Slouching Toward Bethlehem

18 Oct

As usual, I try to avoid national politics on here; as usual, I can’t resist inserting myself. This cycle has drawn everyone in for more carnage, much in the way we fixate on train wrecks. I’m not much of an idealist, have no qualms for voting for the lesser of two evils; at the same time, I tend to believe apocalyptic thinking of any stripe is overstated, and am more inclined to laugh off ludicrous claims than to fear for the future of the country. But as I’ve let show, this is an instance in which I think the choice is a clear one. Donald Trump must lose.

I’m not opposed to Donald Trump because I think he’ll cause great calamity. The risks might be somewhat higher, but he’s strongly constrained by the inertia of a powerful state. Nor do I fear the content of his provocative language: I’ve never taken the “build the wall” rhetoric seriously, and ultimately, I don’t think minority groups will see their fates be much different under Trump than they would have been under a standard-issue Republican. I’m less afraid of him doubling down on some of his claims than of him getting bored and losing interest in the whole charade.

Frankly, I struggle to see how anyone who’s tracked his behavior over the course of this cycle can have any confidence that he will actually do any of the things he says. While thankful, I also struggle to resist rolling my eyes at anyone who jumped off the bandwagon recently, as if he didn’t exhibit the same patterns of volcanic behavior all along. I see a President Trump as a bumbling clown, nutty but at least capable of reading off a teleprompter from time to time, all at the behest of his handlers, who step in to do damage control when he devolves into another tweetstorm against someone who’s offended him. (How is it that people who claim to oppose political correctness are so often the most thin-skinned?) To date I have little faith in the handlers’ ability to do that, but it’s not totally implausible to imagine Trump as a blustering figurehead and spinmaster-in-chief while a cadre around him implements its policies of choice, thereby avoiding a train wreck. Whatever you think of said policies, this leaves us right back where we started, with a group of political insider technocrats Making America Great Again. So much for the revolution.

Funnily enough, there are things about Trump’s policies (such as they are) that intrigue me. Foreign policy motivates me more than most voters, and I have deep reservations about Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, which has been pretty reliably wrong over the past 15 years. On diplomacy, I prefer the calculating deal-makers to the liberal hawks, and while I have deep concerns about Vladimir Putin, he’s also a necessary partner in the Middle East and in other spheres, and handling him requires a bit more nuance than displayed in some Democratic Party circles recently. (How strange the world now seems: the Democrats are the hard-liners on Russian autocrats, while the Republicans are cozy with them.) While my takes on trade and economics are nuanced, I appreciate that Trump has prompted some good reflections on the state of the white working class, and an opportunity to have genuine debate about our blind assumptions about the Washington Consensus that have dominated both parties since the end of the Cold War. (I suppose Bernie Sanders gets an assist here, too.) A more polished version of Trump would have at least piqued my interest.

These are just a few of the policy areas where Trump sheds some light before going ten feet overboard. Arguments that immigrants hurt native-born Americans’ economic prospects are basically bunk, and I am glad to see many of the barriers to LGBTQ equality come down. But I’m also capable of putting myself in the shoes of people watching their world change so rapidly and feeling some sympathy. The immigration system does need careful management instead of wishful idealism, and people do need to be vetted some; religious conservatives have a right to worship as they choose, and raise their children in the ways they see fit. I don’t see the Clinton campaign acknowledging this reality. Her campaign makes occasional overtures toward a big-tent coalition, particularly during the Democratic National Convention, but so often appears motivated by a bunker mentality brought on by its candidate’s baggage. It fails to inspire, and the strategy seems to involve checking off boxes with all the interest groups it needs to keep happy.

My objections to Trump have much more to do with the way he has shifted the window for political debate in the United States. Or, rather, the way he’s shattered the window altogether. To be fair, Trump didn’t start this. Most popular media and cable news has been superficial garbage for a long time, and we can blame some of the toxicity on both a Republican Party that has subtly played off racial divisions since Nixon and a Democratic Party that has increasingly come to resemble a scattershot coalition of identity-based interest groups all trying to make a narrow claim at the table. But Trump has accelerated this, and brought it into the open with no apologies. Elements  of the left have sunk to his level, and political discourse, never pleasant, has degraded into self-reinforcing horror show. No figure is more responsible for this than Donald Trump.

