Cloquet's Ryan Lind (22) goes down to block a shot in front of goalie Justin Ketola as two Duluth East players look on during Saturday's 7AA semifinal at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Photos by Dave Harwig, ViewThroughMyLens.net
Duluth East may be red-hot right now, but the route to this point was a long one. The Greyhounds started the year just 4-3-0 after losing tons of talent to graduation and junior hockey, but since the holiday tournament, Duluth East has been one of the state’s best.
Over it’s last 15 games, some would argue that Duluth East is the best in the state. The ‘Hounds have gone 15-0-0 during that stretch, which earned them the No. 1-seed in Section 7AA and a spot in Thursday’s section final.
“It’s really been a special team this year,” senior defenseman Meirs Moore said. “I’ve been on some really good teams the past two seasons, but this year is kind of something we didn’t have last year. To win 15 games in a row you’ve got to have something special. Everyone is contributing to the team and playing their roles.”
Last year’s Duluth East team was based more on its offensive skill than anything else, and the high-powered Hounds would try to run other teams out of the building by overpowering them on the scoreboard.
This Greyhound team is all about defense. Duluth East allows less than two goals per game and has one of the better penalty kills in the state.
The coaches and players talk extensively about the lack of defensive focus in the opening weeks of the season, which was a big reason for the early woes.
“Before the [Breck game at the Schwan Cup], we weren’t really taking the defensive game seriously; we weren’t buying in,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said. “After that game the guys started to buy in, and it shows. We’ve been very happy with the defensemen this year.”
In Saturday’s 7AA semifinals against Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, the Hounds displayed their defensive skill. They only allowed 15 shots – seven of which came in the opening period – and helped goalie Dylan Parker earn another shutout.
“They had 2-on-1s, and our goalie came up big,” Moore said. “That’s been kind of a shaky spot to our season, and he’s given up a soft one here and there, but he’s been playing great lately.”
Duluth East realizes that to earn its fifth straight trip to the state tournament, it must keep on that same track. They effectively shut down Grand Rapids the first time the two teams played, but everyone knows it’s a different time of year and a different Thunderhawks team.
That’s why they’ll leave it all out there.
“We hate losing,” forward Ryan Lundgren said after scoring all three goals in Duluth East’s semifinal win. “We don’t want our season to be over, and we want to go to the state tournament. We just have to give it everything in these situations, and if we keep playing good team defense and get leads, I don’t think we’ll let up.”
Much of Duluth East’s success has come from its defense, but the Greyhounds’ power play is helping carry the load, too.
Since switching up the system earlier in the year, Duluth East has scored on more power plays than it hasn’t. In the one-and-done scenario of the playoffs, that is a big key to advancing.
The other big factor in the success of the power play is the newfound success of Duluth East’s top line of Alex Toscano, Jack Forbort and Ryan Lundgren.
“That line is playing very well,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said. “A little earlier in the year, at about midseason, they became our top line. Up to that point, they were pretty much another line with a lot of experience. They are our offense now, and they do everything for us.”
The line combined for three goals and six points on Saturday against Cloquet and did a good job of shutting down the star players in the Lumberjacks lineup.
“We played great,” Greyhounds defenseman Meirs Moore said. “Shutting out a good offensive team like Cloquet is huge. We did our jobs. They’re hard to play against, and we’re going to go a long ways with that kind of performance.”
Cloquet coach David Esse agreed.
“I just thought that they controlled play,” he said. “They really outskilled us in many ways. I thought the physical part of the game and the skill part of the game they took it to us. Obviously the power play, with the three power-play goals was good, too. I’m very disappointed ending like this.
“This is a very good Duluth East team.”
Ryan Lundgren scored three times – all on the power play – and senior goalie Dylan Parker stopped all 15 shots he faced to lead top-seeded Duluth East to a 3-0 win over rival Cloquet/Esko/Carlton on Saturday Feb. 23, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
The win puts the Greyhounds into the Section 7AA finals for the fifth straight year.
After a scoreless first period, Lundgren one-timed a Jack Forbort pass through traffic and past Cloquet goalie Justin Ketola at the 4:51-mark of the second to get the scoring started.
Then, just 28 seconds into the third, Lundgren scored on a wraparound before adding an insurance goal at 14 minutes, 5 seconds of the third to complete the hat trick.
Meirs Moore assisted on all three of the Duluth East goals, and Alex Toscano had two assists as the Hounds went 3-for-4 on the power play.
Ketola finished with 27 stops for the Lumberjacks.
Duluth East (23-4-0) will play No. 2-seeded Grand Rapids on Thursday night in the Section 7AA finals.
1. Ryan Lundgren, Duluth East
Lundgren always seems to show up in big games, and Saturday was more proof of that. He scored three times – all on the power play – to lead the Hounds to their fifth section final in a row.
2. Meirs Moore, Duluth East
Moore has been the quarterback on the blue line all year. On Saturday, he made plays to set up all three goals and was solid in his own end, too, allowing Duluth East to shut down Cloquet’s talented forwards.
3. Dylan Parker, Duluth East
When Parker is on, he’s hard to beat. On Saturday, he was on. Parker stopped only 15 shots in the shutout, but his timely saves when the game was 1-0 midway through the contest really made the difference.