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Northwoods rumble

By Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA, 12/10/12, 12:00PM CST

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Duluth East-Cloquet rivalry highlights The Week Ahead, Dec. 10-16


Defense will be key for Duluth East this winter, anchored by (left to right) Phil Beaulieu, Meirs Moore, goaltender Dylan Parker and Andrew Kerr. Submitted photo.

1. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at Duluth East
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

As if the biannual Cloquet-Esko-Carlton versus Duluth East game needed any more juice, it’s now going to get it, as Greyhounds’ coach Mike Randolph goes for career victory No. 500 against the Lumberjacks on Thursday night at what is sure to be a raucous Heritage Sports Center in Duluth.

Last week, Wayzata and goaltender Aaron Dingmann put a damper on the expected celebration of Randolph reaching his career milestone – until hockey fans noted the Greyhounds’ next game. The tradition of this grudge match plus the chance to see history makes Cloquet against East the Hockey Hub’s Game of the Week.


Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Karson Kuhlman anchors a strong top line with Beau and Westin Michaud. Photo by Loren Nelson.

Fourth-ranked Duluth East (2-1-0) has won eight straight, but Cloquet (3-2-0) has always played the ‘Hounds tough. The last Lumberjacks victory was a big one, a 2008 Section 7AA playoff upset of top-seeded East behind four goals from defenseman David Brown. You can bet coach Dave Esse and the ‘Jacks would like nothing more than to put Randolph’s celebration on hold for another day.

“It is a huge motivation for me. We always want to beat East,” Cloquet’s Westin Michaud told the Hub’s Zack Friedli. “They’re our biggest rivals by far.”

For Cloquet to do so, it will be a test of strength on strength – the ‘Jacks impressive top line against East’s solid defensive corps.

Senior Beau Michaud (6-9-15) and juniors Westin Michaud (8-6-14) and Minnesota-Duluth recruit Karson Kuhlman (6-5-11) form one of the most dangerous lines in the state. They’re crafty and have great chemistry. The trio has helped Cloquet score 6.0 goals a game this winter, which has been needed as the Lumberjacks have tended to get into shootouts. Their two losses were both high-scoring affairs (7-6 at Bloomington Jefferson on Dec. 1 and 6-4 at White Bear Lake on Dec. 8).

Getting offensive contributions from outside that top line and shoring up in its own zone is the key to another upset victory.

James Newgren (3-1-4) and freshman Koby Bender (2-2-4) have combined for five goals thus far – their entire total from last season (to be fair, Bender was playing Bantam hockey). They’ll be big contributors on the Lumberjacks' second line. Cloquet must also get improved play from its defensive corps, which includes seniors Tanner Robideaux (1-3-4) and Drew Dincau (0-5-5), and in net from junior Justin Ketola (3-2-0, 3.19, .842).


Duluth East defenseman Meirs Moore leads the 'Hounds in scoring this winter. Photo by Helen Nelson.

While Cloquet has been playing run-and-gun hockey this winter, Duluth East has been much closer to the vest. Outside of an 11-1 romp over Cambridge-Isanti to open the season, East has a two-goal victory (4-2 over Anoka) and a one-goal loss (1-0 at Wayzata).

It’s understandable, as East’s strong suit is its defensive corps and senior goaltender Dylan Parker (1-1-0, 1.00, .889). Parker lost just one game last season in 19 decisions, but it was a tough one – a state quarterfinal upset to Lakeville South. He’s a consistent and steady goalie who will have plenty of help from defensemen Meirs Moore (3-3-6), Phil Beaulieu (1-3-4), Andrew Kerr and company. East will again be difficult to score against this winter.

But East is still adjusting to the graduation of its top line of Jake Randolph, Dom Toninato and Trevor Olson, which combined for 186 points last winter. The Greyhounds' top line was responsible for generating much of the team’s offense, a task that now falls on a new crop of players such as Ryan Lundgren, Alex Toscano (3-2-5) and Jack Forbort (1-4-5).

“We’ll see if we can get scoring night-in and night-out,” Randolph told the Duluth News-Tribune earlier this winter. “We’re a different kind of team in that we had the puck the whole time last year, and we’re not going to have the puck the whole time this year. We’re going to have to work hard getting it back and maybe get goals another way.”


Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Dave Esse has seen his share of rivalry games with Duluth East. Photo by Helen Nelson.

Game of the Week

Spotlight Game Coverage

Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

'Week Ahead' Archives


Other top games

2. Hill-Murray at St. Thomas Academy
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

Could this be a preview of a future Section 4AA championship game? With the announced decision of St. Thomas Academy to move up to Class 2A next year, the only question is where the Cadets will be placed by the MSHSL. These two schools already play each other twice a year as members of the Classic Suburban Conference, and while Hill-Murray has had the decided advantage in recent years, it's St. Thomas Academy that has won multiple state titles (four of the last seven and two in a row at the Class 1A level). The No. 1A Cadets were thought to be the more veteran team this winter and they certainly have been impressive, but not as much as the No. 5AA Pioneers, who shocked top-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's in their last game, 4-2.

3. Roseau at Moorhead
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

These two Section 8AA powerhouses have combined to win every section title since 1996. Based on early results, it certainly looks like it's going to come down to them again this winter. Roseau has three victories and a tie on the road against a tough Blaine team in its first five games. The Rams are getting expected offensive contributions from stars Zach Yon (4-5-9) and Alex Strand (3-6-9), but also defensemen Tanner Okeson (4-3-7) and Cole Bjugson (2-3-5) -- a great sign for coach Andy Lundbohm. Moorhead is coming off important section victories over Buffalo and Bemidji last week and has been even more high-powered with Tony Uglem (6-7-13), Nicholas Uglem (4-5-9) and Thomas Carey (4-6-10) leading the way.