We have the politics we deserve, and we can’t say the Greeks didn’t warn us. These are the timeless dangers of democracy, though I hastily add that I still find it the worst choice except for all the others. (I can see the Trump tweet now: “Korrupt Karl hates democracy. Sad!”) These are the consequences of dumbed-down celebrity politics, with messaging aimed at the lowest common denominator. It’s a reduction of elections to a binary choice in which it is somehow our patriotic duty to choose, red team versus blue team, more about winning and losing elections than the tricky work of governance. It needs some inherent dignity to avoid collapsing into an entertainment complex. Trump exemplifies politics as the reality TV show, and his continued presence on the political stage would only set off a downward spiral of degradation. I don’t predict the imminent collapse of American democracy, but each spin down the toilet increases the odds that it won’t quite be the same afterwards.

Trumpism, to the extent that it exists, taps into a Nietzschean energy: the world, instead of three interlocking circles that explain everything, is reduced to winners and losers, with sharp lines between them. Its most fertile intellectual ground is in the dark corners of the internet, where young men, probably around my age, assume ridiculous Latin pseudonyms and peddle their profound ressentiment of those who oppose them. (Oh, the Nietzschean irony.) Trump’s election wouldn’t bring them to power, nor would his defeat silence them. But the whole Trump phenomenon runs the risk of normalizing them, of empowering this narrative of fire and brimstone, of tribe and ideology over common American future.

In a way, I’m sympathetic. I get that urge to rise up in a crusade for greatness through politics. It’s what drove my eighteen-year-old self to Washington. I understand that longing to smash the day-to-day drudgery we inhabit and unleashed a repressed inner soul in all its erotic glory. It’s hard to beat that rush, and that side of human nature never will—and never should—go away. But channeling it in ways that trump up a mediocre establishment as an existential threat endangers American exceptionalism in the best sense of the phrase, this belief in a national project that won’t ever die. Lord knows this project has had its dark patches through history, but through it all, we are all awfully lucky to be here in this day in age. It’s cute to think we’re standing on some precipice of looming demise, and probably empowering to pretend one man can change it, but, alas, real heroism for the vast majority of us probably involves something both much closer to home and much more radical than checking a box on a Tuesday in November.

Some argue it’s a good thing that certain political currents, long suppressed, are now out in the open. I’m skeptical. One often hears Trump supporters say they’re glad he tells it like it is. I hate this phrase as much as I did when I first heard a public figure in Duluth utter it some years ago.  A layer of civilization is necessary for governance within political systems—especially the American one, with all its checks and balances—and there’s a need for consensus instead of silos of self-affirming certainty about what one already believes. No one has a monopoly on truth. Our elites have failed us many times, certainly, but we are blind to how far we have to fall. It’s more than a little disconcerting to witness the sort of political awakening one expects out of dispossessed young men in the Middle East coming out of a middle-aged couple in Youngstown.

And so I turn to Hillary Clinton: embattled, dogged by scandal, uninspiringly wonkish, too far to the left to sweep to a broad mandate, but too ensconced in her establishment cadre to inspire the energy to advance a more progressive agenda. She promises four more years of technocratic plodding, vicious right-wing opposition to anything she proposes, and shady, sheltered practices that, whether justified or not, will continue to court media attention. This only drags Washington further into the muck, perhaps ups the odds of a stronger counter-reaction in two or four years.

I reassure myself in a few ways. One, whatever Clinton’s flaws, they are predictable, and nothing in her political history suggests she will do anything unexpected or drastic. Give me a mediocre status quo over the revolution any day. Two, while she certainly won’t devolve power from Washington, she has neither the charisma nor the political capital to centralize it much more either, and at least pays lip service to bringing everyone to the table instead of saying “I alone can fix it.” Three, while the Republican Party has a very complicated reckoning to come, there is at least some hope that the coming dust-up allows the party to salvage itself in a way that it never could with a floundering President Trump at the top. In the long run, his defeat may do more good for the more sanely-grounded elements of his cause, since they’ll be part of the national conversation, but not tied to an absurd, distracting figure.

I sometimes say my time in Washington jaded me, but I think a more accurate summation my takeaway from four years there was a revelation over the smallness of it all: how much life could go on without worrying about it, and how much the people in charge are stumbling in the dark and guessing, just as we all are. This doesn’t mean that some political rookie can roll in and shake it up, though. It also takes experience, and knowledge of how to play the game to at least move policy, which does still matter enough that we can’t laugh the whole thing off. Only in reality TV shows do Trump-like figures march in and prove effective.

The Yeats poem that gives this post its title, oft-quoted this election cycle among intellectuals lamenting our political fate, claims the best lack conviction. Maybe, instead, the best know that obsessive conviction is misplaced. For my part, it’s time to stop reading FiveThirtyEight, make peace with the Clinton slouch, and get back to work here at home.

