Edina captain Jackson Nevers and Minnetonka's Sam Scheetz battle for the puck during the second period of Thursday's game at Braemar Ice Arena. Photo by Drew Herron, Legacy Hockey
Lake Conference Hockey is something like a hammer.
It is as much of a powerful tool for your benefit, as it is a weapon used towards you.
As a capacity crowd trekked to and from Braemar Arena in single-digit temperatures Thursday night to watch top-ranked and defending Class 2A champion Minnetonka battle host Edina to a 1-1 overtime draw, there was no denying high school hockey in Minnesota remains a Lake-centric endeavor.
The Lake, as in the Lake Conference, churns and churns, and most years out comes a finished product better than all others. The Lake Conference has produced 10 of the last 15 state Class 2A champions, with no end of the domination in sight.
“These are the kinds of games you want to play in,” said Barrett Dexheimer, Edina defenseman and senior captain. “It’s hard and it’s gritty. You try to get one (goal), and then you try to get two. Playing in those uncomfortable situations are what will help you get to where you want to go.”
Only five times since 2009 has a state champion come from outside the Lake Conference. Five state championship games during that same span featured two Lake teams, including these two last year.
Each meeting is unique, anticipated, and not taken for granted.
“Every game is a learning moment for both teams,” Minnetonka senior forward and captain Gavin Garry said. “We think this is the best conference in the state, so every time we get to play a Lake Conference opponent, it helps us learn a little bit about who we are.”
Minnetonka (14-0-2), which has not lost since Jan. 7 of last year, struck first, scoring less than two minutes into the game off a shot from junior defenseman Danny Klaers from the left circle.
Edina (13-2-1) leveled it late in the second off a goal from sophomore Casey Vantertop as the Hornets pushed the play in the middle period.
Overtime play was firmly in the hands of the Skippers, who failed to convert several Grade A chances despite heavy zone time and pressure. Chances created but not cashed in. That’s what to be expected. In the Lake Conference, nothing comes as easy as it should.
“It’s always going to be a one goal-game with Edina,” Minnetonka coach Sean Goldsworthy says. “Whether it’s Lake Conference or in the state tournament, that’s just how it ends.”
Edina, with seven sophomores and one freshman on the varsity roster, didn’t back down from the team everyone is chasing.
“We weren’t in awe of them,” Edina coach Curt Giles said. “They’ve got maybe 10 or 11 Division I recruits, and we had sophomores and freshmen play. They didn’t stand around and stare, we played hockey tonight. We played against a good team, and our guys played good hockey.”
Giles, in his 25th year at Edina with four state titles to his credit along with more than 500 wins, also sees these meetings as waypoints and measuring sticks that stand the test of time.
It’s as important a part of the process as anything.
“This time of the year, more than anything, you need to find out where you are at,” Giles says. “When you play Lake Conference games, you start to figure out where you are at when you face Minnetonka, Wayzata, Eden Prairie.”
This is the second tie of the season for the Skippers, the other coming in another Lake Conference showdown before a packed house at Plymouth Ice Center in late December against Wayzata.
Better to have these situations now, says Goldsworthy. Learn and grow from it.
“In order to be prepared at the end of the year, you have to go through some stressful moments and be under duress to play in hard moments,” Goldsworthy says. “That’s what the Lake Conference does for us, whether it’s Edina or Wayzata or Eden Prairie . . . we get through it and at the end of the year you understand how to play in a one-goal game in the third period.
“At that point, whoever gets out of our league has an opportunity to go do something special.”
Edina junior defenseman Robby Hoch and Minnetonka forward Harrison Browning fight for the puck behind the Edina net in the third period. Photo by Drew Herron, Legacy Hockey
Edina and Minnetonka battled to a 1-1 overtime tie in front of a capacity crowd at Braemar Arena on Thursday evening in a much-anticipated Lake Conference showdown.
Minnetonka (14-0-2), defending state champion and ranked No. 1 in Legacy’s latest Class 2A poll, seized an early lead when defenseman Danny Klaers buried a shot from the right circle off a rush to put the Skippers out in front.
No. 7-2A Edina (13-2-1) evened the score late in the second period on a goal from sophomore Casey Vandertop, with a single assist to Barrett Dexheimer.
Period three produced nothing, as did overtime, despite a heavy zone presence and pressure from Minnetonka for the majority of the extra time. The Skippers could not convert on several Grade A opportunities as Edina was able to be just disruptive enough to contain Minnetonka’s many weapons and overwhelming depth.
Final shots favored Minnetonka 35-30.
Edina goalie Joe Bertram rests near the Hornets bench for a few minutes between the end of the third period and the start of overtime. Bertram finished with 34 saves in Edina's 1-1 tie to MInnetonka. Photo by Drew Herron, Legacy Hockey