The Prior Lake boys hockey team followed four straight losses with three straight South Suburban Conference wins.
The biggest one was a 5-4 home triumph over No. 10-ranked Shakopee Jan. 6 in what was also a battle of Section 2AA foes. The Lakers followed with a 3-0 shutout versus Apple Valley-Burnsville Jan. 10.
Prior Lake (6-7-1 overall, 5-2 in the SSC) closed out 2023 with a 3-2 league win in overtime over Lakeville North Dec. 29 in the final round of The Tradition Holiday tourney at the Dakotah Ice Center.
The Lakers will need a strong final five weeks of the season to get a top-four seed in the Section 2AA tournament, which would get them a home playoff game in the quarterfinals.
The section is loaded with top teams to include No. 1 Minnetonka (12-0-1), No. 3 Chanhassen (10-4), No. 9 Holy Family (7-2-1) and the Sabers (11-3-1), along with Eden Prairie (7-4-1), Bloomington Jefferson (5-7), Waconia (5-7) and Chaska (2-10-1).
Prior Lake is 2-3 against section teams with its other win over Chaska and the three losses to Chanhassen, Eden Prairie and Holy Family.
Against Shakopee, Prior Lake trailed 4-3 in the third period, but rallied for two goals. Senior Graham Erickson scored with 5:29 to tie the game, and senior Charlie Rice scored 3:08 later for the game-winner.
Junior Levi Eiter and seniors CJ Sheffield and Will Emerson also had goals for the Lakers, while senior Brody Stephany had two assists. Emerson, Erickson, sophomore Parker Wenkus, senior Matthew Pavek and juniors Jackson George and Tristan Pownall all had one assist.
Senior Tyler Coglitore made 22 saves in goal. He needed to make just seven stops in the shutout win over Apple Valley.
The Lakers led 1-0 after two periods of play and scored twice in the final frame to put the game away. Rice and Stephany each had a goal and an assist, while Pownall also scored.
Erickson finished with two assists, while junior Mario Bernard had one.
In beating Lakeville North, senior Max Anderson had the game-winning goal 5:46 into overtime with Emerson getting the assist. Eiter and Wenkus also had goals for the Lakers, while Ponwall, George, Emerson and Pavek each had assists.
Junior Michael Walz got the start in goal and made 14 saves.
Prior Lake will get a chance to sweep the regular season series with Shakopee when the two teams meet again Feb. 6 on the Sabers’ home ice.
The regular season ends for Prior Lake Feb. 16 with a conference home game against Lakeville South.
Section 2AA quarterfinal play starts Feb. 22. The semifinals are Feb. 24 and the title game is set for Feb. 29 with the final two rounds at Braemar Ice Arena in Edina.
The Lakers lost 3-1 to Shakopee in the section quarterfinals last season.
This Class AA state tournament will be held March 7-9 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Minnetonka is the defending champion, beating Lake Conference rival Edina 2-1 in the last year’s final.