Eagan skaters continue to roll

Boys hockey team 14-1-1 in last 16 games

Eagan forward Zach Schultz tries to weave through several Lakeville South players during the Wildcats’ 5-2 victory Tuesday night. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Eagan forward Zach Schultz tries to weave through several Lakeville South players during the Wildcats’ 5-2 victory Tuesday night. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

Eagan retained its lead in South Suburban Conference boys hockey with a 5-2 victory over Lakeville South on Tuesday night, but the celebration was muted, to say the least.

The fact that the Wildcats won might have been the only thing coach Mike Taylor was happy about.

“It was OK the first period,” he said. “It was not OK the second and third periods. We got up, and then I thought we got selfish and lazy. We’ll address that in practice (Wednesday).”

Whatever message was sent, the players appeared to receive. Eagan routed Rosemount 8-1 on Thursday night, outshooting the Irish 55-12.

It could be that the team is just trying to keep its foot on the accelerator as it seeks a third consecutive state tournament appearance, because Eagan is hardly slumping. Eagan is 14-1-1 in its last 16 games, and had 66 shots on goal in the loss.

Forward Cullen Willox, one of the Wildcats’ captains, agreed with his coach’s assessment of Tuesday’s performance.

“It wasn’t one of our best games,” Willox said. “We need to work harder, and I think we’ll have a little more intensity in practice.”

Added intensity will be helpful as Eagan (15-3-1 overall, 11-1 SSC) has games coming up against its closest pursuers in the league. The Wildcats play Burnsville, the South Suburban’s second-place team, at home on Jan. 29 before going to Prior Lake on Feb. 2.

Eagan was never in danger of losing Tuesday night’s game. The Wildcats jumped to a 3-0 first-period lead, out-shooting the Cougars 16-4, and led by at least three goals the rest of the way.

But in the third period Eagan made two clumsy turnovers in its defensive zone that led to scoring opportunities for Lakeville South. The Cougars didn’t convert on either one but Taylor had seen enough, calling timeout to remind his players of their defensive responsibilities.

Willox scored twice for the Wildcats while Zach Glienke (the South Suburban’s leading scorer with 42 points), Nick Wolff and Max Elsenheimer had one goal each. Tommy Muck, Jesse Gabrielle and Zach Schultz each had two assists.

Willox had four goals in Thursday night’s victory at Rosemount.

If the Wildcats finished Tuesday’s game a little flat, it might have been from investing a lot of emotion into Saturday’s appearance at Hockey Day Minnesota in Grand Rapids.

Eagan, the first South Suburban Conference team to be invited to the event, drubbed Hibbing/Chisholm 9-2 on an outdoor rink at Pokegama Lake. Glienke had a five-point game with a hat trick and two assists. Jack Jenson had two goals and one assist.

“The ice was very fast and the boards were more lively,” said Willox. “And then we had the cold and wind (the windchill temperature was well below zero). But we had to try to treat it like any other game.”

Or any other open skate at Goat Hill Park. Willox said the Eagan players regularly gather on Sundays for a pickup game at the local park, and sometimes even after practice if the Wildcats don’t have a game for a few days.

With their outdoor record at 1-0, the Wildcats have taken it back inside in their drive to return to the state’s most celebrated indoor rink – Xcel Energy Center, for the state tournament.