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Duluth East proves its mettle

12/28/2011, 9:00pm CST
By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff

Greyhounds live up to No. 1 ranking with dismantling of No. 2 Minnetonka


Duluth East's Conner Valesano tries to slip the puck past Minnetonka goaltender Matt Behounek. Photo by Helen Nelson

Even after dismantling No. 2-ranked Minnetonka in the Schwan Cup Gold Division finals on Wednesday, Duluth East coach Mike Randolph was quick to point out that the third period wasn’t what he and his coaching staff expect out of the Greyhounds.

Duluth East took several penalties, allowed the Skippers to score a couple quick goals and seemed to sleepwalk to a 6-2 win.

“We did what we were supposed to do in the first two periods – that was two of our better periods of the year,” Randolph said. “I didn’t like the third period.”

With the difference between the Hounds in the first two periods and the final stanza, the issue of consistency comes to the forefront. Sure, it won the tournament, but Duluth East was on and off during its three games at the Schwan Cup, and Randolph hopes the team can learn from its mistakes and improve down the stretch.

“We’ve got to be a lot more consistent. The consistency is not there,” Randolph said. “I didn’t like last night’s game (against St. Thomas Academy) at all. We have a lot to go back and continue to grow on. Just little things like that.”

The Hounds have plenty of chances to mend those issues, with numerous tough games left on their second half schedule, all of which will test them differently. They will kick off that learning period with a trip to Maple Grove next Wednesday.

The end goal is to be rolling at the same clip every shift by the time the Section 7AA tournament begins.

“We’re all coming together well, but there’s always room for improvement,” said center Dom Toninato, who netted a goal and three assists in the win over Minnetonka.

Duluth East played the tournament without star defensemen Nate Repensky, allowing some new players to step into different situations against top opponents. With the experience those players keep gaining, the Hounds appear to have one of the deepest teams in recent memory, a great stepping-stone on the road to consistency.

“It’s great to know that you can have people that can come up and have guys fill in for the guys out,” said sophomore defenseman Phil Beaulieu, who received boatloads of extra ice time with Repensky on the shelf. “You know if someone gets hurt that you’re going to have someone come up who wants to play.”

During its ride to an 11-0-0 start, Duluth East has shown many glimpses of the team it wants to be. With the showing in the opening 34 minutes on Wednesday, one has to believe the Hounds will get it together in time for the playoffs.

“When we’re on that game, we’re pretty good,” Randolph said.

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

Duluth East in top form against Skippers

Duluth East defenseman Meirs Moore carried the Schwan Cup Gold Division championship trophy off the Xcel Energy Center ice Wednesday night and presented it to coach Mike Randolph.

“Add ‘er to the shelf,” Moore said, drawing a laugh from Randolph.

One night after drawing Randolph’s ire during and after a listless semifinal victory, the No. 1 Greyhounds out-hit and out-scored No. 2 Minnetonka and got rewarded with a 6-2 victory. Both teams entered the game 10-0-0 this season.

“That wasn’t our team [Tuesday] night,” said Randolph, who told his players to, "'Get a grip on why we played that way.' Each guy took it upon themselves to be ready for the other 19 guys.”

Captain Trevor Olson, battling back into the lineup after a knee injury, set a tone with two sold hits. Then Ryan Lundgren, who tallied a goal and three assists in Tuesday’s semifinal victory against St. Thomas Academy, scored twice in the first period to erase any concerns about the Greyhounds starting slow for a second consecutive game.

Throughout what Randolph called, “two of our better periods of the year,” the Greyhounds showcased their quickness, precision passing and finishing skills. The performances befit a team boasting many of the players who lost the Class 2A title game in three overtimes last season.

Leading 2-0 after the first period, the Greyhounds struck for goals by Jack Forbort and Toninato just 48 seconds apart in the second period.

Minnetonka coach Brian Urick pulled starting goaltender Matt Behounek at that point, though it was out of mercy. The Skippers struggled defensively and were exposed. The low point came as Moore scored on a shorthanded goal with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining in the second period.

“In the first I thought we were maybe standing around a little bit,” Urick said. “We competed hard in the second and third, we just made too many mistakes.”

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

Minnetonka's gambling doesn't pay off

Odd as it might sound, a six-goal victory over an arch rival left Minnetonka coach Brian Urick with a queasy feeling in his stomach.

