Duluth East coach Mike Randolph stood behind his players on the bench during a break in play in the third period on Thursday. Photo: ANTHONY SOUFFLE * firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Duluth East boys’ hockey program, it’s known as “Phonegate,” an experience both grueling and galvanizing.
As Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph napped on the team bus ride Jan. 23 to Forest Lake, an assistant coach spotted a few junior varsity players violating the team’s strict no-cellphone policy.
Soon after, Randolph skated the junior varsity. Hard. Wisdom attained through 29 years of coaching taught Randolph that a few of his varsity guys were probably guilty as well. So he offered them “a chance to clear their conscience” and participate in the skate.
None volunteered. Randolph wasn’t buying it.
“The varsity kids stayed away,” senior Ian Mageau said. “We said, ‘The JV is not going to rat on us.’ ”
They sang like canaries after the bag skate, a dreaded hockey term meaning a practice without pucks.
Randolph fumed. Now my guys lied to me twice, he thought.
He offered a second, varsity-only bag skate. Players who passed this time risked suspension if Randolph got further proof of their cellphone faux pas.
Practice began at 6 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, just two days before the regular-season finale. There were no lights, no pucks and, this time, no absences.
“Everyone was there,” Mageau said. “Nobody was playing games with him at that point.”
Randolph wasn’t just there to punish and berate, however. He spoke from the heart, trying to teach his senior-laden team a lesson that would resonate beyond their hockey careers.
“I said, ‘We’re a family and we have to be truthful,’ ” said Randolph, who felt the 1-hour, 15-minute session “galvanized” the Greyhounds.
Facing their punishment together strengthened players.
“That’s really what bonded us,” Mageau said. “We’ve all known each other for years, but now we’re all best friends.”
Randolph, who earned career victory No. 621 (third all time) on Thursday, didn’t just demand that players own up to their mistakes at season’s end. He embodied the virtue after the team’s first game against White Bear Lake in December. Duluth East saw a 3-0 first-period lead end in a 3-3 tie. Randolph skated the stuffing out of his top line of Mageau, Garrett Worth and Ryder Donovan against the Bears, and the decision proved detrimental to success.
This was not the way his Greyhounds would end a two-year state tournament drought. So Randolph humbled himself and gave more players ice time.
“I told them I made the mistake of giving up on a lot of them so early,” he said. “I put that on me because we have the depth. I think the team appreciated the honesty.”