Duluth East junior forward Jake Randolph sneaks a breakaway goal past White Bear Lake goaltender Michael Jordan. Photo by Adam Crane
It is one thing to play a tough schedule.
It is something altogether different to play Duluth East’s schedule.
How about road games at Wayzata, White Bear Lake, Centennial, arch rival Cloquet and Moorhead? And that’s just in December.
The Greyhounds finish the month with a neutral-site (Mariucci Arena) game against defending state Class 2A champion Edina in the opening round of the Schwan Cup.
Duluth East coach Mike Randolph says he likes the team bonding that comes with all those long bus rides. Of course, those rides home are always more fun – and, it seems, shorter – after a victory.
The Greyhounds are off to a 3-1-0 start with the only blemish coming in a season-opening overtime loss to co-No. 1 Wayzata. Duluth East’s latest journey came on Friday, Dec. 10, against White Bear Lake at the Bears’ new home rink in Vadnais Heights.
The Greyhounds won 5-2 in a game junior forward Jake Randolph, Mike’s son, described thusly: "It was a lot of fun - probably one of the most fun hockey games I've ever played in."
Duluth East sophomore Meirs Moore lets a shot fly against White Bear Lake. Photo by Adam Crane
As Mike Randolph said, that team building goes a lot smoother when those road trips result in victories.
"We're going to Centennial next week and then we go to Cloquet and then we go to Moorhead and then we're down here with Edina,” Mike Randolph said after the victory over the Bears. “So we're gonna get road tested, and that's what we like to have at this time of year."
Duluth East’s strong start has powered the Greyhounds all the way to a solid No. 5 in this week’s state Class 2A rankings.
In Class 1A St. Thomas Academy’s status as the state’s No. 1-ranked small school was weakened by an overtime loss to Minnetonka, but the Cadets kept their grip on the top spot, barely edging No. 2 Breck.
Eagles survived a scare in beating Lakeville North and standout goaltender Charlie Lindgren last week, as they trailed 3-0 in the early stages of the second period. Still, this is a team that is averaging seven goals and 34 shots in its first three games. David Rath (5-2-7) emerging as major offensive force.
Top line of Tony Cameranesi, Mario Lucia and Tyler Klein has scored 19 of Trojan's 31 goals and is living up to its sky-high expectations. Senior Goaltender Andrew McIntyre ranks sixth in the state with a .942 save percentage. After a couple of blowout wins, huge test at Apple Valley on Tuesday looms.
The Hornets are nothing if not entertaining. They've played three top-10 teams so far, and all three of those games were decided by a goal. More big-game tests await this week during Edina's annual holiday tournament. Grand Rapids, which ranks among northern Minnesota's best teams, plays the Hornets on Thursday.
The unit of Pat Steinhauser, Grant Besse and Christian Horn, another No. 1 line that entered the season with huge expecations, is putting up big numbers. That group has combined for 20 points through three games. Red Knights involved in matchup of top 10 teams on Saturday against Minnetonka.
Greyhounds' impressive win over previously unbeaten White Bear Lake pushes them comfortably into the top 5. Trio of Trevor Olson, Dom Toninato and Jake Randolph has combined for 16 goals, exactly half of the team's total. Duluth East renews one of state's best rivalries in Thursday showdown at Cloquet.
Call them Minnesota hearty -- or just plain crazy -- but Eagles were only metro area team to play a home game during Saturday's snowstorm. That 3-0 triumph over Eastview was Apple Valley's second consecutive shutout. Duo of Hudson Fasching and A.J. Michaelson has combined for nine goals and 13 points.
Blaze are off to 1-1-1 start, with all three games against top 10-ranked teams. Top line of Mike Dockry, Jace Childs and Cory Chapman drawing rave reviews from opposing coaches. Goaltender Bodhi Engum doesn't have great numbers (.885 save percentag; 3.48 goals-against average) but he can steal a game on any given night.
One-goal loss to Edina and tie with Burnsville show Wildcats have talent to play with anyone. But can they beat a top-10 foe? Looking ahead, Dec. 22 game at home against Eden Prairie could be chance to rocket up rankings. Sam Wolfe, Michael Zajac and Will Merchant share team lead with three goals each.
Skippers will have to quickly put the drama of star forward Derek Frawley leaving -- then returning -- to team behind them. Showdown against No. 4-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret's on Saturday will put heavy pressure on young defensive corps and goaltender Alex Glockner.
Pioneers' two losses (to Burnsville and Benilde-St. Margaret's) almost have knocked them out of the top 10. Plenty of opportunities remain to climb up the rankings, however, most notably a Jan. 6 home game against Eden Prairie. Dec. 23 game at White Bear Lake's new arena in Vadnais Heights another big test.
Honorable mention: Grand Rapids
Cadets' barely holding onto No. 1 ranking after controversial overtme loss to Minnetonka. A.J. Reid has three goals in two games. Showdown with private-school rival Cretin-Derham Hall on Tuesday will give another early indication about strength of Cadets.
Mustangs were forced to rally from one-goal deficit in the third period to get past Providence Academy last week. Goaltender Max McCormick ranks No. 7 in the state with a .941 save percentage, giving Breck what appears to be a capable replacement for graduated standout John Russell.
Amazing comeback victory over Red Wing saw Lourdes score twice in the final 30 seconds of regulation to force overtime. Alec Brandrup's power-play goal in the extra session won it for the Eagles. Lourdes has yet to play a top-10 ranked team.
The Bears are off to a great start at 4-0-1, and they are getting balanced scoring (10 players have two or more points) and solid goaltending (both Ryan Hayes and Devon Johnson have save percentages above .910 and goals-against averages under 2.0).
Win last week over Class 2A Hopkins was impressive, but schedule really gets interesting now with Superior (ranked No. 8 in Wisconsin) then a series of Class 1A teams with state tournament aspirations in Rogers, Virginia and Duluth Central. Garret Skrbich off to flying start with six goals.
Blue Devils have been up and down this year, but their game Tuesday at Duluth Central will provide barometer of early season strength. St. Cloud State recruit Garrett Hendrickson has seven of team's 15 goals; no other player has more than two.
Eagles are another Class 1A team that has yet to get into the strength of their schedule. Sophomore T.J. Roo, who looked great in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League this fall, has five goals and seven assists in three games. Sophomore Derek Lodermeier has six goals and five assists.
Hilltoppers' rugged schedule includes two more ranked teams this week in Benilde-St. Margaret's (No. 4 in Class 2A) and Hibbing/Chisholm (tied for No. 9 in Class 1A). Judd Peterson starting to pick up the scoring pace, as he has team-leading 12 points on seven goals and five assists.
Colin Magnuson is tied for sixth in the state in both points (16) and goals (nine). Nine other players have at least five points as offense is coming alive. Tough stretch of coming games could push Trojans higher in the rankings or knock them out of the top 10.
Blue Jackets survived an amazing Shane Omdahl-led Roseau comeback to complete impressive weekend sweep of northern powers Roseau and Warroad. Adam Johnson, Nick DeCenzo and Mike Pechnovik have combined to score 40 points. Nathan Tromp one of northern Minnesota's top goaltenders.
Honorable mention: Warroad, Thief River Falls, Providence Academy, South St. Paul, Little Falls, Proctor.