Playing in his future collegiate home, Casey Mittelstadt proved why he's the best high school player in the state of Minnesota, coming up big when his team needed him most by scoring two goals to lead Eden Prairie to a 4-2 victory over Prior Lake and send the Eagles back to St. Paul for the State Tournament for the third consecutive year.
Prior Lake, who was looking to earn their first ever trip to the State Tournament, came out flying and scored the game's first goal when Curtis Hansen finished off a pretty give-and-go passing play with Jackson Jutting to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead.
But on the ensuing shift, Mittelstadt took over, taking an end-to-end rush into the Prior Lake zone, and after a scramble for the puck behind the Prior Lake, batted home a bouncing puck to tie the game.
In the second period, Mittelstadt picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and raced down the left wing one-on-one against a Prior Lake defender. It appeared Mittelstadt had skated too deep into the zone to give himself much angle to shoot with, but he effortlessly fired a perfect snap shot into the upper corner of the net.
The Eagles would extend the lead when Michael Graham found Nick Leivermann on the backdoor for a tap-in goal to make it a 3-1 lead.
The Lakers would cut into that lead with a late power play goal, but an empty-net goal by Hunter Johannes sealed the victory to send Eden Prairie back to the State Tournament.
Notes and Thoughts:
-What a game from Casey Mittelstadt. I picked Eden Prairie before the season to win the state title this year largely because of Mittelstadt, and he was without a doubt the MVP for Eden Prairie in getting through an extremely tough section. Tonight, when Eden Prairie might have panicked going down 1-0 early, he came out on the next shift and looked like he was possessed to tie up the game, which he did.
His second goal really took a lot of life out of the Prior Lake bench. It was such a sensational play that there's just no way to defend that. He didn't quite get the hat trick, but had a number of quality chances. He finished with a gae-high seven shots on goal. There's an excitement in the air every time he touches the puck, especially on the big sheet at Mariucci where he has so much more ice to work with.
-But if Eden Prairie is going to win in St. Paul next weekend, they're going to need production from more than just Mittelstadt. The game-winning goal tonight came from a nice play created by Michael Graham. Graham wasn't as noticeable as Mittelstadt, but he had a nice game nonetheless, creating a few quality chances for himself. If Eden Prairie can get both of their top two lines going next week, look out.
-The second best player on the ice tonight, for me, was Prior Lake freshman Jackson Jutting. Jutting is an '01 birthdate, so he's a true freshman, and tonight, he lacked some of the strength on his stick to finish off plays, but he's such a smart player that he's always around the puck and in position to make a play. He also went 10-1 on face-offs, including taking some big ones at the end of the game. He's got a bright future ahead.
-Eden Prairie's win means they're likely the #2 seed in the state, assuming Stillwater beats Hill-Murray on Friday. The Eagles should bump up to #1 if Stillwater loses, though this year has proven that rankings don't mean a whole lot because nobody is dominant enough to avoid the upset.
-Good, not great crowds here at Mariucci tonight. I would estimate the peak was probably 6000 or so at the end of the first game as fans for the second game piled in.
Shots on goal: EP: 8-13-7-29 PL: 7-5-9-21
Even strength shot attempts: EP: 9-18-15-44-57.8% PL: 10-10-12-32-42.2%
Prime scoring area attempts: EP-5-7-8-20 PL: 4-3-4-10
What do the numbers tell us?
After a close first period, the Eagles really dominated the second period, which helped them build a 3-1 lead that they would carry to victory. The Lakers would make a push in the third period, but had a tough time getting quality chances on the interior late in the game.
4:22 Curtis Hansen from Jackson Jutting and Ryan Murray 1-0 Prior Lake
Hansen made a nice drop pass to Jutting in the slot. Jutting was patient with the puck and slid a pass back to Hansen at the left side of the net for a quick shot that beat Durocher.
5:31 Casey Mittelstadt from Spencer Steen 1-1 tie
The puck bounced out to the front of the net from behind the goal line and Mittelstadt was on the spot to flip the bouncing puck over Scites for the goal.
3:58 Casey Mittelstadt unassisted 2-1 Eden Prairie
Mittelstadt came racing down the left wing and fired a perfect shot from a low angle into the upper corner of the net.
5:18 Nick Leivermann from Michael Graham 3-1 Eden Prairie
Graham won the puck along the right half boards and feathered a nice pass to Leivermann, who came streaking in from the blue line, on the backdoor for the tap-in goal.
14:31 Jake Cohn from Matt Denman and Jackson Jutting (power play) 3-2 Eden Prairie
Denman's first shot from the right point was blocked, but he got the puck back and fired a cross ice pass to Cohn at the left dot, and he one-timed a shot past Durocher for the goal.
16:30 Hunter Johannes from Michael Graham (empty-net) 4-2 Eden Prairie
Graham won a loose puck at center and flipped a pass to Johannes at the Prior Lake blue line. With just one defender back for Prior Lake, Johannes had an easy shot into the open net to seal the victory