Hockey Day Minnesota did not produce the storybook ending the Stillwater boys’ hockey team was looking for in downtown Stillwater’s Lowell Park on Saturday, Jan. 21.
The No. 1-ranked Ponies were stopped by sixth-ranked Eden Prairie 4-1 in a nonconference game in front of an overflow crowd and a state-wide audience courtesy of Fox Sports North.
Casey Mittelstadt scored twice and goaltender Nick Wiencek finished with 28 saves for the Eagles, who handed Stillwater its second loss in three games after starting the season with 13 straight victories.
It was a disappointing loss for the Ponies (9-1 SEC, 15-2), who nevertheless were able to reflect positively on the bigger picture of the rare opportunity and all the work and effort to pull off a successful outdoor event alongside the St. Croix River.
“Obviously we would have liked to win this game, but everything that was done for us by the city of Stillwater was amazing,” said senior Matthew Stanton, who scored Stillwater’s lone goal in the second period. “We really appreciate everything and all the fans coming out and are just so grateful for everything that came within this.”
The Eagles (11-4-2), who finished second at state a year ago, struck first in the opening period as Mittelstadt — a projected first-rounder in the NHL draft — scored on an assist by Nick Leivermann at 11:27.
“He’s pretty much a danger every time he touches the puck,” Stillwater coach Matt Doman said. “I thought we did a really good job actually of taking away space from him with help from forwards and the D, but the one time he was able to cut to the middle and get a shot off he scores on it. That’s just the kind of threat that he is, but for the most part I thought we did a pretty good job of forcing him to try and move the puck maybe in an uncomfortable situations. You have to try and body him you have to try and play him physical as much as you can, but you can’t go running out of control, because its one spin and he’s gone and you’re done. For the most part we did a pretty good job on Casey and the one real good opportunity he had he scored on, that’s what good players do.”
The Ponies outshot Eden Prairie 14-7 in the first period, but didn’t have anything to show for it until Stanton answered to tie the game with an assist from Michael Kaufmann at 5:13 of the second period.
The Eagles regained a one-goal lead when Hunter Johannes scored with four minutes remaining in the second period. Eden Prairie pulled away in the third as Tim Piechowski scored at 11:34 and Mittelstadt added an empty-netter with a minute remaining to provide the final margin.
“I’ve been saying all week leading up to it, it’s him (Mittelstadt), but it’s all the other guys that help drive that team as well and if you focus on one guy the other guys can burn you,” Doman said. “Obviously our offense wasn’t where it needed to be.”
It marked just the second time this season Stillwater has been held to fewer than three goals in a game.
“Not much was different between the teams today,” Stanton said. “It was just they scored more goals than us. The opportunities were the same, we had like the same amount of shots, just more goals went in for them than us.”
This date was circled on the calendar since before the season began, but even more for the Ponies with Stillwater serving as the host site. Doman admitted some disappointment with the outcome on the scoreboard, but said that won’t be what he remembers from this year’s event. The Ponies also participated in Hockey Day Minnesota at Elk River in 2014, which also ended with a 4-1 loss to the Elks.
“When you get to play in it as a visitor you come in and it’s all excitement and then you get to leave and you wash your hands immediately,” Doman said. “With everything it took to get here and the hours that we put in and all the people that helped make it what it is, it really is an unbelievable undertaking. It’s amazing for sure.”
He said any sour taste left from the loss would dissipate quickly.
“Right now, yeah for sure, but next week when I see the pictures we got of the team during practice and the pictures with me with my little guys out there will be no sour memories of the weekend at all.”
And now the focus shifts to what the Ponies can do to finish the season strong as they try to qualify for their second straight state tournament. Stillwater also lost to conference and section rival White Bear Lake 2-1 the previous weekend.
“You win, you lose, you tie, you figure out ways to how do we get better,” Doman said. “We beat Roseville 6-0, how do we get better. There’s a lot of ways we can get better. The score isn’t always indicative of how you play or the things you have to still work on.
“(The Eagles) were better than us. They wanted it more, they went to dirty areas, they were more physical and they just did little things better than we did. They outplayed us for sure for two periods and if you want to win a state championship you’re going to probably have to go through those guys. It was a good lesson for us and good to know where we’re at and the things we have to work on, We really do have a long ways to go if we want to win a state championship.”
