State hockey: Grand Rapids upsets No. 1 Eden Prairie in semis – TwinCities.com-Pioneer Press
It will be an all-Northern Minnesota final Saturday night in the Class 2A boys hockey state title game.
Grand Rapids secured it with a 3-2 upset victory over top-seeded Eden Prairie in the semifinals Friday night at Xcel Energy Center.
The fifth-seeded Thunderhawks will meet third-seeded Moorhead for the state crown at 7 p.m. Saturday back at the X.
Grand Rapids (22-7-1) got there largely thanks to a stellar effort from junior goaltender Zach Stejskal. He made 47 saves, each more important than the last as Eden Prairie continued to pepper shots at the Thunderhawks’ last line of defense.
“Zach has had a wonderful season and been a backstop for us all year,” Grand Rapids coach Trent Klatt said. “I’m just happy that he got this opportunity to show what he’s capable of doing, and he really rose to the occasion tonight.”
Friday’s classic battle, a rematch of last year’s state semifinal, won by Eden Prairie, featured as many hard checks as golden scoring chances, and there were plenty of each.
Eden Prairie (22-5-2) struck first in the first period on a goal from junior forward Ryan Lesko. But Grand Rapids knotted the score late in the period on essentially an own goal from Eden Prairie, as a Grand Rapids cross hit an Eden Prairie stick and bounced into the net.
The Thunderhawks took a 2-1 lead in the second on a goal from senior forward Keaghan Graeber as he took advantage of an Eagles turnover.
Eden Prairie tied it one more time on a right-place, right-time goal from sophomore forward Jack Jensen, who collected a blocked shot in front of the net and buried it.
Every time one team made a surge or scored a goal, the other answered. Until the third, that is, when Grand Rapids took the lead for good on a goal from Connor Stefan in front of the net.
Eden Prairie made every effort to net the equalizer in the mad dash that was the final nine minutes, but Stejska made every stop. Eden Prairie had a power-play chance in the final two minutes but couldn’t turn it into anything dangerous.
“We didn’t have a ton of puck luck tonight,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said. “You’ve got to earn your breaks, and we didn’t have a lot of them tonight.”
As the clock expired, Grand Rapids players and coaches celebrated, while Eden Prairie star seniors Nicky Leivermann and Casey Mittelstadt, sat on the other end of the ice.
Mittelstadt took a seat against the boards, Leivermann went down to his knees, soaking in the fact that the state’s ultimate prize eluded a phenomenal Eden Prairie senior class once more after another dominant regular season.
Mittelstadt tweeted the following message after the game:
— Casey Mittelstadt (@CMittelstadt) March 11, 2017
“I’m proud of our guys,” Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith said. “If you’re going to go out, might as well go out fighting, which we certainly did.
“There’s always that unfinished business,” Smith said. “This team had a lot of pressure on it from the start. … It’s not easy to win a state tournament. It takes a lot of things to happen right to allow it to happen. Our play was good enough to be a state champion, but the puck luck and the hockey gods weren’t on our side tonight.”
In this season, Class 2A belongs to the North.
“Us Northern hockey people stick together,” Klatt said, “so it’ll be a fun day tomorrow.”