Wayzata’s Rhys Wallin had a close in opportunity but was denied by Minnetonka’a Hunter Bauer who made 28 saves on the day for the Skippers. LPH PHOTO BY BRYAN ZOLLMAN

High-paced action thriller ends in tie in front of sold out arena

by Bryan Zollman

The Friday matinees at the movie theatre rarely sells out because, well, people have to work on Fridays.

But hockey is different.

A sold-out crowd watched No. 1 Minnetonka and No. 2 Wayzata face off against each other in a much-anticipated match up at Plymouth Ice Center Friday at 2:45 p.m. In a fast-paced adventure, both teams skated to a 1-1 stalemate.

Minnetonka has the A-list stars (Nine Division I commits) and came into the game 10-0-0. Despite being in a couple close contests, they have habitually played keep away with the puck most of the season.

The Trojans (10-0-1) arrived on the red carpet with more of a cast full of supporting characters. Their names may not be on the marquee, but the ensemble can roll three lines without much of a noticeable difference between any of the three.

The matinee kept the sold-out crowd on the edge of their seats. The show was outstanding with swift, smooth and speedy skating and crisp, concise passing. Both squads moved the puck well and looked for lanes to open up upon entering the zone and had plenty of scoring chances early and throughout the game. Wayzata goalie Evan Turek and Minnetonka goalie Hunter Bauer both made several key saves in the first two periods to keep the game scoreless.

Minnetonka’s Ashton Schultz had a close-in opportunity, but the puck took a weird bounce forcing him to the short side where Turek closed the angle on him and made a key stop.

On the other end Wayzata’s Ben Kearin stole a puck off the side wall and skated to the dot where he unleashed a bullet off the pipe. The rebound bounced past a charging Eli Molde as the game remained scoreless.

The game was both physical and fast-paced. Minnetonka had the size advantage and used it with several wall-bending and open-ice hits (VIDEO). Their defensive unit was especially physical and wasn’t afraid to meet Wayzata forwards at the blue line. Wayzata may have had less size, but played equally tough and wasn’t afraid to take or give a hit when needed.

Wayzata got a break when Minnetonka’s Luke Garry was whistled for high sticking, but the Skippers were able to kill the penalty and the game stayed 0-0 at the end of two.

Finally at the 5:43 mark of the third, Skipper senior David Baer was able to get a puck behind Turek for a 1-0 lead. Less than a minute later Trojan forward Rhys Wallin was called for charging, giving the Skippers a huge opportunity to shift the momentum and create a two-goal cushion. But Turek and Wayzata’s PK unit successfully staved off the Skipper’s elite power play and the ice stayed even as both teams continued to race up and down with what seemed like equal speed, equal passing and equal opportunity.

David Baer put the Skippers up front with his second goal of the season. LPH PHOTO BY BRYAN ZOLLMAN

Just after the 12-minute mark Wallin tapped in a puck just outside the crease to tie the game with 4:57 to play. He found himself on the right side of the crease when a puck squirted his way. Bauer had no chance to make the save.

Yet once again, there was no momentum shift after the goal as the teams continued to trade possessions. Much of the game was played between the tops of the circles of each zone and on the perimeter in the offensive zones. Several net front scrums occurred, but didn’t yield results as Turek and Bauer were up for the challenge.

Evan Turek and the Wayzata defense held the Skipper’s high-octane offense to one goal. LPH PHOTO BY BRYAN ZOLLMAN

At the end of the regulation shots were 22-20 in favor of Minnetonka, a low total for two teams who were averaging more than 40 per game (Minnetonka 47.7 coming into the game to Wayzata’s 41.9).

Wayzata had the advantage of a power play in the overtime session, but couldn’t convert even though they outshot the Skippers 9-2.

With three games in three days, when the final buzzer in overtime sounded, it looked as though both teams were exhausted, perhaps just as much mentally as physically. However, there was no cause for celebration as both teams had their opportunities to win the game, but couldn’t execute.

For hockey fans, the question of whether or not anybody could beat Minnetonka was answered on Friday. For those who witnessed Friday’s matinee, they were treated to blockbuster of talent in a high-energy fast-paced thriller.

It was equivalent to a high-speed car chase on skates. If Siskel or Ebert were still with us, they would give a definite thumbs up.

The sequel will occur at Pagel Arena on Thursday, Feb. 1.

The ticket line may already be forming.

The question is, will this Tonka vs. Wayzata action-adventure become a trilogy with the final chapter being played at the X  in downtown St. Paul?

Better get the popcorn ready.

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