A Hawkish Outlook

12 Oct

Just a couple of years ago, the Hermantown Hawks were the darlings of the Class A Tournament, the last public school bastion of defense against the march of Twin Cities private school machines. How quickly the tables turn: the longest-running and incessant debate on the hockey forum this offseason has been about Hermantown’s dominance over Class A, and the competitive imbalance it creates. As with St. Thomas Academy before them, the Hawks’ consistent ability to pump out elite teams has prompted frustrated reactions from those who are stuck going up against them and lose, year after year: shouldn’t this high-powered team move up to AA?

As long as they kept losing state championship games, as they did for six consecutive seasons, they had an easy counterargument: for all their success, the Hawks clearly weren’t on the level of a St. Thomas or a Breck. But on the seventh year of consecutive title game appearances, God rested in his torment of Hermantown, and the Duluth suburb took home its second state title in ten years. With a loaded team coming back this coming season, anything less than a convincing repeat would be stunning. The Hawks are the undisputed superpower of Class A, and no one is even close.

I’ve been mostly agnostic in the A vs. AA debate, as I have no strong Class A loyalties. I respect teams’ rights to run their own programs as they see fit, and prefer not to throw stones when my own team makes scheduling decisions based on what it believes is right for its situation. Any complaints that spurted out of my Twitter feed were from an aesthetic standpoint; I want to watch competitive hockey at Class A State, not giant blowouts, and grew bored with some of the Hawks’ men-versus-boys contests last season. Sure, I think it’s fun when historic Range teams head to State, and as a northern boy, I’d appreciate another northern squad in 7AA so as to boot Elk River to a different section and carry the regional torch at State if they earn it. But this was not among the things keeping me up at night or making me mutter under my breath.

Hermantown defenders are right to make a few points. The school is playing where it was assigned, and its enrollment is nowhere near the AA cutoff. Nor are most of Hermantown’s advantages the product of an evil recruiting scheme, even if there may be isolated incidents here or there. (I’m not close enough to say whether those rumors have any teeth.) The school boundaries around Hermantown do lend themselves to open enrollment. Townships to the west and northwest of are in the Proctor school district, despite being closer to Hermantown and not touching Proctor. (Numbers from these townships help keep Proctor a decent-sized school for an otherwise tiny community.) The closure of Duluth Central also pushed a decent number of Duluth Heights residents to open enroll across the border, as Hermantown was both convenient, and higher-performing than those students’ new West Duluth schools. (Of course, it’s worth asking how much of this has to do with anything unique to Hermantown, and how much of it is just demographic inertia.)

That said, Hermantown does have its share of advantages that most small hockey programs in the state do not enjoy. It is an exurban community in a respectably-sized metropolitan area of about 200,000. That’s not huge, but it’s substantial, especially when accounting for the wealth of local hockey history and the presence of a prominent D-I program, many of whose graduates stick around. It’s growing, and adding young families. It’s not the wealthiest part of the Duluth area, but it’s certainly toward the upper end. Its basic urban design—large, sprawling wooded lots—does not lend itself to much density of lower-income residents, even if it also limits its economic and population growth potential. If we remember our lessons about urbanism and high school hockey, that tends to be good for hockey success, at least in the short run while the community is still growing.

The small size of the Duluth metro area also magnifies the Hawks’ position. The closest comparison to Hermantown in the Twin Cities is probably something like Delano, which is starting to surge toward hockey relevance. Delano, however, doesn’t have neighbors who aren’t also affluent and growing; no one is open enrolling there to flee the shuttering or struggling schools of Plymouth or Minnetonka, or to dodge bizarre borders with other Wright County towns. In an area that can only support a handful of options, just a handful of player moves can throw things out of whack. Unlike some Twin Cities schools that may lose a bunch of players to open enrollment or private schools, places like Proctor or Denfeld aren’t losing players all over the place; there are only two or three places that stand to benefit, and those places are likely in the same section. Duluth’s smallness and the extent to which everyone knows each other make it obvious who the winners and losers of player movement are, and make the scapegoats easy to identify. (We Duluth East fans know a thing or two about this.)

The advantages that some schools have over each other are blurry, and there are gradations of advantage and disadvantage all over Class A. East Grand Forks also benefits from a decent-sized metro and a convenient D-I school; Mahtomedi lurks just under the cutoff bar for AA and thereby builds some of the deeper A teams out there. Even small, relatively isolated towns aren’t all cookie-cutter; Luverne has surged to relevance in recent years, while nearby Worthington is at the bottom of the barrel, largely due to an immigrant-heavy population with no knowledge of hockey that has been drawn to its meat packing plant. The fans of the true small towns in Section 1A could probably gripe about how it’s been dominated by schools in larger towns (Rochester Lourdes, the Mankatos), or towns on the growing exurban fringe (New Prague). It’s worth remembering that even St. Thomas Academy was a Class A doormat at one time, and that it took years for Greg and Tom Vannelli to turn it into a consistent contender. These different levels of advantage are reality, and any assessment of a team can’t be a snapshot at one point in time, but needs to understand its long-term record and accomplishments to date.

