By: John Sherman
Erin O’Neil’s goalie stick was more like a magic wand Jan. 19 at Pagel Activity Center.
The Hopkins junior stopped 45 shots as the Royals upset Minnetonka, the top-ranked team in the state Class AA poll, 3-1.
“Obviously, Minnetonka is a great team,” said Hopkins head coach Vin Paolucci after the game. “We had great goaltending today, and you don’t beat a great team without that.”
The Royals scored twice in the second period with Nina Rodgers and Shorty Sheran lighting the lamp. Assists went to Jillaine DeYoung, Corbin Boyd and Kylie Hanley.
Hopkins led 2-0 going into the third period, despite being outshot in each of the first two periods, Then the Royals went for the jugular.
A breakaway goal by DeYoung, unassisted at the 8:20 mark, put the Royals up 3-0. Paolucci’s job at that point was to make sure the Royals remembered what got them to that point, which was goaltending and their ability to clean up the rebounds in front of the net.
Minnetonka applied intense pressure in the last eight minutes with Katie McMillan scoring their goal at the 10:16 mark. Maggie Bazany and Kelsey Crow had assists.
Hopkins was able to hang on without allowing another blemish, although there were good chances for Tonka.
“Today, we ran into a hot goalie,” said Minnetonka head coach Eric Johnson. “She did a great job of freezing rebounds, and when she didn’t, she was able to clear the puck to the corners. She deserves all the credit. Hopkins buried its chances, we didn’t. That’s hockey.”
Johnson did everything in his power to get his team back in the game. He pulled the goalie with 3:30 remaining in the third period, which reflected his confidence in his skaters.
“We had five players on the ice, who have committed to Division I schools, and another [Crow], who is also likely to have Division I offers,” Johnson noted. “As a rule of thmb, if you are down two goals in the third period, you pull your goalie sometime between four minutes and two minutes. We put our horses out there and did a good job of controlling the puck on the perimeter, but we couldn’t put it in the net.”
Boyd, a sophomore, who excels in a variety of roles for Hopkins was a huge asset late in the game, when she was able to break up several potentially dangerous Skipper rushes. Defenseman Grace Bizal also showed a nose for the puck.
But the big story of the afternoon was O’Neil’s brilliance.
“She was good up high, good down low,” said Johnson. “O’Neil was good in our previous game with them, which we won 1-0.”
Johnson said the loss on Saturday could help Minnetonka in the long run, even though it’s tough to take in the short run.
“Regardless of what we’re ranked, we just want to get better every day,” he said. “The lesson from a game like today’s is that you can’t give a team like Hopkins grade-A chances.”
Because Minnetonka was aggressive offensively, they gave up an odd-man rush and a breakaway, and that is how Hopkins scored two of its goals.
“I am proud of our girls,” said Paolucci. “They care about each other and always put the team first. There’s a lot of season left, and our kids know that. We have to keep getting better.”
Minnetonka (15-3-0) will play Edina (11-6-4) in a Lake Conference game at 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at Braemar Arena.
Hopkins (15-5-1) will play Wayzata (12-9-0) in a 7 p.m. Lake game Saturday, Jan. 26, at Minnetonka Ice Arena.
The conference race grew closer with Hopkins’ win on Saturday. Minnetonka leads the pack at 4-1-0 going into this week’s action. Eden Prairie is second at 4-2-0. Hopkins is still in the hunt at 3-2-1. Edina is 2-3-1 and Wayzata stands 0-5-0.
Contact John Sherman at email@example.com