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Duluth East celebrates a goal against Moorhead earlier this season. The 'Hounds are the top seed in the Section 7AA playoffs. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.


Duluth East's Beau Hughes. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

Since being knocked out of the section tournament by rival Cloquet/Esko/Carlton in 2008, Duluth East has been the unquestioned king of Section 7AA. The Greyhounds have won each of the past four section titles and have only lost to one section opponent – a 3-2 setback against Elk River in January 2010 – during that stretch.

But as the Hounds have continued to click at a high level over the last four seasons, the rest of 7AA has regrouped. This year, several teams believe they’ve finally caught up to the pace that Duluth East has set and are confident they could be the ones to finally knock the Hounds off their 7AA high horse.

Even so, Duluth East (21-4-0) battled through a maturation process and proved its mettle to earn the top seed once again. After losing tons of talent off last year’s Class 2A fifth-place team, the Hounds started 4-3-0 and struggled to find consistency. Since then, though, Duluth East has gone 17-1-0 and is riding a 13-game winning streak.

Led up front by its top line of Jack Forbort (19-33—52), Alex Toscano (18-29—47) and Ryan Lundgren (17-18—35), Duluth East is again averaging more than four goals each game while the power play hovers around the 42-percent mark. Defensemen Meirs Moore (17-21—38) and Phil Beaulieu (6-21—27) have chipped in heavily on the offensive side of the puck, too, giving the Hounds a dangerous combination of skill in all areas of the offensive zone.

Scoring goals isn’t what this team hangs its hat on, though. Instead, Duluth East has made it clear that defense is its main focus, giving up just 1.68 goals per game during the regular season. Hard-hitters Andrew Kerr (0-5—5) and Alex Trapp (4-7—11) are prototypical defensive-defensemen and have been huge contributors to the intangible aspects of the game that have made the Hounds so tough to play against this year.

Senior goalie Dylan Parker (15-4-0, 1.74, .913) is more experienced and has settled into a groove lately, adding to the shutdown ability of Duluth East.


Grand Rapids' Avery Peterson. Photo by Adam Crane.

Although it isn’t as red-hot as the Hounds, No. 2-seed Grand Rapids (17-4-3) has been on a run of its own down the stretch. The Thunderhawks finally got healthy around the beginning of 2013, and it’s showed – Grand Rapids has gone 10-1-2 since Dec. 28 and seems to be peaking at the right time.

Much of that success has to do with the top-end skill the Thunderhawks possess. Forwards Avery Peterson (23-31—54), Reid Holum (13-16—29) and Cody Mann (16-11—27) have stepped up to supply Grand Rapids with most of its offense, but they’ve had help from guys like Hunter Mackenhausen (4-7—11) and Jonah Bischoff (8-9—17).

The Halloween Machine boasts a sturdy corps of blueliners, too, led by University of Minnesota recruit and Mr. Hockey finalist Jake Bischoff (7-11—18), who got better and better with each game after returning from an injury nine games into the season. David Horsmann (4-19—23) and Curtis Simonson (1-10—11) are vital pieces, too.

Junior goaltender Hunter Shepard (17-4-3, 1.95, .926) has played every second between the pipes and is one of the best at his position in the state.


Elk River's Mac Berglove. Photo by Brian Nelson.

No. 3 Elk River (15-10-0) went through a bit of a transition this year with a new coach and several new names in key roles, and, although the Elks struggled a bit in the latter portion of the season, the overall response to the adversity was a positive one.

Jacob Jaremko (14-16—30), Chase Springman (17-10—27), Tim Sanford (15-12—27), Wyatt Ege (4-19—23) and Andrew Zerban (12-9—21) each recorded over 20 points this winter, giving Elk River some solid depth. Mac Berglove (14-10-0, 2.71, .889) took over the starting job in goal after the departure of longtime netminder Anders Franke and has the potential to carry the Elks through the 7AA tournament and on to St. Paul.

No. 4-seeded Cloquet (15-8-2) is maybe the most dangerous offensive team in the section. The Lumberjacks' scoring surge is led by the talented trio of Westin Michaud (26-31—57), Beau Michaud (20-33—53) and University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit Karson Kuhlman (25-22—47).

Defenseman Drew Dincau (9-23—32) and Tanner Robideaux (5-16—21) are the rocks at the back end, and goalie Zack Strom (7-4-2, 2.17, .894) won the starting gig midway through the year and looks poised to play his best hockey in the section tournament.

Fifth-seeded Forest Lake (15-10-0) no longer has guys named “Franklin” or “Kohls” on its roster, but the Rangers are a pesky team nevertheless. Paced by two 40-point scorers in Brett Gravelle (11-29—40) and Cody Rogala (20-20—40), Forest Lake will be looking to make its way back to the 7AA semifinals with a first-round upset. Forward Kyle Parker (11-18—29) and goalie Jesse Garcia (11-7-0, 2.91, .902) will also have to come up big for the Rangers to make some noise.

No. 6 Andover (12-11-2) hasn’t enjoyed the success it thought it would before the year’s first puck-drop, but with goalie Chase Perry (9-10-2, 2.70, .910) manning the crease, the Huskies could perhaps be a sleeper pick.

No. 7 St. Francis (16-9-0) and leading scorers Zach Foesch (37-25—62) and Cameron Kaehler (18-39—57) will be looking to pull another upset of Grand Rapids after beating the Thunderhawks 3-2 earlier in the season behind a 51-save effort from goalie Darion Hanson (16-9-0, 3.41, .899). No. 8 St. Michael-Albertville (9-15-2) beat No. 9 Cambridge-Isanti (8-18-0) 4-2 on Saturday, Feb. 16 for the chance to play top-seeded Duluth East in the quarterfinals.

Hub Prediction

Duluth East may not have the high-end talent or the ridiculous depth that it had last year, but this edition of the Greyhounds has totally bought into what coach Mike Randolph has been preaching all year – team defense. The ‘Hounds are allowing less than two goals a night, have a penalty kill that’s clicking at a 90-percent clip and are built for the grind-it-out, tight games the playoffs offer.

Bracket Buster

The Lumberjacks believe they are better than their seed would indicate, and they are out to prove it. Cloquet has the firepower to simply outscore opponents, and in a one-and-done situation like the section playoffs, the offensive explosiveness of the 'Jacks could spell trouble for one of the teams ranked above them.

Past Champions

2012 – Duluth East
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

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