Alex Toscano (23) of Duluth East tries to fight his way through the Moorhead defense during the 'Hounds 5-1 victory. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
After Duluth East lost to Breck in the quarterfinals of the Schwan Cup Gold tournament the day after Christmas, coach Mike Randolph had a message for his team. And it took a good hour to deliver it.
The ‘Hounds had a closed-door meeting in which Randolph aired his feelings on the season. East, which was a preseason top-10 team despite graduating its powerful top line of a year ago, had lost three of its past five games to fall to 4-3-0 on the season. The ‘Hounds were struggling to score goals and had what Randolph felt was a lackluster effort against the Class 1A Mustangs.
Let’s just say the message got through.
East (8-3-0) has won its past four games by a combined 18-4 score against four of the best programs in the state – Edina, Minnetonka, Blaine and the latest victim, Moorhead, in a 5-1 victory Saturday, Jan. 5 at the Moorhead Sports Center. Already a stout defensive team, the ‘Hounds have begun to put the puck in the net with regularity.
“That Breck loss was the game that turned it all around,” said senior forward Jack Forbort, who had two goals and an assist against the Spuds. “We got talked to for an hour after that game. We all just figured it out and we all started doing our roles and it’s all going well now.”
The ‘Hounds, who had less than 24 hours to regroup after the Breck loss, had as sudden a turnaround as one could imagine.
“What’s happened?” asked Randolph when posed the same question. “We had a long, heart-to-heart talk with the team and told them they need to have a heart-to-heart talk with themselves and their teammates about why we weren’t showing up.”
“We just weren’t ready to go and we weren’t ready to compete and because of that, we got beat,” said Randolph. “The nice thing is that it tells these guys that they can play with anybody and beat anybody, but they can also lose to anybody.
“That will be a message thrown at them throughout the season.”
It’s also helped that the ‘Hounds have begun to get scoring from its top line of Forbort, Alex Toscano and Ryan Lundgren. After playing the shadow of last year’s All-State trio of Jake Randolph, Dom Toninato and Trevor Olson, the ‘Hounds new top line is finally living up to its role as a go-to group.
“Guys are starting to understand their roles,” said Randolph. “Our top line is our top line and our top line has to be our top line. They have to do the majority of scoring because they get the opportunity.”
Even with Lundgren missing the Moorhead game due to illness, the top unit still clicked with defenseman Phil Beaulieu up on a wing for the night. Beaulieu and Toscano each assisted on Forbort’s two goals. Forbort took over the scoring lead on the team from Toscano, with defensemen Meirs Moore and Beaulieu and forward Lundgren right behind.
“Keep doing what we’re doing,” said Forbort of what has been clicking since that closed-door meeting. “Every line is providing right now and that’s just great.”
The ‘Hounds have been stingy defensively right from the start. They’ve given up more than two goals just once all season (a 5-2 loss to Centennial on Dec. 18) and two of their losses have come in low-scoring games in which they’ve been shut out (1-0 to Wayzata on Dec. 8 and 2-0 to Breck on Dec. 26). But the goals hadn’t come consistently until the past week.
“It’s nice to see us be able to put the puck in the net,” said Randolph. “We’ve been very, very consistent for 12 periods now. And that’s what we were looking for.”
Duluth East's Jack Forbort (27) scored twice and added an assist.
Jack Forbort scored twice and added an assist as No. 6AA Duluth East continued its recent domination with a 5-1 victory over Moorhead Saturday, Jan. 5 at the Moorhead Sports Center. The Greyhounds (8-3-0) have now won four straight games against teams ranked in the top-20 by a combined 18-4 score.
Both teams were short key members due to illness. Moorhead (7-6-1) was missing third and fourth leading scorers (Aaron Herdt and Nick Uglem) and Duluth East’s fifth leading scorer (Ryan Lundgren) was also out sick. The absences caused some line juggling, but the ‘Hounds still clicked.
Tony Uglem scored just 35 seconds into the game to give Moorhead an early lead, but it was all East the rest of the way. Nick Altmann and Forbort scored in the first period to give the ‘Hounds a 2-1 lead. In the second, Meirs Moore, Jack Kolar and Forbort pushed the lead to 5-1.
Jacob Dittmer started in goal for Moorhead before being replaced midway through the second period by Peter MacFarlane. Dittmer made 17 saves on 22 shots, while MacFarlane stopped all 19 shots he saw the rest of the way.
Dylan Parker earned the victory in goal for East with 18 saves.
1. Jack Forbort, Duluth East
Forbort came up big offensively for the ‘Hounds, scoring a pair of goals and adding an assist. His tipped goal midway through the first period proved to be the game-winner and he capped the scoring with a rifle right under the crossbar midway through the second period.
2. Andrew Kerr, Duluth East
According to coach Mike Randolph, Kerr is one of those rare players who loves to hit. He comes out of the corners with a big grin on his face – and the puck on his stick more often than not. Kerr again threw his body around to the detriment of the Moorhead forwards, and also picked up two assists.
3. Meirs Moore, Duluth East
Moore is the ‘Hounds’ quarterback on the ice, not only on the power play but also in 5-on-5 situations. He got the breakout going with either a pinpoint pass or a rush up ice from his defensive position. Moore scored East’s third goal early in the second period.