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East Ridge boys hockey: No. 17-ranked Eagan finishes off Raptors again

East Ridge junior Kevin Donohue brings the puck up the ice against Eagan. The Raptors lost 5-1 to the 17th-ranked Wildcats to end the season. (Bulletin photos by Nick Gerhardt)

For the second consecutive season Eagan ended East Ridge’s season Thursday with a 5-1 victory at the Eagan Civic Center in a Section 3AA first-round matchup.

The fifth-seeded Raptors (9-16-1) had trouble matching the physical play of the fourth-seeded and 17th-ranked Wildcats (16-9-1) throughout the game despite having success against Eagan in the regular season.

“One of our strategies was to get the puck in deep and make them work,” East Ridge head coach Doug Long said. “We never got the puck past them and sustained anything. We never beat them down. If we could have done that, maybe it might have changed things a little bit.”

The Raptors and Wildcats tied 4-4 in the lone regular season meeting Jan. 2 at Cottage Grove Ice Arena. East Ridge held a 4-3 lead with 7 minutes, 32 seconds left to play, but Eagan got a goal with 2:20 to play to force overtime. The Wildcats went 0-for-5 on the power play and had 55 shots on goal.

The Raptors struggled to contain Mr. Hockey finalist Nick Wolff, who scored the game’s first goal and assisted on another. Eagan’s Jack Jenson had a pair of goals while Kyle Stebbing and Max Elsenheimer each scored to make it three consecutive victories for the squad, including a 3-2 overtime victory over last year’s section champion Eastview. The Wildcats played previously top-ranked Lakeville North to a 1-0 game prior to the Eastview game as well.

East Ridge faced an Eagan team with a different makeup than last year’s team, which featured several Division-I recruits. A grittier Wildcats squad frustrated the Raptors and neutralized their team speed. Jarrod Ronquillo scored the lone goal for East Ridge at 13:12 of the third period on the power play with the Raptors trailing 5-0 at the time.

Wolff gave Eagan a 1-0 lead 1:37 into the second period after the Wildcats went scoreless in the first period, despite holding an 18-4 advantage in shots. Eagan finished the game with 48 shots and went 2-for-4 on the power play.

Stebbing made it 2-0 a little more than two minutes later and Jenson scored his first goal of the game at 10:51 to make it 3-0.

Jenson struck again in the third period at 8:11 and Elsenheimer scored less than three minutes later for a 5-0 advantage.

East Ridge had its chances to get back into the game, but finished 1-for-6 on the power play and had 24 shots on goal.

The Wildcats’ early dominance mirrored last year’s playoff meeting where Eagan won 5-2 in the semifinals and outshot the Raptors 21-2 in the first period.

“After the first period we spent a lot of time working on the details in our zone, but it was almost as if that was good enough,” Long said. “I just said, ‘Someone’s gotta win the game. Someone’s gotta score a goal. If it’s you guys you have to play to win. We gotta get up and go with the puck. We’ve got to get some pucks to the net.’”

Eagan will meet top-ranked Cretin-Derham Hall Saturday for a spot in the section title game after the Raiders knocked off Rosemount 5-3 Thursday in St. Paul.

East Ridge dropped its final five consecutive games and lost eight of its past nine games. The Raptors graduate 11 seniors from this year’s squad in the spring.

—Nick Gerhardt