Eden Prairie Goalie Whitney Padgett concentrates before making one of her 33 saves. Photo by Jon Laqua
Eden Prairie's Charly Dahlquist scored one of the Eagles' three goals Tuesday night against Minnetonka. Photo by Jon Laqua
Nobody said it was going to be easy.
Winning the Lake Conference crown this season was about as difficult as dealing with this especially frigid Minnesota winter.
The state's toughest league includes the three-time defending state champion Minnetonka. Want to win the conference? You have to beat the champs.
Since its loss 2-1 overtime to No. 1-ranked Minnetonka back on Jan. 11 at TCF Bank Stadium, No. 6 Eden Prairie has been on a scary run.
One that could even make the Skippers shake a little.
That loss to Minnetonka is a distant memory as the Eagles have been unbeatable since en route to claiming the Lake Conference championship in a 3-2 win against (who else?) Minnetonka on Tuesday at the Eden Prairie Community Center.
"We had a little spark and some anger after that loss," Eagles goalie Whitney Padgett said. "If we wanted to get this done, we knew we were going to have to win the rest of our games."
Padgett did her part in helping Eden Prairie secure the conference title by making 34 saves. The win was the Eagles' fifth straight and fourth in a row in the Lake Conference.
Padgett, a sophomore, has been sharing the net with Alexa Dobchuk, but of late has taken the role as the starting goalie. She has four straight wins and has only allowed four goals in that span.
"I have gone with two goalies, splitting time for most of the season, but I just can't take Whitney (Padgett) out right now," Eagles' coach Jamie Grossman said. "She is playing so hot right now, so you have to keep playing her."
Eden Prairie was on the verge of just taking the Lake title after the first period.
Lauren Boyle, Charly Dahlquist and Naomi Rogge all scored in the opening period for the Eagles as they took a 3-0 lead.
Minnetonka came back with everything it had, pulling within one and unloading 15 shots in the second.
"That's a championship team over there, and I told everyone that they are going to come at us," Grossman said. "We saw how that went in the second."
Minnetonka's Annelise Rice scored just 1 minute, 25 seconds into the second and gave the Skippers the jump they needed.
Defenseman Sydney Baldwin followed with a power-play goal, beating Padgett's glove to make it a 3-2 score.
"Sydney Baldwin is a great player and just made a great shot to get it by me," Padgett said. "After that, I just knew that I had to step up for my team."
The Skippers had two power plays in the third, but Padgett snared every shot to her glove and kicked away the rest that she could not handle cleanly.
Minnetonka pulled goalie Hannah Ehresmann in the closing minutes, but Baldwin was called for hooking and Eden Prairie was able to keep the puck deep and run out the clock.
"I've never been on a conference championship team before, so this is just an amazing feeling," Padgett said. "To do it against Minnetonka, and what they have done in the past, makes it pretty special, too."
Near the midpoint of the season the Eagles lost four of eight games and were sitting at 2-2 in conference play. Eden Prairie has two seniors and 13 players that are sophomores or younger.
"I think we shocked a lot of teams," Padgett said. "I know some teams saw us and didn't think we could do anything. I'm just proud of our team and how we played."
"I've been doing this a long time, and I tell our players that it doesn't matter what we do in November and December," Grossman said. "I care about what we do in January and February.
"A lot of these girls come up from the youth program and won every game, so they want to win every game they play up here. This is the best conference in the state, and the Lake Conference this year might be the best conference that girls' hockey has had."