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'Hounds outlast Cadets

By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff, 12/27/11, 12:00PM CST


Top-ranked Duluth East fends off feisty St. Thomas Academy to stay unbeaten

Duluth East's Jake Randolph (16) watches as the puck hits the back of the net behind St. Thomas Academy goaltender Ian West. Photo by Helen Nelson

Reunited and it feels so … blah.

Duluth East’s forward line of Trevor Olson, Dom Toninato and Jake Randolph has been intact for the start of just two games this season because of a preseason knee injury suffered by Olson.

Game No. 2 did not start well for the trio.

Olson, still working himself into game shape, was moved off the No. 1-ranked (Class 2A) Greyhounds’ top line after the first period of their eventual 5-4 victory over No. 2 (Class 1A) St. Thomas Academy on Tuesday, Dec. 27, in the semifinals of the Schwan Cup Gold Division at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The Greyhounds square off against No. 2-ranked Minnetonka at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the X.

“That line was probably our worst line in the first period,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said about the trio that combined for 196 points last season. “And we can’t afford to have that line be our worst line.”

On a night when Randolph was baffled by his team’s lack of energy, junior Ryan Lundgren had a noticeable hop in his stride. Lundgren registered an assist in the first period, helping set a goal by Conner Valesano, and was a whirlwind in the corners on the forecheck.

Lundgren and Olson were flip-flopped to start the second period, when Lundgren scored a goal on a wraparound and added two more assists playing with Toninato and Jake Randolph.

“Lundgren was one of our better players tonight, I thought,” Coach Randolph said. “He had a lot of energy and a lot of jump in his legs.”

Having played with Toninato and Randolph for the first eight games of the season, the line juggling had little effect on Lundgren, who ranks third on the Greyhounds with 17 points. With him, it’s just a matter of plug-and-play.

“It doesn’t change anything at all,” Lundgren said about switching linemates. “I’ll play with Jackie (Jack Forbert) and Val (Valesano), I’ll play with Dom and Jake. It doesn’t really matter to me.

“Just go out there and play.”

Olson, who had a hat trick in his season debut on Monday in a quarterfinal win over Burnsville, had his moments, too. He set up Valesano on what proved to be the winning goal in the third period, whipping a long pass through the slot from the side boards. Valesano one-timed the puck into an empty net.

“It’s a lot easier,” Valesano said about skating on a line with Olson. “I didn’t have to do much work on the goal except one time it and put it in. I guess he did all the dirty work.”

St. Thomas Academy co-coach Tom Vannelli interpreted Duluth East’s in-game line tweaking as a sign of respect. 

“That first line is as good as they come,” Vannelli said about the Greyhounds. “Period. Bar none.

“But what is interesting is that we matched up well against them. We have a strong, physical first line. They are not necessarily big scorers, but we just needed to shut down Randolph’s line, and we knew we had a better second line.”

“What (switching Olson and Lundgren) signaled to me was that they were worried about our second line. He needed help from his second line.”

Long after the victory that boosted the Greyhounds to 10-0-0, Randolph was in a closed locker room hammering home a simple message.

“We were not happy with our energy level,” he said. “We just challenged the guys to figure out why. Whether it was what they ate. Or it was between the ears. Whatever it was. For each player to figure out why they didn’t have any energy tonight.”

Expect the effort to be ratcheted up significantly against the unbeaten Skippers.

“We weren’t ready to play today at all,” Valesano said. “(Wednesday) we have to be a lot more prepared for the game. If we’re not prepared, we’re going to get torn apart.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Victory not worth celebrating for Duluth East

Duluth East boys’ hockey coach Mike Randolph prefers to judge games based on what he deems important on the ice, which sometimes is in conflict with the scoreboard.

Even as his Greyhounds held a three-goal lead in the second period of Tuesday’s showdown with St. Thomas Academy at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Randolph felt the advantage did not reflect his team’s tepid energy level.

