This is the second post in a series on the history of Duluth East hockey. See Part One (the introduction) here.
Duluth East’s rise into hockey relevance began in the 1953-54 season, when the Hounds went 9-2 in the regular season and swept to the District 26 championship, the first banner won in a major team sport by the new high school. The arrival of two new faces to the program made the shift happen. The first was Glenn Rolle, a teacher at East who would coach the Hounds for the next fourteen seasons. Rolle’s Greyhounds won (approximately) 232 games while losing 81, and made four trips to the State Tournament, including a state championship in 1960.
The second man was Robert Fryberger. While Fryberger is probably best remembered (and perhaps cursed, in some circles) for having a frigid Duluth arena named after him, his legacy extends far beyond that one sheet of ice. A Duluth native and Dartmouth hockey alumnus, Fryberger coached his sons’ PeeWee team to a national championship in the early 1950s. In 1954 twins Bob and Jerry Fryberger made the East team, and their father donated an outdoor rink to the program, giving the Hounds their home for the season. While the records may not be complete, the Frybergers are the first Hounds I can find who went on to college hockey; both went to Middlebury in the late 50s and early 60s, where they played on a line with their younger brother, Dates. With the Fryberger Line carrying the load, Middlebury put together a dominant team in 1961, and Dates’s 56-goal season remains among the highest totals by any NCAA skater ever. He later played on the 1964 U.S. Olympic Team, becoming the first of three East hockey Olympians. Community-based programs are often built on the backs of fathers and sons and brothers sharing their love of the game with one another and roping in their friends, and the Frybergers were East’s first great hockey family. For their services to Duluth hockey, Robert and his wife LaVerne are two of the four people enshrined in the center ice mural at the Hounds’ current home rink, the Heritage Center.
The Hounds’ 1954 season came to a crashing halt in the Region 7 quarterfinals in a 6-2 loss to 1950s powerhouse Eveleth. Shortly thereafter they suffered the further indignity of watching the team they’d beaten for the District 26 crown, Duluth Central, become the city’s first State Tournament entrant. But the foundation was in place, and under Coach Rolle’s steady hand, the results grew steadily better. In 1955 they knocked off an Iron Range team (Greenway) to advance to the region semifinals for the first time, and in ’56 and ’57 they repeated the feat, coupling the regional success with two more district titles.
In 1958, East broke through to its first State Tournament berth. The honor was rather anticlimactic, as the Hounds lost the Region 7 final to International Falls by an ugly 8-1 score. But between 1948 and 1964, the MSHSL filled out the tournament field by awarding the Region 3 championship to the loser of the Region 7 and Region 8 title game on a rotating basis. The even years belonged to Section 7, and thus East’s quarterfinal victory over Virginia and semifinal win over Duluth Denfeld were enough to lock up a State berth. The so-called “back door” through Region 3 was one of many unusual playoff methods used in this early age of high school hockey; Regions 4 (St. Paul schools) and 5 (Minneapolis schools) also had their own back door until 1959, and it expanded into a four-game playoff including the runners-up from Regions 2 and 6 from 1960-1968. Even more strangely, some regions experimented with any number of systems of byes and automatic berths, and the 1946 Section 5 coaches decided they’d rather vote for a team than hold a playoff. The ’58 Hounds were hardly alone in making the Tournament via a curious path.
East’s first stint at State didn’t produce much in the way of happy memories, either. After a scoreless first period, St. Louis Park erupted for four second period goals and buried the Hounds, 5-1. Their consolation round experience was no better, as St. Paul Murray rolled to a 3-0 win. It was a stumbling but necessary first step.
The 1959 season proffered mixed results for the Hounds; their twelve losses were the most in the Rolle era, but they also beat state power Eveleth for the first time, and coupled a pair of solid senior UMD-bound defensemen, Ed Sutton and Jerry Udesen, with a sophomore core that would carry the team for the next several years. East played and beat Baudette 6-2 in a game at Williams Arena before a University of Minnesota game in a sort of forerunner to the contemporary Hockey Day in Minnesota. The season came apart in Districts, when they lost a tight game with Duluth Central in the semifinals and were then inexplicably blown out by Duluth Morgan Park 8-1, not long after beating that same team 8-0. This left the Hounds with a first-round Regional game against International Falls, which promptly whipped them, 10-3.
