Duluth East's Jake Randolph (16) scores his first of two goals to tie the game 1-1. Photos by Jordan Doffing, OTSN
One thing is undeniable about the Duluth East hockey program year in and year out – by the end of the season, the Greyhounds will be battle-tested.
The top-ranked Hounds annually play one of the state’s toughest schedules, a fact coach Mike Randolph hopes pays off once the calendar turns to February.
“You try to get some consistency in your game,” Randolph said. “It’s not about winning and losing [at this point in the season], it’s about how we play. We’ve got to work on mental toughness and be ready to battle.”
This season, Duluth East’s schedule shows 11 games against teams currently ranked in Let’s Play Hockey’s top-20, and 10 games against teams that either played in the state tournament or reached their section finals in 2010-11. On top of all that, the Hounds make their annual trip to the Twin Cities to play in the Schwan Cup’s Gold Division over the holiday break.
Obviously, the demanding schedule is by design. Duluth East is one of Minnesota’s few independent schools, presenting Randolph and his staff with the unique opportunity to pick and choose their opponents. The goal – to be prepared for anything and everything by the time the Section 7AA tournament rolls around.
“It’s all building for the playoffs, and playing our best hockey come playoff time,” Randolph said. “The only way you’re going to do that is by playing a demanding schedule. You can’t have hiccups in there.”
The results over the years show how the stiff competition pays off. Since 1990, Duluth East has made the voyage to the State tournament 13 times, including titles in 1995 and 1998. The Hounds have played for the championship four other times, too, counting last year’s classic overtime encounter with Eden Prairie.
The consistency of Duluth East’s program can’t all be attributed to the schedule and experience, though – Duluth has one of the best youth hockey associations in the country.
“They do a great job,” Randolph said, referring to the efforts of the youth coaches and organizations in Duluth. “They play a tough schedule against all the teams we play and they get them ready. It’s been one of the best youth programs in the state for some time.”
All things considered, it’s fitting that the Hounds have the success they do.
Duluth East’s Jake Randolph and Alex Toscano each scored twice, while Paige Skoog stopped 18 shots to help the Hounds fend off White Bear Lake 6-3 on Friday, Dec. 9, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.
It was a rematch from last year’s Class 2A State tournament quarterfinal thriller, which Duluth East won 4-3 in double overtime.
With a little less riding on this game, both teams were a bit flat, not playing up to the potential they would have expected. But it did offer a good measuring stick for each squad, especially early in the year.
The Bears jumped on Duluth East right out of the gate, taking a 1-0 lead just 37 seconds into the game. After creating a turnover, freshman Jake Wahlin got a pass, skated to the slot and beat Skoog with a shot glove-side. It was Wahlin second goal and seventh point of the young season.
The Hounds pressured right back, though, generating several good chances. However, they either looked for the extra pass or were shut down by White Bear Lake goalie Jared Schletty.
It wasn’t until the Bears took a penalty that Duluth East was able to find the back of the net. A play originating at the point ended up with Randolph batting a puck past a sprawling Schletty to tie the game.
White Bear Lake was able to retake the lead early in the second on a man-advantage of its own, as Thomas Delaney’s rocket from the point bounced off the post and in.
Duluth East's Jack Forbort answered a few mintues later, tying the game and giving the Hounds the momentum.
After a couple White Bear Lake penalties, Randolph scored his second power-play goal of the night to give Duluth East the lead for good with 7 minutes, 50 seconds gone in the second.
The Hounds built the lead to 5-2 early in the final period before the Bears were able to respond with a Mike Abrahamson power play tally at the 14-minute mark.
Skoog was the difference in the final period, stopping 15 shots as White Bear Lake pressured to close the gap. Duluth East blocked several shots on a key power play late in the game, too, helping them preserve the lead.
Hogan Davidson scored the other goal for the top-ranked Hounds, who upped their record to 5-0-0. Moore had three assists, Forbort added two of his own and nine Duluth East players ended up with at least one point.
Senior Mitch Morrisette led White Bear Lake with three points, assisting on each Bears’ goal. Abrahamson and Wahlin also had helpers for the Bears (2-1), who play again Saturday night in Cloquet.
Duluth East is off until Tuesday, when the Greyhounds make the trek to the Twin Cities to play Lakeville North.
1. Jake Randolph, Duluth East
The senior forward scored two huge goals for the Hounds, both of which came on the power play. His first got East on the board, and his second gave the Hounds their first lead, a massive step for Duluth East on a night where coach Mike Randolph wasn’t too happy with his team's effort.
2. Jake Wahlin, White Bear Lake
Only a freshman, Wahlin made plays usually reserved for veterans. He scored a pretty goal on a perfect shot to get the scoring started, then made a beautiful pass from the corner for a Mike Abrahamson tip-in to pull the Bears’ within two in the final period.
3. Paige Skoog, Duluth East
Skoog used his quickness and solid positioning to keep the Bears off the board during their flurries in the final period. He finished with 18 saves, many of which came on White Bear power plays or in-tight chances around his crease.