Hermantown is clearly pretty far along on this spectrum of success now, and that’s to their credit. I don’t think any team should ever be forced to opt up, and any pressure to do so should only come after a long period of dominance. I want to see good teams and players in Class A, and more than one or two new opt-ups due to Class A success in a decade would quickly drain the field. That said, when a program is consistently putting other top five teams in its class in running time, it’s a clear sign of a mismatch, and the point at which even diehard supporters should see a case for a move.

There’s no doubt Hermantown could compete in AA, and rumors suggest the program may make the leap after this coming season. The move may come a year too late: this year’s squad, with a pair of potential Mr. Hockey candidates and depth across the board, could have easily contended for a AA title. While people might be able to cherry-pick a regular season result or two to claim they’re better than a bunch of AA Tourney entrants, we’ll never really know how good they are. (The AA playoff gauntlet is an entirely different animal from what the Hawks now face; just ask STA about its first three years in AA.) Beyond this year, Hermantown looks good, but perhaps not as good as last year and this year, and will face the 7AA minefield. If they do make that move, I’ll welcome them in and look forward to the battles; if they don’t, I’ll be disappointed, but life will go on. Much as I’d love to see some success out of Range teams, they face their share of internal obstacles in the search for a return to glory.

The whole debate relates back to a deeper question: what’s the whole purpose of the two-class tournament? The generic State High School League response will tell you that it gives more players a chance to play at State. That’s true, but from a hockey development standpoint, its true benefit is in giving more players a chance to aim for State: to grow hockey in areas that haven’t traditionally seen success, and to revive it in areas where it might otherwise have faded or died. Hermantown is as obvious a success story as any in 25 years of two-class hockey; it went from an afterthought to an unstoppable force, and probably wouldn’t have done so without being able to take the baby steps allowed by Class A. The Hawks have succeeded. Now we’ll see if they’ll let someone follow in their footsteps.

Utopia III

8 Oct

If the instinct toward perfection is an essential piece of human nature, it’s hidden itself pretty well this year. This presidential election cycle alone is enough to paint a dark picture, and that’s not even touching the rest of the world. Even the supposedly hopeful candidate in the Democratic primary spent most of his time calling for a sort of class war. The road to revolution isn’t always bright or happy.

Given this climate, one could forgive people for yearning for utopia anew. A piece in the most recent New Yorker explores some favorable books that favor the concept before landing in my preferred territory of skepticism of grand ideas and defense of gradually moving the chains. There need not be an ideal vision; merely a general direction, and confidence in the steps taken in that direction.

For me, this is a fitting time to reflect on that dream of perfection. The past month and a half has been pretty good to me, basically aligning with my hopes. I’ve gone home again. I have a secure job that I like, and that aligns with both my interests and my general sense of what I want to do with my life. I’m not going to be rich anytime soon, but I’m certainly living comfortably for someone my age. I’m back among some of my favorite people, ready to live a life in the same place as them, and work with them to build whatever comes next. I live in a big old house that nails the details for what I look for in a home. For years so much of this seemed so far away, and now, all of the sudden, it’s all here.

It’s a good time to be back. Autumn in Duluth is one of its more spectacular seasons, as these waning golden days invite us out to marvel in the tapestries lain across the landscape. I hike or run the rugged ridges of the countless parks, wreathed in orange and red and gold and orange. I savor the warmer evenings, sit out on my new front porch with a glass of wine and read some. My book choice for the weekend revisits an old favorite: Amartya Sen, an anti-utopian economist nonetheless filled with hope for gradual movement toward justice. The football field at East is packed when I go by on Friday nights, I watch Verne Lundquist (born in Duluth!) call SEC games on Saturday for one final year, all adding to a sense of timelessness. Well, I suppose some things change: the Yankees are sitting at home in October, and the Cubs of all teams are favored. No matter: there’s a haze of rightness about it all.

I’m not resting on my laurels. I’m too restless to do that, and while I can ground myself for stretches, there’s always another cycle outward. No need for congratulations, either: this is only the beginning, and there’s lots of work to do. Things are moving. Not toward utopia, and toward a state that’s slightly better than where we were before. Now that I’m settled in, it’s time to see what we can do to fight the cynical instinct: not to reach back up to utopia, but simply to reach out with the utmost effort, enough that we can come home content at the end of the day. Onward.