The 1960 team was built around five future UMD players: juniors Dave Stepnes, Bill Savolainen, Bill McGiffert, and Dick Fisher; and sophomore Bob Hill, a future East coach. While the Fryberger brothers (Middlebury) and Tom Wheeler (Hamilton) traveled east to play their college hockey, East High effectively served as a pipeline for the University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey team during the Rolle era. Between 1956 and 1967, no less than 17 Hounds went on to suit up for the Bulldogs. Jim Ross, Mike Hoene, and Bill Sivertson also appeared to play prominent roles on the 1960 squad, and while the team did not boast any future household names in Minnesota hockey, their depth appears to have been as good as any team’s in that era.
The team went 17-3 in the regular season, splitting two meetings with Eveleth and avenging a loss to Central in their drive through District 26. They collided with Eveleth for a third time in the Region 7 championship game, and while they lost, 5-4, the close score made them a much more worthy back door State Tournament entrant than they had been two years prior. In their State quarterfinal, the Hounds faced Minneapolis Washburn in a battle of back door teams, and fell into a 3-1 hole in the third. The team then rallied for four goals in a five-minute span late in the period, including two by Ross. East had its first State Tournament win, and the first round offered additional good news: Eveleth had also lost, and would lose again in the consolation round to Edina, which was making the first of its 19 trips to State under coach Willard Ikola.
The Hounds faced another familiar Minnesota hockey name in their semifinal, in which future University of Minnesota coach Doug Woog had a goal and an assist for South St. Paul. But East overwhelmed the Packers with three goals in both the second and third periods en route to a 6-2 win, with Sivertson logging a hat trick in the process. The state title game matched East against St. Paul Washington, and Sivertson continued his torrid scoring pace with a goal four and a half minutes in. McGiffert struck a minute later for a 2-0 lead, and though the Presidents scored early in the second, a Mike Hoene goal in the third iced away Duluth East’s first state championship.
The 1961 Hounds returned with most of their title-winning core intact, and loaded up their schedule in anticipation of another championship run. They played Eveleth and South St. Paul twice each, and also took on two Minneapolis teams, White Bear Lake, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth Freshman Team in addition to their usual slate of Duluth and Iron Range area high schools. They finished 16-4 in the regular season and marched through Districts and the even the Region, until they met International Falls in the final.
The region championship in Eveleth was a clash of Minnesota hockey titans, with the Falls ranked #1 and East at #2. With no back door open to Region 7 that year, it was do or die for the Hounds’ four D-I seniors and a star-studded Falls roster that included such Minnesota hockey greats as Mike “Lefty” Curran and Keith “Huffer” Christiansen. The game was a thriller, and East pulled out a 3-2 win for its first proper Region 7 title and third Tourney berth in four years. The most memorable part of the game, however, may have taken place after the final buzzer sounded. Frustrated Falls star Jim Amidon whacked East’s Mike Hoene in the head with his stick, prompting a small fight on the ice. The players didn’t drag out the action, but the fans at the sold-out Hippodrome had other ideas. In perhaps the most epic high school hockey fight ever, 30-40 fans leapt on to the ice and did battle with one another, with some fans even going after the East players. A furious Coach Rolle declared he’d never schedule the Broncos again, and the Falls’ famed coach, Jim Ross, ordered each of his players to go over to the East locker room and apologize afterwards.
With the Falls out of the way, East entered the Tourney as favorites to repeat. In the first round, East battled a strong St. Paul Johnson team into overtime, and in the end, Sivertson broke the scoreless draw to send East back to the semifinals. There, the Hounds suffered their first State Tournament upset. The culprit in this case was South St. Paul goalie Gary McAlpine; despite a 37-18 edge in shots, East fell, 2-1. They bounced back the next day with another low-scoring victory, this time edging North St. Paul 2-1 in overtime. The offensive power outage at State seems to have done the Hounds in, though they bid farewell to their deep senior class knowing they’d made East a presence on the state hockey scene.
