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Eagan's Kukulski halts hex

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 06/01/11, 1:14PM CDT


Wildcats end five-game losing skid to Eastview to reach Section 3 final

Eagan sophomore Michael Kukulski does his "Penguin Slide" after scoring in overtime against Eastview. Photo by Helen Nelson

Michael Kukulski doesn’t start, but know this about the Eagan sophomore: He sure can finish.

And we’re not just talking about the reserve attackman scoring two of the most clutch goals in Eagan lacrosse history.

After Kukulski scored in overtime to give the Wildcats a heart-palpitating 9-8 overtime triumph over rival Eastview in the Section 3 semifinals, he immediately sprinted up the field and deftly executed what he called the “Penguin Slide.”

Eagan sophomore Connor Simpson scored four goals in the Wildcats' victory over Eastview. Photo by Helen Nelson

The mob scene included sticks and gloves in the air and a dogpile with Kukulski sprawled face-first in the turf at the bottom.

“It was probably the most ecstatic feeling of my whole life,” said Kukulski, who after scoring eight goals in 12 regular season games has added eight more goals in three playoff victories, including the Wednesday, June 1, triumph at Eastview High School. “This is a really big win for us. It feels great.”

For a team that makes of a point of keeping its celebrations low key, there was no putting a cork on the Wildcats’ enthusiasm after earning a rare victory over the rival Lightning, a team that has repeatedly beaten Eagan in both the regular season and the playoffs during the past five seasons. One of the Wildcats’ two losses this season was to Eastview.

The Lightning appeared to be poised for another victory when Eagan defenseman Nick Holmin took a slashing penalty early in the overtime. But the Wildcats’ managed to gain possession, and Kukulski’s goal came just after the penalty expired.

“It was a tough way to lose,” Eastview coach Tim Roche said. “We certainly had our chances.”

There’s something to be said for acting like you’ve been there before after scoring a big goal or earning a milestone victory. Problem was, in this scenario – playing at Eastview in a section playoff game – the Wildcats had never defeated the Lightning.

Eagan’s victory over Eastview was its first since 2007, snapping a five-game losing skid.

Eagan's Nick Holmin, left, races past Eastview's Ryan McNamara. Photo by Helen Nelson

Past history aside, Kukulski, who scored with 1:51 remaining in regulation to force the 4-minute sudden-death period, had a post-goal celebration in mind just in case he scored the winner.

“I was in a shooting session before the game,” Kukulski said. “I told (teammate and fellow sophomore Tom Powers) if I ever get a game-winning goal I’ll do a penguin slide.

“I don’t know, I kind of had to hold up my end of the deal.”

As the lone left-hander in Eagan’s four-man attack rotation, Kukulski’s role is to shoot, shoot and shoot some more.

“He’s ridiculous,” Eagan coach Bob Felter said. “The guys who practice with him, they say he picks corners all day long. That’s what we have him in there for.”

Had he seen it, Eagan coach Bob Felter might not have been thrilled with Kukulski’s special slide.

“We don’t celebrate, usually,” Felter said. “Just because we don’t want to show up our opponents. Maybe he did it without us seeing it.

“He may get away with it.”

Eagan's Michael Kukulski scores in the closing minutes of regulation on Eastview goaltender Andrew Koenen. Photo by Helen Nelson

Statistics, Summary

1. Michael Kukulski, Eagan
Who else? The sophomore lefty scored both his goals in the most clutch of fashion, the first coming with 1:51 left in regulation to tie the score at 8 and the second coming with 1:34 left in the 4-minute sudden-death overtime session.

2. Connor Simpson, Eagan
The sophomore they call “The Future” because of his seemingly limitless potential appears ready for a new nickname. “The Present” might be more fitting, given that Simpson scored four times for the Wildcats, an eye-popping total for a game with precious few scoring chances.

3. Ryan McNamara, Eastview
Completing a rare all-sophomore Three Star lineup, the cobra-quick McNamara scored twice for the Lightning, added an assist and was their most consistent scoring threat.

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Game Recap

Sophomore Michael Kukulski scored with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in sudden-death overtime to lift No.3-seeded Eagan to a thrilling 9-8 victory over rival and No. seed Eastview on Wednesday, June 1, in the Section 3 semifinals at Eastview High School in Apple Valley.

Kukulski’s goal came just seconds after the Wildcats (13-2) had killed a 1-minute man-advantage opportunity for the Lightning (8-7).

A left-hander, Kukulski scored the winning goal after beating an Eastview defender near the right sideline and racing in alone on Lightning goaltender Andrew Koenen. Kukulski’s shot sailed into the goal just inside the left goalpost and sparked a wild gloves-and-sticks-thrown-into-the-sky celebration.

Eagan advances to play No. 4 seed Burnsville in the Section 3 championship game on Friday, June 3, at Lakeville North High School in Lakeville.

Kukulski, who eight goals in 12 regular-season games, had tied the score at 8 with 1:51 left in regulation when he took a cross-crease pass from Cullen Willox and deposited the ball into the net.

Sophomore Connor Simpson scored four goals for Eagan, the defending section champion.

Ryan McNamara and Erik Gage each scored twice for the Lightning, who led by as much as 6-4 in the third quarter and never trailed in the second half.

Eastview beat Eagan 12-9 during the regular season. Eagan finished at No. 8 in the Lax Hub's final state rankings.

Buried at the bottom of a pile of Eagan players is sophomore Michael Kukulski, who scored in overtime as the Wildcats beat Eastview in the Section 3 semifinals. Photo by Helen Nelson

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