Before this season, the Eden Prairie and Edina girls’ hockey teams met in three consecutive section final games held at three different arenas.
Each time, the coaches walked away feeling both teams were state tournament-worthy and that the game deserved a bigger stage.
The moment has arrived and the X marks the spot.
The Lake Conference rivals meet Friday night in the Class 2A state tournament semifinals at Xcel Energy Center. They split a pair of one-goal games this season, including a 2-1 Edina victory in overtime in the most recent meeting.
Edina was ranked No. 3 in the final Let’s Play Hockey coaches poll, one spot ahead of the Eagles.
“Every time we play them it’s a 50-50 game,” Eden Prairie coach Jaime Grossman said. “We’re very evenly matched teams. We’re both three-lines strong, solid goaltending and solid D.”
Eagles junior forward Naomi Rogge said, “The atmosphere in that game is going to be really good.”
Proud loud crowd
Thursday afternoon’s Class 2A quarterfinal session drew an announced 4,267 spectators, a new tournament record by 22 people.
Blue-clad Eastview students filled three sections of Xcel Energy Center’s lower bowl in the first quarterfinal game. And Forest Lake’s faithful were loud and proud in the second game.
Players took notice. Forest Lake junior Madi Nolan said her teammates were talking about the large turnout before the game. “The fans really got us into it,” she said. “They were happy. They got to miss school.”
Forest Lake coach Todd Gutterman said the attendance boost was “awesome for the game. Eastview has a heck of a crowd but I believe Forest Lake girls’ hockey has one of the best backings in the state.”
The announced attendance for the night session was 2,663.
Hill-Murray coach Bill Schafhauser has had a problem on his hands all season. Luckily for him, it falls under the category of “good problems.”
Hill-Murray has two goalies who are both undefeated in senior Mari Johnson and freshman Ava Bailey.
Johnson, a strong, standup goalie, played 730 minutes. Bailey, who plays a more athletic style, played 714. Johnson’s save percentage is .957, Bailey’s .951.
The two goalies rotated throughout the season, but Thursday, Johnson got the start in a 5-0 victory over Sartell-Sauk Rapids, saving nine shots.
So how does Johnson handle the situation in the biggest games of the season? “We have pretty much split it right down to the end here,” Schafhauser said. “[Bailey] will play tomorrow, and we’ll just see how it goes and decide after that who plays the third one.”