Planning Duluth: Endion and East Side Traffic

20 Sep

Oh Duluth politics and planning blogging, how I’ve missed you. My return was inspired by this recent Perfect Duluth Day post on mall access on Duluth’s east side, an idea that includes big plans for 21st Avenue East, a major artery in the near east Endion neighborhood. In the next month, I’ll become a resident of Endion, so I feel entitled to an opinion here. Endion is a funny neighborhood; one that makes sense only in terms of its history. The U.S. census splits it into two tracts, and my future home is on the 20th Ave. E. dividing line; one side of the street has a median household income that’s $45,000 more than the other. I’m on the poorer side, so I guess I’m an evil gentrifier coming to ruin the neighborhood.

Endion is an area where three different Duluths collide. First, there’s old money Duluth, the realm of stately old homes. Go eight blocks east and you’re in the wealthiest pocket of northern Minnesota, but over by me, it’s a jumble of well-maintained beauties and faded grandeur. Next, there’s Duluth as a Rust Belt city, a realm of lifelong renters in often transient states of poverty. Head eight blocks west, and you’re in Duluth’s poorest area. Third, there’s college town Duluth, which has slowly leached down the hill over the decades. The big old houses get carved up into student apartments; some are clearly declining student properties, while others are hard to tell apart from the single family homes. It’s a complicated place with an unclear future, and several paths open up before it.

The poster on PDD suggests turning 21st Avenue East into a four-lane highway, which is both a terrible and an unrealistic idea. Four-lane streets aren’t any more efficient at moving people, unless they become limited access highways, in which case we’re talking widespread destruction of homes. It’s even worse when we factor in such considerations as 1) unless given some even more destructive switchbacks, it won’t lessen weather concerns—in fact, as a viaduct, it will worsen them; 2) 21st is not a federal highway like Piedmont, so it would have to be built on the dime of a city that already struggles to fill potholes, and 3) as someone who’s spent most of the past eight years living part-time in larger cities, I giggle at this alleged “bad” traffic on 21st. (I drove it at rush hour today for kicks, and got to my destination maybe ten seconds slower than I would have otherwise.) Such a project would be a horrid waste of money, and it won’t happen. But, thankfully, it does open up a conversation about planning the Endion neighborhood as a whole.

The commenter mentions college-driven housing stock decline in justifying the 21st Ave. project, but this mistakes the symptom for the disease. Some college spread is inevitable, and anyone who buys a house within a few blocks of a college should expect some residual effects. But in the long run, college properties spilling down into Endion don’t do anyone much good. It leaves students with long, unpleasant commutes, and ups the odds of drunken incidents involving vehicles. It encroaches on neighborhoods that might reasonably not expect it, and leads to headaches for neighbors and universities as they try to keep the peace. The root cause of declining housing along 21st isn’t the spread of college students; it’s decades of poor development practice that led them to fan out in the first place.Colleges are more fun for everyone when they’re relatively self-contained, tight-knit communities.

The solution is simple: densify the area around campus. Pull down the worst of the student slum housing and replace it with things that can hold more people. Fortunately, this is already under way with Bluestone and Kenwood Village; ideally, these higher-end properties will allow other nearby homes to filter down and become affordable. As a corollary, build things students enjoy next to the university so that they’re less inclined to go traipsing down the hill in search of a good time. I have some quibbles with the design of Bluestone, which appears awfully proud of its parking lots, but it’s hard not to argue it’s been an economic success, and that organic explosion of development is pretty remarkable in a city that doesn’t usually grow a whole lot. The demand is obviously there.

Elsewhere in Endion, the commenter is right to call out London Road and its lame “stroad” status: it seems so wide that it’s trying to be a highway, but has the speed limits and business development patterns of a city street. (Though I would defend futons from Mr. Marohn’s unjustified slur.) The thing needs work. Once again, there’s progress: the Endi development at 21st and London Road has some potential to galvanize that whole stretch, and there’s room to make the current sprawly commercial and retail space a lot more attractive to us neighbors. I drove down this as well today, and there’s more than enough vacant or underused property to develop a serious commercial corridor, with a ready-made consumer base and workforce in neighboring areas. The PDD commenter complains that the East Side doesn’t have easy enough access to mall-land, but with the right developments, maybe East Siders will have more convenient options than trekking up to Duluth Heights or Hermantown.

