Before last week, no Maple Grove varsity team ever had played in Duluth.
A 3-1 victory against Duluth East and some praise from the Greyhounds might warrant future trips north. The victory capped perhaps the biggest week in the Crimson's season. On Thursday, it beat Northwest Suburban Conference and Class 2A, Section 5 rival Blaine to stop a 13-game winless streak against the Bengals. And then it clamped down on a strong Duluth East team just two days later. Maple Grove entered this week ranked No. 5 and with a 15-3-1 record.
"I didn't know what the emotional effect of beating Blaine might be," Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano said. "But we came out and scored in the first period against Duluth East and that settled us down."
Stefano credits his team for showing up to play every night, a consistency fueled by the many players contributing to the Crimson's success. Six players have scored anywhere from six to 10 goals and six players have posted at least 10 assists.
A minor personnel change during the holidays – Stefano moved Tony Paulson to the first line and Shane Wolden to the second line – enhanced both lines.
Defensively, Maple Grove entered this week having allowed just eight goals in its past nine games – all victories. Goaltender Ryan Coyne posted two shutouts during that span.
A third-period goal by Duluth East spoiled the Crimson's shutout bid, but its staunch team defense and unrelenting pressure earned accolades. The Greyhounds have seen top teams Edina, Eden Prairie and Wayzata and at least one player considered Maple Grove to be in the same class.
"They're a great team and I think they're under-ranked," Greyhounds junior forward Jake Randolph said. "They're the toughest team we've played."