The first day of the Edina Classic lived up to expectations with a pair of good hockey games with tight finishes that saw Elk River and Grand Rapids prevail with victories on the first day.
My quick thoughts on each game:
Elk River 3 Eden Prairie 2
I missed the first period of this one due to traffic, but by the time I got there, Elk River had opened up a 1-0 lead thanks to a big edge in shots on goal and a late goal.
Elk River then scored early in the second period on a beautiful shot by Connor Bizal, and should have gone up 3-0 shortly after, but had a goal waved off due to an accidental quick whistle. The Elks did go up 3-0 late in the second period though, on a goal by Kyle Bouten with four seconds left in the period, which felt like a real backbreaker.
With the 3-0 lead, Elk River played extremely conservative hockey, and it almost cost them. They were able to keep the Eden Prairie offense quiet, as they had most of the night for about half the period until Casey Mittelstadt broke through with a power play. Nolan Sullivan another one back to make it 3-2 and make things a little nerve-racking for Elk River. But ultimately, the Elks were able to hang on for the win.
The big story here was of course Casey Mittelstadt. He got the power play goal late on a nice shot where he found a lane through traffic and buried his shot. But otherwise, he was mostly held quiet with a lot of low-percentage chances.
Part of it was really good defense by Elk River. I said in my preview that one or both of Nick Perbix and Benton Maass would be on the ice or Elk River at all times, and that was true. Perbix played two out of every three shifts on defense, while Maass played every other shift. And Perbix was out on the ice every single shift Mittelstadt was on the ice. It was quite an impressive from him. I’ll be curious to see if they’re able to keep up that type of pace over the course of three straight games.
I also thought that Mittelstadt didn’t quite look like himself last night. Part of it was that he just looked like he was missing that extra step he sometimes has. His body language was not good all; he had the stick on his knees before and after every whistle. The other part of it was I thought he wasn’t getting much help from his linemates. He’s playing with young Minnesota commit Jack Jensen, who is a tremendous skater, but is much better individually than he is moving the puck to teammates.
But it’s one game, and not something I’d make too much out of. He’s still a fantastic player, and even on an off-night, was still dangerous nearly every time he touched the puck.
The other thing to remember is that Eden Prairie was playing without top defenseman Nicky Leivermann, who can really drive offense from their blue line.
Still, a very impressive win for Elk River. Two more games like that, and they’d have a very strong claim to being the #1 team in the state.
Grand Rapids 5 Edina 3
Like the early game, Grand Rapids took what felt like a comfortable 3-1 lead into the third period, but Edina came back with a pair of goals to tie the game, before Micah Miller made a great rush and finished off a goal for the winner with just under three minutes, and Grand Rapids added a late empty-netter.
Grand Rapids is a team that plays with a lot of emotion, and last night showed off the good and bad of that. Rapids went down 1-0 early because Blake McLaughlin took a silly penalty behind the play in the neutral zone to put his team down 5-on-3 for almost 90 seconds and Edina scored. Discipline with penalties is one of the big issues with this team.
But at the same time, I think it’s almost worth the occasional extra penalty here or there for the type of effort and hard work that Grand Rapids plays with. They’re led by a great top line, with three players that all have tremendous motors and make a lot of extra-effort type plays by keeping their feet moving. It’s fun to watch a team play hard and finish checks the way Grand Rapids does.
Playing a team like Edina also exposed the lack of depth that Grand Rapids has. Their top line with McLaughlin, Gavin Hain, and Miller might be the best 1-2-3 punch in the state, but Edina had a big edge against any other line. Grand Rapids was able to get one goal from their second line last night, which ultimately made the difference, but they were outplayed the majority of the game.
What really won the game for Grand Rapids was stellar play in goal by Zach Stejskal. Stejskal is a big goalie and pretty athletic, but isn’t all that compact and efficient with his movement, which can lead to some inconsistency. He was great last night though. He was seeing the puck well and challenging shooters, giving them nothing to look at on quality shots. If they get goaltending like that regularly, or at least at the right moments, they’ve got a great shot at a state title.
Edina looked good, had a lot of really good individual players, but were just missing that little extra something to make things happen in crunch time, which is a very Edina type of loss.
The biggest standout to me was junior Lewis Crosby, who I’ve never taken particular notice of before, but was Edina’s most effective forward last night. Though he got turned on the game-winning goal, Ben Brinkman is always impressive. You almost forget how athletic he is, because most hockey players his size just aren’t. There weren’t many ‘01s playing last night. Minnesota commit Jake Boltmann played alongside Brinkman and was solid. I also really like Mason Reiners, who didn’t see a lot of ice playing on the third pairing, but was solid when called on. He hasn’t drawn the same attention as some of the other top players in his age group, but I think that talentwise, he’s up there.
Overall, it was a very good night of hockey, and the next two nights are likely to be more of the same, though given what normally happens in high school hockey, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw drastically different results in the next two days.