Wildcats face Edina in state semifinals

Eagan defeated Edina in a non-conference boys hockey game in early

Eagan forward Kevin Sturgeon skates the puck out of the Wildcats' zone in Thursday night's state boys hockey quarterfinal game against Duluth East. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy
Eagan forward Kevin Sturgeon skates the puck out of the Wildcats’ zone in Thursday night’s state boys hockey quarterfinal game against Duluth East. Photo by Mike Shaughnessy

December. On the eve of his team’s rematch with the Hornets in the Class AA semifinals, Wildcats coach Mike Taylor was quick to dismiss the importance of the previous meeting.

“We’re not the same team,” Taylor said. “We didn’t have the same lines and we were without a couple of players.

“I think that was the second week of the season. We’re both way different teams.”

After beating Duluth East 3-0 in the state quarterfinals Thursday night, the Wildcats (19-9-1) will play defending Class AA champion Edina in the semifinals shortly after 6 p.m. Friday at Xcel Energy Center.

Edina (23-4-1) routed Stillwater 6-1 in its quarterfinal game.

Eagan, riding the stout goaltending of junior Andrew Lindgren, defeated Edina 2-1 on Dec. 7.

“It happened so long ago that I honestly don’t even think it’s valid,” Taylor said. “We have to prepare for the team that played just before us (Thursday), and they were pretty good.”

Motioning to several Eagan players Taylor brought to a news conference, the coach said, “these guys will sleep tonight. I don’t know if I will.”

Lindgren made 28 saves in Eagan’s victory over Duluth East. He said his teammates were instrumental to him getting the shutout because they allowed few quality scoring chances.

The game was scoreless until 1.1 seconds remained in the second period. With the Wildcats on a power play, a shot by Nick Wolff hit Max Elsenheimer’s knee and deflected into the goal.

Elsenheimer scored again at 6:34 of the third period, and he assisted on Kyle Stebbing’s empty-net goal with 1:05 remaining.

Elsenheimer has five goals and three assists in four postseason games.

“I think the chemistry of my linemates (Ian Entzion and Spencer Roth) is helping out,” he said. “We’re all banging bodies, getting pucks to the net.”

In the second period the Wildcats were skating off a roughing penalty called against Nick Wolff when Stebbing was called for tripping. But instead of getting a two-man advantage, Duluth East coach Mike Randolph watched incredulously as one of his players, forward Ash Altmann, received a coincidental penalty for diving – or, as it’s known officially, “embellishment.”

Eagan killed the rest of the 5-on-4 disadvantage.

“He’s a 10th-grader,” Randolph said of Altmann. “He doesn’t know what ‘embellishment’ is.”

Had Duluth East gotten a 5-on-3 advantage and scored, it might have changed the course of the game, Randolph said. Instead, Eagan kept playing its game and began to see benefits.

“Once the kids started to chip (the puck) deep and go to work, then the game evened out at least. And maybe at the end it tilted in our favor,” Taylor said.