I beg to differ with some of the commenter’s characterizations of the city’s development patterns. If downtown is dying, what’s with the new maurices building? East Superior Street? The Tech Village may not be stuffed with innovative incubators, but it is basically full, as is every other newer project downtown. Build it (or renovate it), and they will come. That said, the person isn’t wrong to emphasize the growth patterns over the hill. I’m not one of those urbanists who thinks the suburbs are about to stop growing, and that everyone will magically move back to the city. The exurbs have driven the Duluth area’s population growth since 1990, and will continue to grow at a faster rate than the built-up East Side. Barring an armed invasion of Hermantown, I don’t see Duluth hitting that 100,000 target population anytime soon.

Much as I’d like to see growth, though, I don’t think it should be the goal in and of itself. Instead, I want to see new life in somewhat shabby neighborhoods, and intelligent planning that builds communities that offer a bit more than carbon copy suburban development, and a tax base to fund all these bright ideas. If we want to recharge this city, it takes two steps: first, retain us young professional millennials, whether they’re recent grads or kids like me who come home; and second, keep us here with reasonable starter homes, career growth opportunities, and decent schools for our kids. Better highways won’t do that; better amenities and intelligent planning will.

I’m moving to Endion because I think it has a ton of potential: easy access to downtown (where I work, and do most of my play), reasonably good (and improving!) amenities around it, and architecture that would be a treasure with a little updating (expanded renovation funds, anyone?). It will take some work, though, and these scattered thoughts are, at least, a starting point for the city’s new comprehensive plan discussion, which kicks off at Denfeld High tomorrow. It’s time to radically rethink the solutions to those “stressed” street corridors identified in the previous plan. Don’t treat the symptoms; treat the underlying cause.

Active Former Hounds, 2016

17 Sep

Better late than never: here’s the annual list of players who once wore a Duluth East jersey who played junior, college, or professional hockey this past season. Asterisks denote players who left East early.

Zack Fitzgerald (’04 D)* Fitzgerald, a former 3rd-round draft pick who left East after his freshman year, continues to plug along into his 30s. After a long time in the AHL, he moved on to the UK two seasons ago, and played for the Sheffield Steelers in 15-16. As has become his habit, he accumulated a huge heap of penalty minutes in his role as team enforcer. He’s also put up double digit points in both his seasons in the UK, something he managed only once in his long AHL stint. He’s the younger brother of Rusty Fitzgerald, a ’91 East grad and Mr. Hockey finalist who played three seasons in the NHL.

Cade Fairchild (’07 D)* Fairchild’s career trajectory is fairly similar to Fitzgerald’s: both left East after one year, spent a while in the AHL, had a very brief sip of NHL coffee, and made their way to Europe in 14-15. They differ in their playing style, however: Fairchild remains a high-scoring offensive catalyst, and was second among defensemen in points on a bad Novokuznetzk Metallurg team. The team name may not be pronounceable, but it is in the KHL, arguably the top hockey league after the NHL. At 27, he can probably keep this going for a while longer.

Matt Cooper (’09 G) Score one for the unconventional path: Cooper played club hockey at Iowa State, but unlike the three D-I Hounds he graduated with, he’s still playing competitive hockey. He played for four different teams this past winter, including three in the Federal Hockey League and one in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

Derek Forbort (’10 D)* It was a big year for the former first-round pick, who made his NHL debut in October and played in 14 games with the Kings, logging a goal and an assist before heading back down to the AHL. Once there, he had a steady showing with the Ontario Reign. At 24, we still haven’t probably seen the last of him in the big leagues. He signed a 2-year, $1.3 million extension with the Kings this summer.

Andy Welinski (’11 D)* Welinski could have easily skipped out of his senior season at UMD, but the 2011 3rd-round pick stuck around and wore the ‘C’ for the Bulldogs, who again bowed out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He was remarkably steady in his point production across four years at UMD, and began his professional career with a 13-game AHL stint after the college season wrapped up. We’ll see if he gets the call to the NHL this coming year.

Hunter Bergerson (’11 D) Bergerson rounded out a four-year D-III career at St. Scholastica, where he provided depth on defense throughout.

Dom Toninato (’12 F) Toninato was UMD’s leading goal-scorer for a second straight season, and provided his usual forceful net-front presence. His overall production was down a bit in a somewhat inconsistent season for the Bulldogs, but he remains a well-regarded prospect. Like his old teammate Welinski, he’s staying for his senior year at UMD, and will be the team captain in 16-17.

Jake Randolph (’12 F) As always, the crafty Randolph put together a solid year for Nebraska-Omaha; he upped his goal count a bit, as he tends to do with experience at a level. His overall production dipped as his team’s fortunes declined, though it was still good for fourth on the team. He’ll be a junior for the Mavericks this coming winter.

