Darting and diving around his team’s defensive zone to protect a late lead in Thursday’s quarterfinal game, senior forward Ryan Lundgren embodied Duluth East’s new identity.
The Greyhounds’ high-scoring offense, grounded in a first-round loss to Lakeville South last season, was wiped out by graduation. Lundgren said Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Moorhead showed a more dogged than dynamic Greyhounds team playing to its strengths.
“Last year’s team might have not pulled that one out,” Lundgren said. “This year we’ve been in so many one-goal or two-goal games. We went down two goals against Superior [Wis.] and against Minnetonka, but we came back and won both of those. That’s what our team is good at. We never give up.”
The same resiliency that helped Duluth East earn the No. 2 seed in the state boy’s hockey tournament can be found in No. 1 seed Hill- Murray, which beat Eastview 6-3 on Thursday.
Two key early departures threatened Hill-Murray’s explosiveness. But defenseman Sam Becker, a converted forward, kept improving. Up front, junior Mitch Slattery arrived from Shattuck-St. Mary’s and is tied for the team lead with 26 goals.
Eighth-grade forward Joey Anderson, inserted into the lineup midseason, helped spark the Pioneers’ 14-0 surge that solidified their first-ever No. 1 state tournament seed.
In last year’s tournament, Duluth East held top billing before falling to Lake- ville South. Heavy graduation losses and a season- ending injury to standout Hogan Davidson had hockey observers counting the Greyhounds out.
“Nobody gave us a chance to be here, or in the section final, but this team has proved a lot of people wrong,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said. He credited his guys with buying into a defense-first philosophy after slumping around the holidays.
Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said putting Anderson on the second line gave the Pioneers “four solid lines and two that were high level.”
As coaches of two enduring hockey powers, neither Randolph nor Lechner expects sympathy. But both coaches successfully retooled their teams’ identities without lowering expectations.
“No one has to feel sorry for us, but it is a challenge to work the group and get these guys to all buy in,” Lechner said. “When the pieces aren’t there, you have to figure out what it’s going to take.”