiencek made 17 saves.
Fifth-seeded Grand Rapids upset Eden Prairie 3-2 in Friday’s semifinal thanks to 47 saves by goaltender Zach Stejskal and senior forward Connor Stefan’s game-winning goal with 7:56 left in regulation.
Eden Prairie, in front of announced crowd of 21,485, came from behind to win both section games by one goal in addition to the wild final period against Wayzata one day earlier.
On Friday, the Eagles pressed hard to get one more equalizer, taking 24 shots on goal in the third period alone against their northern opponents, affectionately known as the “Holloween Machine” for its orange and black uniform, but couldn’t convert the shots into the tying goal.
Grand Rapids’ John Stampohar tripped Eden Prairie sophomore Jack Jensen with 1:40 left. The resulting power play gave the Eagles a two-man advantage, 6-on-4 but the Thunderhawks denied that third goal for the win.
Not only did Eden Prairie have the edge in shots but also won more draws by a 55-28 margin.
Eagles junior forward Ryan Lesko scored 5:15 into the contest to give the red-clad Eden Prairie student section a reason to bang the glass. He tracked his shot looking for a rebound off the save. The puck dropped to Lesko between the hash marks and slotted the puck home his sixth goal of the season. Jake Olson picked up the assist.
Three minutes later, senior forward Jarod Blackowiak had a prime chance to make it 2-0 as he split between two Grand Rapids defensemen before releasing a low shot between the legs of Stejskal only to have the puck ricochet off the far post and out.
Mittelstadt showcased that extra boost of speed combined with quick hands to weave through traffic. He circled around the Thunderhawks goal before Stejskal made the save.
Just before the first intermission sophomore Spencer Rudrud was joined by Leivermann in the penalty box. With three seconds left on the two-man advantage, Grand Rapids tied the game with a goal from Stampohar coming at 15:51. Stampohar’s crossing pass was inadvertently deflected into the goal off Mittelstadt’s stick to make it 1-1.
Grand Rapids took a 2-1 lead as Keeghan Graeber scored on a rush 6:29 into the second period after the bouncing puck skipped past Leivermann’s stick at the Eagles blue line.
With 2:27 left in the period, Jensen, a Minnesota recruit, tied the game with his 18th goal of the season by redirecting a rebound off a shot by Mittelstadt who collected the puck after Rudrud’s shot wrapped around the boards.
Contact Jason Olson at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @SunSportsJason