Whatever talk there might be about the improvement the Moorhead Spuds have made will certainly be tested in the first round of the Minnesota state hockey tournament.
Moorhead (21-6) for the second straight tournament has drawn No. 3 seed Eagan (24-3-1) for what will be the second match of the day on Thursday when the Class 2A portion of the tournament starts.
Eagan made life difficult for Moorhead last season. Eagan’s physical brand overpowered Moorhead into submission and a 4-0 win. It sent Moorhead to the consolation round where it lost to Lakeville North making it the first time Moorhead coach Dave Morinville walked away winless at state.
Anyone wondering what Eagan has to offer doesn’t need to look any further.
On offense: Eagan has the kind of firepower to be a legitimate threat for a state title. The Wildcats, per the guys at MNHockey Hub, scored more than 300 points as a team in 25 regular season games. Two big reasons for it were Michael Zajac (Princeton) and his partner-in-crime Will Merchant (Maine) along with Nick Kuchera. Zajac and Kuchera led Eagan with 47 points in the regluar season while Merchant was third with 45 points. Even with those three, Eagan has plenty of depth at forward. The Wildcats strolled through the section tournament laughably outscoring opponents 29-2 with 11 of those goals coming in the third period. As for Merchant, Zajac and Kuchera, none of tthem were in Eagan’s top three in playoff scoring.
-On defense: Once again, Eagan has defensemen with some impressive resumes. Sam Wolfe (Maine) and Eli May (Minnesota-Mankato) are the only defensive pairing in the state with college commitments. Wolfe is more of a playmaking defense. He had 31 points (2 goals, 29 assists) this season including the playoffs. May also had 31 points (13 goals, 18 assists) but he’s more likely to get involved with the play to score and create than Wolfe. Either way, they are one of the most offensively-skilled bluelines in the state and can also pose match-up problems for forwards.
-On goaltending: Eagan’s Christian Butler certainly has the numbers to prove he could be a hard person to get past. Butler has gone 15-3-1 this season with a 1.79 goals against average and a .906 save percentage. Also, against teams ranked in The Associated Press poll at one point this season, he is 5-2.