If Eagan had state tournament jitters, the No. 4-seeded Wildcats didn’t show them Thursday with a poised performance in a 4-0 victory over Moorhead in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
After all, would a nervous squad be able to protect a one-goal lead for 43 minutes?
Nick Kuchera’s goal just 3:35 into the game, which sneaked over the line inside the left post, gave the Wildcats an early lead — and something to protect for many minutes to come. Open ice remained at a premium for both teams throughout much of the rest of the game. Any chances that made it through were turned away by Moorhead goalie Michael Bitzer and Eagan’s Tommy Bodeker.
Eagan turned up the heat in the third period, outshooting Moorhead 8-2 over the first nine minutes. An insurance goal finally arrived with 4:18 remaining when Will Merchant made a nifty between-the-legs pass to himself to work free in traffic before rifling a wrist shot top shelf. Eagan added two empty-net goals.
For a long time, it seemed as if Eagan could be destined for a 1-0 victory — the same score the Wildcats produced in a section final victory over Apple Valley, which gave them their second state tournament berth in school history (2006 was the other). Bodeker finished with 27 saves for his second consecutive shutout.
Eagan advanced to play No. 1-seeded Eden Prairie in Friday’s semifinals. The teams met in December, with Eagan taking a 4-2 victory.
“They have the depth to stay with us,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said of Eagan. “They’ll do the little things they have to do to win hockey games.”