Trevor Olson (’12 F) Olson might not have put up the strong numbers of his two former linemates, Toninato and Randolph, in his sophomore season at North Dakota; instead, he usually provided 4th-line depth, and recorded just four points. However, he can now claim one title his old linemates can’t: national champion, as UND brought the trophy back to Grand Forks for an eighth time. As he ages, he may be able to step into a more prominent offensive role.

Nate Repensky (’12 D) Injuries have long plagued Repensky, and the bug bit the Yale sophomore again this past season, leading to a somewhat lost year production-wise. When healthy, he’s a reliable contributor on the Bulldog blue line, and his team made the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.

Meirs Moore (’13 D) The crafty Moore made his D-I debut this past winter at RPI, where he was a lineup regular and tossed in 7 points as well. His role should only grow, and if he gets any power play time, he might be able to show some flashes of the talent that made him so prolific at East.

Conner Valesano (’13 F)* Valesano just wrapped up a fourth year in the USHL, and while it was his most productive offensively, it wasn’t enough to quite break out and earn a D-I scholarship. For a second straight year, he piled up the penalty minutes after what had previously been a pretty clean career. He’s headed to D-III Wisconsin-Stout, along with several old teammates.

Alex Toscano (’13 F) Toscano completed a three-year junior hockey career with his most productive season, a 29-point effort for the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL. As is his wont, he also piled up a mountain of PIM. Like Valesano, he’s headed to Stout.

Jack Forbort (’13 F) Add Forbort to the list of Class of 2013 forwards who had respectable final years in the NAHL. Like Toscano, he was with the Wilderness; his future plans are uncertain.

Andrew Kerr (’13 D) Kerr’s second year in the USHL involved another respectable point total for a defensive defenseman, and also a significant drop in his high penalty minute totals. He was set to start a D-III career with the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire this winter. Instead, he faces an entirely different fight, as a freak off-ice injury over the summer left him incapacitated. His recovery at a hospital in Colorado is ongoing.

Hogan Davidson (’13 F) Davidson, always a sparkplug for the Hounds, wandered furthest of the large Class of 2013. He put up 26 points in his final year with the NAHL Loan Star Brahmas of Richland Hills, Texas, and leaves juniors as the Brahmas’ all-time leader in games played. He will continue his journey as he plays D-III at Nichols College in Massachusetts.

Phil Beaulieu (’14 D) Beaulieu’s journey took some unexpected twists in the past calendar year. First, his old USHL team, Waterloo, tried to move him to forward, a move that made approximately zero sense for his development. He wound up playing for the Madison Capitols, where he had a respectable season, though his production was down. With a defensive backlog at Nebraska-Omaha, where he’d been committed since high school, Beaulieu was turned loose, but it took him no time at all to land on his feet with Northern Michigan. He’ll make his D-I debut there this winter.

Alex Trapp (’14 D) Trapp had a second respectable season on the blue line for the Wilderness in the NAHL. He will, presumably, be back at it this coming winter.

Nick Altmann (’15 F) The lone senior off that 2015 second place State Tournament team to play hockey after high school, Altmann joined the ranks of ex-Greyhounds playing for the Wilderness in the NAHL this past winter, where he put up 15 points. He had a cup of coffee in the USHL with Madison, too. He should be back with the Wilderness again to start this coming season.


The following five players hung up their skates before the start of the 15-16 season, after substantial post-high school careers:

Nick Angell (’98 D) Angell wrapped up a 12-year professional career that took him all over Europe, with time in Germany and the Russian KHL bookended by two stints in Sweden. The star of the ’98 state championship team and eventual Golden Gopher was the last remaining link to the East mid-90s dynasty, and can now settle in to life after hockey.

Keegan Flaherty (’08 F)* Flaherty spent two years with the Pensacola Ice Flyers of the Southern Professional Hockey League after his graduation from UMD, where he put up very Flaherty-ish numbers. He was never a prolific scorer, even in his time in high school, but always put  in a solid work rate and chipped in where he could.

Alex McLean (’09 D) McLean rounded out his four years at Ohio State, where he was a steady, low-scoring defenseman for the Buckeyes. As a Hound, he spent a couple of seasons as Derek Forbort’s defensive partner, and was a rock on a team that made the State Tournament his senior year.

Julius Tamasy (’09 F) Tamasy finished off a three-year playing career at D-III Nazareth College in New York, where he was fairly productive in a fledgling program. He transferred to East from Brainerd for his senior season, where he led the second line on the ’09 State Tourney squad.

Phil Johnson (’11 F) Johnson rounded out a solid four-year career at St. John’s in 14-15. The workmanlike forward was an important supporting cast member in the Hounds’ 2010 State Tourney run and 2011 second place finish.

