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Hounds remain road warriors

By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor, 01/14/12, 12:26PM CST

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Top-ranked Duluth East stays unbeaten with dominating second period in Eden Prairie


Duluth East senior Jake Randolph scored twice and added an assist in the Greyhounds' 4-2 victory over Eden Prairie. Photo by Helen Nelson

Talking about an undefeated season while you’re in the midst of one is taboo, like reminding a pitcher about the no-hitter he has going.
 
Duluth East senior Dom Toninato is too crafty to be lured into perfect season speculation.
 
“No, we don’t want to look at that right now,” Toninato said after scoring a goal and notching an assist in the No. 1-ranked Greyhounds’ 4-2 victory over No. 7 Eden Prairie. “We just want to take it one game at a time.”
 
Make that one win at a time. There have been 16 so far this season for Duluth East.
 
And counting.
 
After the Greyhounds dismantled then-No. 2 Minnetonka to win the Schwan Cup Gold Division Championship, observers wondered aloud, “Who is going to beat East?”
 
More recently, the Greyounds went into an overstuffed Maple Grove Community Center and eased past the then-No. 2 ranked Crimson. 
 
The “Who is going to beat East?” question was raised yet again.

Duluth East's Meirs Moore, left, battles for control of the puck with Eden Prairie's Mason Bergh. Photo by Helen Nelson

Just this week the Greyhounds beat arch rival Grand Rapids at the decidedly unfriendly IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids. And, of course, there was Saturday’s victory over the Eagles in a rematch of last year’s state Class 2A championship game at a packed Eden Prairie Community Center.

“It’s not the first game we’ve played in front of a full crowd,” said Greyhounds defenseman Meirs Moore, who had two assists against the Eagles. “It’s fun. It’s exciting to say the least. 
 
“You get booed when you go out there. I kind of like that. “
 
Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith looks at veteran-laden Duluth East, fueled by its irrepressible forward duo of Jake Randolph and Dom Toninato, and he sees a mirror image of last season’s Eagles team that won the state title.
 
“The thing that makes them so much better is what we had last year,” Smith said. “When you have all those guys that play so many games … they have been through this for three years now.
 
“There’s not much you can throw at them that they haven’t seen or experienced. There’s a lot to be said for that.”
 
Like a shark aroused by the smell of blood, Duluth East went on a goal-scoring frenzy in the second period against a suddenly tentative Eden Prairie, scoring three times to build a commanding 4-1 lead.

Duluth East coach Mike Randolph talks strategy with his players during the Greyhounds' victory over Eden Prairie. Photo by Helen Nelson

The scoring chances were mostly even in the first and third periods. But an 8-minute meltdown was the Eagles’ undoing in the second. Duluth East took advantage of repeated turnovers and shaky puckhandling in general by Eden Prairie get the three goals, all of them coming from the top line of Randolph, Toninato and Ryan Lundgren.

 
“I think we feed off the hostile environment like that,” Toninato, who like Randolph is a likely Mr. Hockey finalist. “We come out on the ice and get booed. We feed off it, use it as energy and hopefully get the win.”
 
Moore said he’s feeling the grind of a season that has included games against five teams currently in the top 10 of the Class 2A rankings has taken its toll. Which isn’t to say he’s ready to relax. The Greyhounds host Apple Valley on Tuesday and then travel to Minnetonka on Saturday for a rematch with the Skippers, who have returned to No. 2 in the state rankings.
 
That game originally had been scheduled to be played on Lake Minnetonka as part of Hockey Day Minnesota, but has since been moved indoors to the Pagel Activity Center. The Skippers have lost just once in their last 38 games at home.
 
“We were all looking forward to playing outside,” Moore said. “That was going to be sweet. Tonka has a home game now, if you look at it that way because the outdoor game was kind of a neutral site, where we’re both at kind of a different environment. 
 
“Now Tonka gets to play out of their home rink, so that’s going to be a little advantage for them. But we’re used to it. We can’t wait to play them again.” 

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Game Recap

Top-ranked Duluth East got a goal from each member of its top line in a dominating second period as the top-ranked Greyhounds remained unbeaten with a 4-2 triumph over No. 7  Eden Prairie on Saturday, Jan. 14, at the Eden Prairie Community Center.

Jake Randolph, Dom Toninato and Ryan Lundgren scored in a span of 7 minutes, 22 seconds in the second period as the Greyhounds (16-0-0) surged to a 4-1 lead.
 
Randolph, a senior forward and likely Mr. Hockey finalist, scored one of the goals on backhand shot and set up a second with another backhand shot. Duluth East outshot Eden Prairie 20-3 in the second.
 
Randolph opened the scoring in the first period with a power-play goal, finishing a nice series of passes that left the Eden Prairie defense and goaltender Derrick LaCombe out of position.
 
Eden Prairie’s Danny Halloran scored 4:43 into the third period to pull the Eagles (9-3-1) to within 4-2, and they continued to trade scoring chances with the Greyhounds throughout the final period.
 
John Sullivan scored a power-play goal in the first period for Eden Prairie.
 
LaCombe finished with 41 saves while Paige Skoog made 19 for Duluth East.
 
The Greyhounds were without three of their top players in senior forward Trevor Olson (knee injury), senior defenseman Nate Repensky (wrist injury) and junior goaltender Dylan Parker (athletic code violation).
The senior forward, as tenacious a player as there is in the state, displayed another weapon in his passing/hitting/playmaking/scoring arsenal by scoring a goal and setting up another with well-placed backhand shots from the slot. Randolph finished with two goals, giving him a team-best 23 in 16 games.
 
Breakaways and odd-man rushes – sometimes even shots on goals – are a rarity for opposing teams often suffocated by the Greyhounds’ fundamentally solid defense. Moore, an unflappable junior, plays all the important minutes and always seems to make the smart play with the puck. All those heads-up plays lead to points, as Moore -- who had two assists against the Eagles -- ranks among the state's highest scoring defensemen with 28 pionts (four goals, 24 assists).
 
The junior forward was the catalyst on an Eagles line that gave the Greyhounds fits for most of the game. Bergh assisted on John Sullivan’s first-period power play goal and helped create numerous other good scoring chances. Bergh has 21 points to share the Eden Prairie scoring lead.

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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