Duluth East has plenty of offensive firepower, especially with the return of sniper Trevor Olson (12) from injury. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
Cody Mann (10) of Grand Rapids celebrates a goal. Photo by Helen Nelson
Perhaps the only team that didn’t flip-flop its potential seed in the Section 7AA playoffs during the regular season was No. 1-seed Duluth East.
But behind the Greyhounds, it was a messy, tightly contested race to the finish.
Grand Rapids, who many believed were destined for a rematch of last year’s section final with Duluth East, has struggled against other 7AA teams.
The result is a jumbled mess, one that was sorted out at Wednesday’s seeding meeting, where three of the teams behind Duluth East could have made a case for the No. 2 seed that went to Andover.
The No. 1-seeded Hounds (23-1-0) are led by the talented duo of University of Nebraska-Omaha recruit Jake Randolph (32-32-64) and University of Minnesota-Duluth bound Dom Toninato (26-31-57). Randolph and Toninato, who have been grouped with junior Ryan Lundgren (13-32-45) for the majority of the season, are the straws that stir the Duluth East drink.
Even with the high-scoring top line, what makes Duluth East one of the best teams in the state is its exceptional depth. Second-liners Conner Valesano (11-19-30) and Alex Toscano (15-11-26) have been good for the Hounds this year, and defensemen like Meirs Moore (9-30-39) and Phil Beaulieu (4-18-22) are also contributing to the offensive attack.
Add into the equation forward Trevor Olson (5-14-19) and blue liner Nate Repensky (2-13-15), who both missed considerable time with injuries, and Duluth East will press opponents to find holes in its lineup.
Cloquet's Beau Michaud (8) is part of the Lumberjacks' terrific first line of underclassmen. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
Second-seeded Andover (17-6-2), the surprise of 7AA, is the up-and-coming team looking for an upset. With Calvin Rak (24-18-42) and Brady Barthold (17-20-37) scoring tons of goals, goaltender Chase Perry (15-6-2, 2.75, .921) is finding his job to be a little easier each night.
With a power play cruising along at a 32-percent clip, it will be key for opponents to stay out of the box when playing the Huskies.
The No. 3-seed Thunderhawks (19-6-0), like the other teams in 7AA, will have to embrace the underdog role in their quest for a state tournament berth.
With talented forwards Avery Peterson (14-30-44) and Nate Mondry (17-21-38) leading the way, Grand Rapids has plenty of scoring punch. University of Minnesota recruit Jake Bischoff (11-26-37) is the main man on the back end, with guys like David Horsmann (7-13-20) and Jordan Stejskal (3-13-16) also chipping in to shut down opponents.
Grand Rapids could be getting one of its best players back just in time, too, as Travis Underwood (19-10-29), who was injured in a practice a few weeks ago, may be cleared to play before the 7AA tournament is complete.
No. 4 Elk River (15-8-2) doesn’t have the top-end talent of the other teams in the section, but it does have plenty of depth. Jake Jaremko (8-15-23), Andrew Zerban (23-7-30) and Nick McCormack (9-15-24) are definitely able to find the back of the net.
The best player on the Elks’ roster is in goal, with veteran Anders Franke (15-8-2, 2.09, .924) standing between the pipes for yet another season in Elk River.
The Elks will take on No. 5 Cloquet (17-8-0), which is a group that has greatly improved since the first puck-drop of the year. The Lumberjacks’ top line of Karson Kuhlman (27-27-54), along with Westin (21-29-50) and Beau (18-31-49) Michaud, will force 7AA foes to stay alert, as the trio can score in bunches.
The Jacks can win with defense, too, thanks largely to the stellar play of goaltender John Scheuer (15-8-0, 2.63, .902), one of the best netminders in the section.
Not to be overlooked is sixth-seeded Forest Lake (11-13-1), led by forwards Lucas Kohls (19-20-39) and C.J. Franklin (15-23-38). The Rangers haven’t had the year they expected, but anything can happen in the playoffs.
Top-ranked Duluth East is battle-tested, having played some of Minnesota’s best teams this year after a runner-up finish in the Class 2A tournament last season. The Hounds rolled through section opponents in the regular season, going 6-0-0 while outscoring 7AA foes 36-6 in the process.
While Andover and Grand Rapids are the trendy picks to upset Duluth East in the section tournament, Elk River has played some of its best hockey against some of Minnesota’s finest. The Elks just beat Maple Grove a week ago, and with Franke in net, who knows what Elk River is capable of.
2011 - Duluth East
2010 – Duluth East
2009 – Duluth East
2008 – Cloquet
2007 – Grand Rapids
2006 – Grand Rapids
2005 – Duluth East
2004 – Duluth East
2003 – Duluth East
2002 - Cloquet
2001 - Greenway
2000 – Duluth East
1999 – Elk River
1998 – Duluth East
1997 – Duluth East
1996 – Duluth East
1995 – Duluth East
1994 – Duluth East