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Boys hockey: Full-strength Irish fall in OT

Rosemount captain Justin Crowell had a pair of assists in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to 10th-ranked Prior Lake.

When it’s been at full strength, the Rosemount hockey team has skated with some of the top teams in the state.

Unfortunately for the Irish, that’s only happened twice this season. Their full lineup was in place two weeks ago when fifth-ranked (Class 2A) Eden Prairie needed a goal with five seconds left to escape its home ice with a 5-4 victory. The Irish fielded a healthy squad again Saturday and twice held the lead before falling 3-2 in overtime to 10th-ranked (2A) Prior Lake in a South Suburban Conference matchup at Bloomington Ice Garden.

“I think that’s one of the positives we’ve had. We’ve only had all our guys for two games,” said coach Brad Stepan, whose team is still winless at 0-6. “We have a young team and we know we’re getting better. We had some positives to take away from the Prior Lake game and these kids have played some pretty good hockey lately. They deserve to get a win and hopefully we can put it all together.”

The Irish were outshot 16-3 in the first period against Prior Lake, but came away with the score tied thanks to an early goal from Luke Gillett. Zach Bichler and Justin Crowell provided assists.

Play evened out in the second period, with the Lakers holding an 8-7 shot advantage. The same line scored another goal for Rosemount as Bichler found the net on passes from Gillett and Crowell.

Prior Lake scored 52 seconds later to make it 2-2 heading into the third period, and both teams went scoreless over the final 17 minutes to force overtime.

In the extra session, it took just 56 seconds for the Lakers to take advantage of a mistake in the Irish defensive zone and put the game-winner past goaltender Nick Hart. Hart finished with 29 saves in his first start of the season.

“Basically we had a young player just make a mistake and that’s going to happen. He didn’t see a guy coming in behind him when the puck went behind the net,” Stepan said. “The guy snuck in, hit a guy in front of the net and they had a tap-in goal.”

Despite the loss, Stepan was pleased with his team’s progress coming off a 6-0 shutout loss at Eagan last Tuesday. In that contest, the Wildcats out-shot the Irish 25-4 and scored four unanswered goals in the second period.

“We’re playing better in all three zones, especially on the defensive end,” Stepan said. “The younger kids know they need to get better and play smarter and harder and they’re much better today than they were three weeks ago. That’s a credit to them.”

The Irish hosted 5-2 Farmington on Tuesday and resume conference play Saturday at Lakeville North.