Eagan girls getting ready to defend section title
Eagan coach Tom Younghans is aware of all the scenarios that could affect seeding for the section girls hockey playoffs that begin next week. And while they’re not trivial, he wishes everybody could just get on with it already.
“Let’s just drop the puck,” he said with a chuckle.
At this point of the season, everybody’s anxious for the playoffs to start. Eagan entered the final week of the regular season with a good chance of earning the No. 1 seed in Section 3AA and was still alive in the South Suburban Conference race. Eagan plays host to Burnsville at 7:15 p.m. Thursday and will close the regular season at Prior Lake at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I can look ahead, and I’d like us to get the No. 1 seed,” Younghans said Tuesday morning. “But we’re trying to get the girls to think one shift, one period, one game at a time, and if we can get that kind of mindset, I think we’ll do well.”
The Wildcats were on a four-game winning streak going into their meeting with Burnsville, but Younghans said he was looking for more consistency.
“When we’ve played strong teams, we’ve played up to their level,” the coach said. “When we’ve played teams that haven’t won as much, we’ve done just enough to win. My challenge is to get them to play more consistently. Burnsville is going to be a tough battle for us, and then we’ll have Prior Lake on the road.”
Burnsville (12-8-3) might have an argument for the No. 1 seed if it wins out this week. Otherwise, Eagan has the best overall record (14-8-1) in the section as well as the best record (7-0-1) against section opponents.
Last week Eagan won home games against Lakeville South (4-3) and Rosemount (6-4). In each case, Younghans said, the Wildcats played well at times, “but we’re trying to get 51 minutes (of solid play), not just 34.”
Eagan scored three times in the second period against Lakeville South, which has Eagan High School’s all-time best girls hockey player (Natalie Darwitz) as its head coach and a former EHS head coach (Scott Darwitz) as an assistant.
The Wildcats’ top line scored all six goals against Rosemount, led by senior Megan Wolfe with a hat trick and three assists. Shelby Williams had two goals and Brooke Madsen had a goal and assist.
Wolfe has 40 points (23 goals, 17 assists) despite missing four games in December and January to play for the U.S. team in the world Under-18 tournament.
Wolfe, Madsen (34 points) and Williams (22) are the only Eagan players with more than 12 points. At the beginning of the season, Younghans moved Williams to the second line in search of more scoring balance but the coach has since put her back with Wolfe and Madsen.
“It was OK” with Williams on the second line, Younghans said. “But we talked about it and decided to put them back together because they really work together well as a line.”
The Wildcats are hoping players such as Sarah Jackson, Rachel Wall, Kelsey Walsh and Lexi Wilson can score some key goals in the playoffs on the second and third lines.
Emily Goff is one of the leaders on defense and also has seven goals. The Wildcats went into the season with three goaltenders who had never stopped a shot in a varsity game. Sophie Lundquist (3.24 goals-against average, .863 save percentage) has taken over the starting job.
Eagan was 12-2-1 in South Suburban Conference games going into this week’s play and trailed Lakeville North (13-2) by one point. Eagan needs someone to beat or tie North, which has won nine in a row, to have a chance to finish first in the league.
“It’d be nice, but right now we’re looking at trying to get to the state tournament,” Younghans said.
Burnsville, Apple Valley, Eastview, Rosemount, Hastings, East Ridge, Park of Cottage Grove and Woodbury are the other teams in Section 3AA, where Eagan is defending champion. A play-in game between the eighth and ninth seeds will be Monday, with the semifinals scheduled for Wednesday at the home sites of the higher-seeded teams. The semifinals (Feb. 9) and championship game (Feb. 13) will be at Veterans Memorial Community Center in Inver Grove Heights.