I'd like to think I did Eden Prairie a bit of a cosmic favor here. Throughout the night, I was hearing updates from the other big game to the west between Edina and Minnetonka. While Jefferson was leading 3-1 in the third period, I heard Edina and Minnetonka were heading into overtime, and then a few minutes later, that Edina had won in overtime. I mentally kicked myself for not choosing to go to that game instead and thought to myself that Eden Prairie better tie the game and take it into overtime to match the other game.
Sure enough, Dan Molenaar fired a huge powerplay one-timer goal midway through the third to make it 3-2, and with three and a half minutes left, Kyle Rau, standing behind the Jefferson net, flicked a seemingly harmless backhand pass towards the front of the net that bounced off a Jaguar defender, and as if directed by my wish, found a hole between the goalie's legs to tie the game.
The overtime apparently only lasted 29 seconds. I was so shocked to see that when I got home that I had to double check with another source to make sure it wasn't a misprint. In those 29 seconds, you had a great rush by Eden Prairie's top line that almost ended in a goal, Caleb Herbert with a nice rush that was stopped by a nice defensive play by Molenaar, and then another strong rush by EP's top line that resulted in Molenaar capping off a hat trick with the game winner. It was a lot of action crammed into 29 seconds.
Overall, this game had great pace to it, with lots of excellent skating and puck movement by both teams. It had to be one of the better played high school games I've seen in a while. You can read more thoughts on the game after the jump.
This has got to be a tough one for Jefferson to lose. I felt like they really controlled this game throughout the first two periods and Eden Prairie was lucky to stay in it with a couple of powerplay goals. Eden Prairie did get the first five powerplays of the game, before Jefferson got one fairly late in the game. And then Eden Prairie definitely caught a huge break on the game-tying goal.
Individually, Kyle Rau has been one of the big stories this year in Minnesota. I haven't been as high on Rau as some other people--I don't think I've seen some of his better efforts-- but he was very good tonight, bordering on dominant. I still think he's risky as a college prospect because he's so small, but he showed a great burst of speed, and did a pretty nice job controlling the puck. He was also matched up against Caleb Herbert all night and won some huge offensive zone face-offs extremely cleanly, which is impressive since I've always thought of Herbert as fairly strong in the circle. He also had two or three breakaways too, that he couldn't quite finish off.
Dan Molenaar was the hero of the game, scoring on three big slap shots from the point. Despite that, I wouldn't have classified it as his best game. He was excellent offensively all night, but I don't think it was his best defensive game, though like I mentioned, he made a great play bodying up on Herbert in overtime.
Eden Prairie goalie Andrew Ford had a pretty strong game. He had no chance on either of the first two Jaguar goals, which were re-directed right in front of the net. The third goal was extremely soft, when he let a shot hit his stick, and rebound over his head and into the net, but I think he more than made up for that with some huge saves in the first period that kept his team in the game, and had a great breakaway save to keep the game at 3-1 late in the second. A goal there would have pretty much ended the game. I can't say too much about him technically, since I don't know much about goaltending, but something about the way he plays seems a little unorthodox to me. I've never a seen a goalie end up on his butt and sideways more than Ford. It certainly doesn't keep him from being an excellent goaltender though.
Jefferson's Caleb Herbert had been named a Mr. Hockey finalist earlier in the day--FWIW, a lot of buzz around the arena that Joey Benik didn't belong among the list of candidates Herbert had a hand in Jefferson's first two goals of the game. On the first, he made a great pass to the front of the net and a teammate tipped it in for an easy goal, and on the second, he finished off a 2-on-0 with a nice little redirection.
I'm not really sure of where Herbert fits in in regards to the NHL Draft. There were a couple NHL scouts in attendance tonight--though I think most were at Tonka-Edina. Central Scouting had him at 100 in their mid-terms, which initially seemed too high to me, but going down the list of guys behind him, I can't see many forwards I would rate above him.
Like Kyle Rau, Joe Faust was another kid where my general impression was a tad lower than the general consensus. He was extremely impressive tonight though. His vision and ability to make long passes is exceptional. He's got pretty decent size too. His defensive game has never been his strong point, but it's improved, and something that can probably be coached along.
Jeffrey Pauluk is Jefferson's other talented defender. For those curious, Faust and Pauluk weren't paired together, except on special teams. I was a little surprised Pauluk didn't make the Elite League NIT teams, but there were a lot of good defensemen this year. He's a smaller defenseman that's a decent skater and does a lot offensively. He's shooting the puck a lot more than he did last season, and I think that has really increased his point totals. With a couple years of junior hockey to develop some strength, he should be a college player.