Seth Eisele finished with 25 saves in goal for the Ponies, who slipped to No. 3 behind Hill-Murray and Eden Prairie in this week’s Let’s Play Hockey Class AA state rankings.
“We just need to clean up our systems,” Stanton said. “Just little mental breakdowns and not coming to play sometimes and we have to prepare every day the same and take it one game at a time.”
Eden Prairie 1 1 2 — 4
Stillwater 0 1 0 — 1
First period — 1. EP, Casey Mittelstadt (Nick Leivermann) 11:27.
Second period — 2. St, Matthew Stanton (Michael Kaufman) 5:13; 2. EP, Hunter Johannes (Jack Jensen, Nolan Sullivan) 12:58.
Third period — 3. EP, Tim Piechowski (unassisted) 11:53; 4. EP, Mittelstadt (unassisted) en, 15:51.
Penalties — EP, 4-8:00; St, 3-6:00.
Saves — EP (Nick Wiencek) 14-7-7—28; St (Seth Eisele) 6-13-6—25.
Stillwater 6, Roseville 0
At Roseville, six different players scored a goal each as the Ponies skated to a 6-0 Suburban East Conference victory at Roseville on Thursday, Jan. 19.
Goaltender Seth Eisele also did his part while turning away 22 shots to record his fourth shutout of the season. Stillwater outshot the Raiders 58-22.
Jesse Bjugstad scored a short-handed goal two minutes into the game and Noah Cates increased the lead to 2-0 with a goal later in the opening period.
Luke Manning scored in the second as Stillwater outshot the Raiders 23-6 in the period.
Austin Murr, Matthew Stanton and Michael Kaufman each scored in the third to close out the scoring.
Stillwater 2 1 3 — 6
Roseville 0 0 0 — 0
First period — 1. St, Jesse Bjugstad (Noah Cates) sh, 2:22; 2. St, Cates (TJ Sagissor) 12:04.
Second period — 3. St, Luke Manning (Cates, Bjugstad) 10:37.
Third period — 4. St, Austin Murr (Matthew Stanton, Michael Kaufman) 4:46; 5. St, Stanton (Kaufman) 9:55; 6. St, Kaufman (Murr) 11:40.
Penalties — St, 5-10:00; Ros, 3-6:00.
Saves — St (Seth Eisele) 7-6-9—22; Ros (Marshall Murphy) 14-22-14—50 and (Nick Becker) x-x-2—2.
Stillwater 5, Mahtomedi 2
The Ponies were the visitors at their own rink, but looked more like the team that won 13 in a row to start the season while dispatching Mahtomedi 5-2 in a nonconference game on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at the St. Croix Valley Rec Center.
TJ Sagissor struck first for the Ponies five minutes into the game, but Nikolai Dulak answered three minutes later for Mahtomedi, which was fifth in the Class A state rankings.
Stillwater took control late in the second as Michael Kaufman scored at 15:12 and Luke Manning struck again on the power play less than a minute later to provide a 3-1 lead.
Jack Mapstone added another power play goal midway through the third period before Colin Hagstrom answered for the Zephyrs to pull within 4-2.
Kaufman finished the scoring for the Ponies with a short-handed goal at 15:05. It was the seventh short-handed goal of the season for the Ponies, which matches the seven power play goals they have allowed.
Seth Eisele recorded 15 saves for the Ponies, who held a 35-17 advantage in shots on goal.
Stillwater 1 2 2 — 5
Mahtomedi 1 0 1 — 2
First period — 1. St, TJ Sagissor (Matthew Stanton, Joe Raleigh) 5:42; 1. Mah, Nikolai Dulak (Charlie Bartholomew) 8:44.
Second period — 2. St, Michael Kaufman (Austin Murr) 15:12; 3. St, Luke Manning (Noah Cates, Jesse Bjugstad) pp, 16:03.
Third period — 4. St, Jack Mapstone (Stanton, Cates) pp, 7:10; 2. Mah, Colin Hagstrom (Luke Posner) 8:38; 5. St, Kaufman (Manning) sh, 15:05.
Penalties — St, 7-14:00; Mah, 5-10:00.
Saves — St (Seth Eisele) 4-5-6—15; Mah (Josh Campbell) 10-10-10—30.