4. Rogers at Hermantown 
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

So much for these two programs having a rebuilding year after losing a big senior class. Neither looks like it's missing a beat in early season results and will be strong contenders (along with St. Cloud Cathedral) for the Section 5A title. No. 3A Hermantown is rocking and rolling with 31 goals in four victories, while allowing only three. Travis Koepke (4-5-9), Lane LeGarde (4-3-7) and defenseman Neal Pionk (4-2-6) -- who just committed to Minnesota-Duluth -- lead the Hawks with four goals each, while goaltenders Jace Thomas and Adam Smith have combined for a 0.75 goals against and .955 save percentage. Rogers is coming off a 13-3 victory over North Branch with Nate Weber (5-2-7) leading the way offensively and Michigan Tech recruit Travis Brown anchoring the blue line.

5. Warroad at East Grand Forks
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

Through two weeks of action, it looks like No. 9A East Grand Forks is serious about ending its state tournament drought. The Green Wave have shut out three of their first four opponents, including an impressive 4-0 victory at No. 5A St. Cloud Cathedral. Senior Tanner Lindstrom (3-0-1, 0.96, .952) has been solid in goal and is getting plenty of support from a rugged and tough defensive corps that includes Tye Ausmus, Colton Poolman and Eddie Eades. Tanner Tweten (5-0-5) and Kolton Aubol (4-0-4) lead the Green Wave in goals. Warroad has also started strong with four wins in five games, powered by the high-scoring quartet of Jared Bethune (7-5-12), Kyle Sylvester (5-5-10), Kobe Roth (6-4-10) and Ben Smieja (4-4-8). They have 22 of the Warriors' 24 goals.

6. Prior Lake at Bloomington Jefferson
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

This is a big game for both teams, not only in the South Suburban Conference but also in the Section 2AA seedings race. Prior Lake might be the best winless team in the state, as the Lakers have suffered one-goal losses to Edina and Lakeville South. Losing another won't help the Lakers in their quest for a home playoff game -- and they must generate offense after scoring only four goals in two games. Jordan Moran (0-2-0, 3.00, .906) has a good save percentage, but no wins to show for it. On the other hand, Bloomington Jefferson opened with three straight victories, including a wild overtime win against Cloquet. Veterans Colin Hernon (3-5-8) and Jono Lindquist (4-3-7) pace the Jaguars in scoring. Jefferson is hoping its fast start translates into a better season and playoff success.

7. Mounds View at White Bear Lake
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game, FoxSportsNorth Webcast

Changing of the guard in Section 4AA? That's what Mounds View is hoping as it takes on annual contender White Bear Lake this week. The senior-laden Mustangs have been pointing to this season as a chance to make a statewide statement. They certainly gained attention with an 11-6 shootout win over Forest Lake last week. As expected, hard-nosed seniors Darian Romanko (6-5-11) and A.J. Rupert (3-6-9) lead the way, but junior Brandon Smith (3-1-1, 3.30, .868) is a key in goal. The Bears have been up-and-down this winter, looking impressive in a 6-4 victory over Cloquet, but also struggling through a 7-3 loss to Hastings. Sophomore Jake Wahlin (5-5-10) has picked up right where he left off last winter offensively, but Seth King (3-0-3) is the only other player with multiple goals thus far.

8. Blaine at Benilde-St. Margaret's
Hockey Hub Spotlight Game

One team hoping to rebound from a shocking loss (Benilde-St. Margaret's) versus another hoping to make a big statement (Blaine) makes for an interesting non-conference and non-section matchup. The top-ranked Red Knights showed they were not invincible in a 4-2 loss to Hill-Murray last week. Sure, Benilde-St. Margaret's is certainly still one of the favorites to in win the Class 2A title, but not overwhelmingly so as many thought. Junior Spencer Naas (6-1-7) certainly has been a nice addition to coach Ken Pauly's offense, though. Blaine is sneakily good this winter, going 2-0-1 in its first three games with a ton of shots on goal. The Bengals aren't scoring much yet -- with the exception of Tyler Cline (4-1-5) -- but they will. This could be a shootout game.

9. Andover at Eden Prairie

What's going on in Andover? The Huskies were expected to be a top-10 caliber team and threat to get to state out of Section 7AA. But they haven't had the results to back that up yet, with three losses and only a one-goal victory over Robbinsdale Armstrong to show in their ledger. Coach Mark Manney's team hasn't been getting blown out, they've been losing tight games that could easily turn in their favor. If so, expect junior goaltender Chase Perry (1-3-0, 3.50, .883) to play a major role in that reversal. No. 7AA Eden Prairie has had its own bumps in the road, but has still won three of four. Steven Spinner (6-5-11) leads the potent Eagles' offense.

10. St. Paul Highland Park at St. Paul Como Park

These two programs know each other well, as just three years ago they were combined at the varsity level and known as St. Paul Como Park. That winter, Highland Park decided to split off and renew its program after more than 20 years away. There have been some growing pains, including a winless inaugural campaign and 0-5-0 start to this season, but that was to be expected. A win over Como Park would certainly erase some of those disappointments. The Cougars, meanwhile, have had a great start to the year with four wins in six games, powered by a high-scoring top unit of Tom McCullough (10-8-18), Sawyer Scanlon (7-10-17) and Mitch McNamee (6-11-17).