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…