We’ll do this again next season; five players off last year’s team are on USHL or NAHL rosters, so the list will probably grow. The Elite League, meanwhile, is underway. Two months to go till the 16-17 season…

A Patient Pause

11 Sep

Just a quick update on my apparent lack of posting: my laptop´s power cord has met an untimely demise, and while the replacement is on the way, it may be a little while. And while I am a patient person, tapping out posts on my phone keyboard just sounds a bit too trying. (To be honest, it was actually pretty timely. Better to have this happen when I no longer need it for frequent grad school duties, when I am busy settling in to a new job and car and living situation, and not during hockey season.)

Rest assured that I took pen to paper today as some thoughts about the election percolated, and am weighing my path of re-entry into commentary on Duluth area affairs. I also have the annual post on Duluth East alums playing hockey past high school nearly ready to go. Posting will resume shortly.

Before I sign off, though, I will pause for one little reflection, here on the 15th anniversary of 9/11. I was a sixth-grader when I got that news, and I’m not sure I have much to say that hasn’t already been said already: it’s a moment to honor the dead, to applaud the heroism that emerged that day, and to lament the ensuing geopolitical slog that has led us far from that initial unity of purpose and certainty of redemption. It’s hard to discount the impact of that day on the consciousness of my generation. It’s still there, lingering, even though it was over half a life ago.

On a run this morning, on a perfect September day–literally every day has been near-perfect weather-wise since I returned to Duluth–I stopped to cycle through some of those old memories, which culminate in a trip to the Pentagon Memorial the day after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden’s death seemed to close a chapter, and for my Georgetown classmates who ran to the White House to celebrate the night he was killed, it was a rare, liberating moment of victory in an often murky war. I didn’t join them, though. My thoughts, instead, were with the people who lost someone that day, for whom a retributive strike might provide some grim sense of justice, but could do nothing to turn back the clock on what had happened. Some wounds never heal.

50 Things I’ve Missed About Duluth

4 Sep

I’ve been back here a week now. Here are 50 distinctly Duluth things I have enjoyed since then, or plan to enjoy in the not-so-distant future.

  1. Ridiculously perfect summer weather.
  2. Topography. In Minneapolis, I would go out of my way to find hills when running because it was so damn flat.
  3. Marvelously cheap real estate.
  4. Rush “hours” in which the traffic doesn’t actually get any slower.
  5. Not really caring about leaving ground floor windows or doors open or unlocked.
  6. Bike/running paths that do not require constantly trying to dodge other people on said path.
  7. That slightly wild edge to the green spaces. Which are everywhere.
  8. Walking across the lift bridge, which is inevitably cold even when it is warm everywhere else.
  9. Lake views. Everywhere.
  10. A really big, sandy beach.
  11. Lots of craft beer with no hint of pretension.
  12. 75-cent bus fare.
  13. Silence as I sleep.
  14. Duluth Grill lunches.
  15. Pacing the concourse at the Heritage Center.
  16. Easy day trips to the North Shore, the Boundary Waters, or just the middle of nowhere in the woods.
  17. The India Palace buffet.
  18. The Thirsty Pagan. (Okay, I guess that’s Superior. But for as much fun as we Duluthians poke at Superior, it does have some very good food options, and I’m kinda curious to explore its bar scene in all its glory.)
  19. Being entertained by tourists in Canal Park.
  20. Having Duluth to ourselves again after all the tourists leave.
  21. Grandma’s Sports Garden…eh, maybe not, I’m not 22 anymore.
  22. Knowing the politicians who represent me. (Or, at least, being able to get to know them with relative ease.)
  23. Not having Comcast in my life.
  24. Basically any establishment on East Superior Street between Tycoons and Sir Ben’s.
  25. Seeing stars at night.
  26. Boat horns.
  27. Neighborhood hockey rinks.
  28. Parties in Bayfront.
  29. A breeze off the lake. Well, sometimes.
  30. The tap water.
  31. The Breeze Inn.
  32. Ice cream after a walk on the Lakewalk.
  33. Refurbished turn-of-the-century downtown buildings.
  34. Getting bridged.
  35. Ski trails everywhere.
  36. Congdon homes.
  37. The Duluth arts community.
  38. Enger Park.
  39. The Red Herring.
  40. Amsoil Arena.
  41. The St. Louis River.
  42. That Christmas parade we have in mid-November.
  43. Smelt.
  44. Huskies games.
  45. Sidewalk Days.
  46. The Rose Garden.
  47. Cruising down Skyline Parkway.
  48. Vikre.
  49. Greyhounds.
  50. Late nights on the lakeshore, or on the ridge up above.