Urick saw some cracks in the unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Skippers’ defense in their blowout of Edina in the semifinals of the Schwan Cup Gold Division. With no time to shore up their deficiencies, Urick could only hope for the best in a much-anticipated showdown with No. 1 Duluth East in the championship game.

“I called it in between periods, we’re just riverboat gambling,” Urick said after Greyhounds took a wrecking ball to the Minnetonka defense, turning those cracks into gaping holes in a 6-2 dismantling of the Skippers on Wednesday, Dec. 28, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. “In the neutral zone we’ve got defensemen jumping up, trying to intercept passes, and they are gone the other way.

“I told the guys … you might beat a team 8-5, but you are not going to win any championships playing that kind of hockey.”
 
With goal scorers stashed on all three of its top lines, Duluth East (11-0-0) isn’t the sort of team to let scoring chances go to waste. Ryan Lundgren, who has emerged as one of the Greyhounds’ most reliable offense threats on a team loaded with them, scored twice in the opening period. Duluth East lead 5-0 after two periods.

“We must have given up 10 odd-man rushes,” Urick said after the Skippers dropped to 10-1-0. “Three breakaways -- all on transition. We can’t make those mistakes if we want to beat teams like that.”

The most telling snapshot of the night was provided by Duluth East defenseman Meirs Moore, who scored a shorthanded goal late in the third period after being allowed to cruise untouched through the slot and stuff a rebound into the goal. Dom Toninato had taken the initial shot. On a breakaway.

“We got exposed, and they caught us tonight,” Urick said. “So now we have some things to work on. I though we could skate with them and we can compete with them, but I don’t think we can make those glaring mistakes.”

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub staff

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

The state’s top two boys’ hockey teams met to conclude a three-day tournament on Wednesday, providing a glimpse of what March could hold at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.

No. 1 Duluth East flirted with a shutout but settled for a 6-2 defeat of No. 2 Minnetonka in the Schwan Cup Gold Division championship game. Both teams entered the game 10-0 this season.

The Greyhounds’ Ryan Lundgren scored his teams’ first two goals and Dom Toninato finished with one goal and two assists. Duluth East held a 5-0 lead into the third period until goals from the Skippers’ Justin Bader and Erik Baskin trimmed the margin.

Three tournament games in as many days figured to test the Greyhounds resolve. But they emerged with a tighter hold on their No. 1 ranking.

Lundgren, who tallied a goal and three assists in the semifinal victory against St. Thomas Academy, dazzled in the offensive zone once again. His two goals in the first period staked the Greyhounds to a 2-0 lead and erased any concerns about starting slow for a second consecutive game.

After Tuesday’s semifinal victory, Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph said his team did not deserve the three-goal lead it built during the second period and was fortunate to escape with a 5-4 victory.

Seemingly taking their coach’s critique to heart, the Greyhounds showcased their quickness, precision passing and finishing skills. The performances befit a team boasting many of the players who lost the Class 2A title game in three-overtimes last season.

Leading 2-0 after the first period, the Greyhounds struck for goals by Jack Forbort and Toninato just 48 seconds apart in the second period. A Minnetonka power play backfired late in the period as Toninato got free behind the defense. Though hauled down, Toninato got the puck to a trailing Meirs Moore for a shorthanded goal with 1 minute and 12 seconds remaining.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

1. Dom Toninato, Duluth East
Toninato, one of the state's best centers, lived up to the billing in the battle of Minnesota's top two teams. The senior had a goal and three assists, was great at the dot and helped the Hounds catch Minnetonka sleeping with quick breakouts all night. Toninato could have easily had another point or two, but will have to settle with four.

2. Dylan Parker, Duluth East
Parker is a rock in net. The calm, cool netminder doesn’t lose focus when he isn’t seeing many shots, he’s impossible to get rattled when he sees tons of rubber and he instantly bounces back after giving up goals. If not for his play between the pipes -- he had 30 saves -- the score could have been a little closer.

3. Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East
Beaulieu, a mobile sophomore blue liner, played a big role for the Hounds all tournament, filling in for injured captain Nate Repensky in almost all situations. On Wednesday, Beaulieu played maybe his best game. He made great passes, even better puck decisions and used a much improved stride to keep himself between the speedy Skippers forwards and the middle of the rink.

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com

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