The 1962 and 1963 seasons stalled out in the regional semifinals in one-goal losses to Greenway and International Falls. The mid-60s were the Falls’ time to shine, as they put together one of the state’s greatest dynasties, winning titles in 1962, and 1964 through 1966, and losing the 1963 championship in overtime to St. Paul Johnson.
The greatest threat to the Falls’ dominance in northeastern Minnesota, however, came from Duluth East. In 1964, East reloaded with another core of four UMD-bound players (Tom Ahrens, John McKay, Dave Maertz, and Ben Wolfe) plus future Hamilton standout Tom Wheeler. The result was the Hounds’ best regular season to date, as they lost only one game, though I could not find a game-by-game schedule. East and the Falls again collided in the Region 7 title game, and once again, East prevailed by a 3-2 score. As luck would have it, the Falls entered the Tournament through the Region 3 back door, and the teams met again in the State quarterfinals. This time around, it was the Falls’ turn to eke out a one-goal win, despite a 25-20 East edge in shots on goal. East thus became the last team to beat and the first team to lose to the Broncos as they began their record-setting 59-game winning streak, a mark that still stands today. They went undefeated through the next two seasons until they finally fell in a November 1966 game against Duluth Cathedral.
East lost 3-0 to Roseau in the consolation round, and went home without any hardware. The 1964 section title was East’s last trip to State under Rolle, and closed out what we might call the Bronze Age of Duluth East hockey: a seven-year stretch of four Tourney berths complete with a third place finish and a title. And though it would be another eleven years before East made its way back to St. Paul, they still had plenty of entertaining moments in the ensuing years.
East and the Falls met yet again in the 1965 final, though this time the Falls forsook the drama and creamed the Hounds, 8-1. A playoff format change gave East a second chance at the Tournament; instead of automatically handing out the Region 3 back door berth, the MSHSL debuted a one-game playoff between the runners-up in Region 7 and Region 8. East took on Thief River Falls for the right to advance but came up short, 2-1.
The 1966 team had another strong regular season, including a series split with third place State finisher South St. Paul and a one-goal loss to runner-up Roseau. The Hounds marched to yet another District 26 title and won their regional quarterfinal against Virginia, but rising power Greenway proved too much to handle in the semifinals. The Raiders would go on to finish fifth at the 66 Tourney before winning back-to-back titles in 1967 and 1968.
By the late 1960s, East was not only struggling to match Region 7’s finest; they were no longer the best team in the city of Duluth. The team that supplanted them was not a threat in the playoffs, however; it was Duluth Cathedral, which participated in the private school tournament until 1975. Cathedral won five straight Catholic school titles under coach Del Genereau from 1965-1969 and featured such stars as NHLer Phil Hoene and Steve “Pokey” Trachsel. East did not beat Cathedral during that stretch, and was on the wrong end of perhaps the most famous Duluth high school game that decade. In the final game of a 1966-67 season sold-out high school tripleheader at the newly minted Duluth Arena (later known as the DECC), East was tied 3-3 with Cathedral in the second when Hoene scored a natural hat trick in all of 27 seconds. As frustrating as those games must have been for Hounds fans, those Cathedral teams were deeply intertwined with East’s future: they included current Hounds head coach Mike Randolph and his longtime assistant, Larry Trachsel.
Cathedral losses aside, the 1967 season was a strong one for the Hounds, as they beat state powers International Falls and Roseau and sailed through the District 26 playoffs to an easy title. The team’s five regular season losses in Coach Rolle’s final year were all narrow defeats against top-end teams, and the Hounds appeared primed for another deep playoff run. But the tables turned in the first round of the region playoffs, and Rolle’s tenure concluded, rather fittingly, with a 5-0 loss to his longtime nemesis, International Falls. Rolle is, at last report, still alive and living in Duluth, and looked quite sharp several years ago when he took part in a ceremony at the Heritage Center honoring the 1960 State champions.
Next week: East under coach Don Bourdeau (1968-1984).