“We didn't deserve to have a three-goal lead,” Randolph said. “I don’t think [Greyhounds players] realized we did because they were getting hollered at every shift.”

Of course, Duluth East isn’t giving back its 5-4 victory in the Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinals. The Greyhounds (10-0-0) remain unbeaten this season and won a battle of the state’s No. 1 team in Class 2A and No. 2 team in Class 1A in the Hockey Hub's latest rankings.

The Greyhounds’ Ryan Lundgren finished with a goal and three assists while Conner Valesano scored twice, including the clincher late in the third period.

Tied 1-1 after one period, the teams seemed headed in different directions from there. Three consecutive goals from Dom Toninato, Jake Randolph and Lundgren built a 4-1 Duluth East lead. But the game was far from finished.

Lundgren admitted his teammates came into Tuesday’s game thinking ego could replace effort. A three-goal lead did little to change their perspective.

“When we got up 4-1 we were kind of like, ‘We got this,’ ” Lundgren said.

Henry Hart’s goal just 20 seconds later revived the defending Class 1A state champion Cadets, who later cut the deficit to 4-3 in the third period on Alex Johnson’s second goal of the game.

“That’s where we had them where we wanted them,” Cadets’ co-head coach Tom Vannelli said. “To get down 4-1 and come back, I can’t be disappointed with that.”

Finally grounded, the Greyhounds dug in. Valesano’s second goal of the game made it 5-3. The Cadets scored with 18.5 seconds to go and goaltender David Zevnik pullied in favor of an an extra skater.

“Once they started scoring goals we were saying, ‘There’s no way we’re losing to St. Thomas Academy,’ ” Lundgren said.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

In a showdown of top teams in both classes, Duluth East scored one for the big schools with a 5-4 victory against defending Class 1A champion St. Thomas Academy in Tuesday's Schwan Cup Gold Division semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center.

Duluth East has been ranked No. 1 Class 2A all season. St. Thomas Academy is ranked No. 2 in Class 1A behind unbeaten Breck.

The Greyhounds’ Ryan Lundgren finished with a goal and three assists while Conner Valesano scored twice, including the clincher late in the third period.

The teams traded goals in the first period with Valesano scoring first at 8:01 and the Cadets’ Alex Johnson providing the equalizer with 1 minute and 21 seconds remaining.

Three consecutive Duluth East goals in the second period threatened to break the game open. Dom Toninato kicked things off at 3:33 with a wrist shot, followed by a tap-in goal from linemate Jake Randolph a little less than five minutes later.

Then Lundgren, already with three assists, scored a power-play goal on a wrap-around try to make it 4-1. The goal chased starting Cadets’ goaltender Ian West from the nets.

In desperate need of a lift, the Cadets got one on Henry Hart’s goal just 20 seconds later and cut the Greyhounds’ lead to 4-2.

The Cadets scored next, this time at 6:14 of the third period, to cut the Duluth East lead to 4-3. Johnson scored on an assist from Austin Sattler, their second connection of the game.

Valesano also doubled up, and his goal at 12:48 of the third period gave Duluth East a 5-3 lead it would not relinquish. The Cadets' Peter Krieger scored with 18.5 seconds to go but it was not enough.

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune staff writer

1. Ryan Lundgren, Duluth East
On a night when Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph didn’t see much that he liked from his squad, Lundgren’s play was one of the few glaring positives. In an attempt to get some scoring punch from his top line, Randolph moved Lundgren with Jake Randolph and Dom Toninato. Lundgren did, indeed, provide a spark. He assisted on Duluth East’s first three goals and scored the fourth.

2. Conner Valesano, Duluth East
Valesano scored the Greyhounds’ first and last goals. The last one, which came with 4:12 remaining and proved to be the winner, was a one-timer off a picturesque cross-ice feed from Trevor Olson.

3. Alex Johnson, St. Thomas Academy
A speed merchant who isn’t afraid to stick his nose in front of the net, Johnson scored twice and was involved in several other Cadets’ scoring chances.

-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

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