A Christmas on Pause

This Christmas is defined by absence. No work parties, no glances out my office window at a lit-up Bentleyville. No hockey games for collective celebration. No explosion of family exuberance on the far south side of Chicago; no wine tasting, no off-key caroling, no vats of meat or Brandy Alexanders. No meet-ups with old friends who are also in the Windy City. No train ride north to Milwaukee, no venture into my dad’s family’s roots, no quiet Christmas Eve among the cats at my grandma’s place in rural Wisconsin.

Until the week of Christmas, no snow, either. A bleak, grey Duluth December, a steely lake beneath ominous clouds, my 2020 running regimen steady to the bitter end. A dash through Irving and Fairmount out west feels like a run through a Rust Belt coffee table book, the drab conditions drawing my eyes to the drabber houses, the color that can light up the west side washed out in a winter rain. I head home to sit and stare at Zoom for a few more hours, more restless than ever, ever so exhausted of staring at my own face yet again. I summon various friends on walks; I dive back into the meme-filled text strings that have passed as my social life for much of this year. My stir-craziness hatches an impulsive plot. (More on that in a week or so.)

When winter finally hits, life arises anew. Backyard rinks pop up all over Duluth. I ski Lester Park after a dump of snow on the Solstice. It is neither lit nor groomed, and after the first partial circuit I shut off my headlamp and plow along by moonlight. I know this course well enough to ski it blindfolded, and in darkness I can catch more anyway, my eyes free to see beyond a few lit feet in front of me. The moon pierces through and glints in the trees’ snowy sheen, brings its beauty down to earth, freshens this year of toil. A good, old-fashioned blizzard hits the night of the 23rd, and I watch the snow cake on to the windows of my house and listen to my furnace chug away as it tries to keep up with the plummeting temperature, and think, yes, this is home.

I dig myself out the next morning, head to Hartley for an afternoon ski. It’s frigid, barely above zero, and at times here I’m breaking fresh snow, but no gust of wind can ruin the moment. A few quick kicks and I’m cruising in comfort, zipping down the hills, a course to myself. If a Christmas must be solitary, let it be beautiful. For once, social media becomes not a political cesspool but a collection of people I’m fond of finding paths to goodness, to little joys, to some panache amid the ruins. Christmas Eve with my dad, Christmas Day with my mom, two constants grounded in reality instead of virtuality. If I had to be anywhere for a pandemic, I’m glad it is here.

Home each night, I go back to the well that keeps me going, night after night. Some Christmas fiction from my college days, for my eyes only; old essays on my own journeys this time of year. Finally, two stream-of-consciousness accounts, one of my usual Christmas circuit some years back, one of a trip to Minneapolis during this season the year after I finished grad school. We were all just striking out on our own, gathering amid a snowstorm in a farewell party for one of our number, the night ending at Liquor Lyle’s as they always did in those days. A few people I visited on that trip were expecting or had just had first children; now, some of those same families’ Christmas cards hang from my walls with second children on display.

My tour through wisdom from Christmases past ends with The Human Condition, a return to those words on birth and renewal, on beginning anew and making good on hope. And so we pause now, acknowledge the past and make peace in the present, and turn our eyes toward what comes next. “Action is, in fact, the one miracle-working faculty of man, as Jesus of Nazareth…must have known very well when he likened the power to forgive to the more general power of performing miracles, putting both on the same level and within the reach of man.”

Merry Christmas.

Pandemic Rankings: Players of the Past 15 Years

In this week’s pandemic rankings, I come up with a top 15 skaters of the past 15 years. Because this was hard, the honorable mention list also includes 15 players. This list emphasizes high school performance; if a kid was a high-round pick but didn’t have an exceptional high school performance, he probably doesn’t make the list.

[u]15 Honorable Mentions[/u]

Joey Benik, St. Francis (2010)

-Benik scored 65 goals as a senior in 2010 and ranks sixth on the state’s all-time points list and second in goals. He was also a case study in what a great player can do on an otherwise awful team; while the Saints played a thin schedule and were never better than a 6-seed in 7AA, he went on to a strong college career to prove his success was no fluke.

Jake Randolph, Duluth East (2012)

-Flip a coin between Randolph and his linemate Dom Toninato here; Toninato, with his size and two-way play, was the better pro prospect, but I’m going with Randolph here for his great high school productivity, which made him the de facto runner up to Justin Kloos for Mr. Hockey in 2012.

Zach Yon, Roseau (2014)

-Yon delighted when the Rams made the Tourney in 2014, working with linemate Alex Strand to come tantalizingly close to an upset of Lakeville North in the first round. Avery Peterson won Mr. Hockey this year, but Yon made a compelling case in his performance at State.

Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids (2013)

-A star on both ends of the ice, Bischoff teamed with a couple of other skilled players like the aforementioned Peterson and Hunter Shepard to lead Rapids’ rise early in the teens and came ever-so-close in two 7AA finals.

Ryan Poehling, Lakeville North (2016)

-The Poehlings are hard to handle here; they were arguably the greatest line of this era, but it can be hard to pull out their individual accomplishments. (A similar problem plagues the great Grand Rapids line of 2017, whose best two players left early.) Ryan makes the list because he was always the most hyped of the bunch, and had a chance to prove his dominance in his junior/accelerated senior year in 2016, when North was a top 5 team for most of the season but got done in by Farmington in the playoffs.

Tommy Novak, St. Thomas Academy (2013)*

-Not many players on this list left high school early; it’s hard to build up enough credentials without the productivity of a senior season. Novak is an exception to that rule with his flashy two seasons at St. Thomas, where he won it all twice and scored a game-winner with six seconds left against Hermantown in 2013. Bruce Plante is still recovering.

Nick Wolff, Eagan (2014)

-Wolff was a heavyweight who rarely came off the ice and played a key role in guiding Eagan to one of its best ever finishes, a surprise third place run in 2014 that came after a few deeper teams had fallen short.

Riley Tufte, Blaine (2016)

-Just a great, solid power forward who took his team to a Tourney in 2015 but came up short as a senior.

Garrett Worth, Duluth East (2018)

-As with Randolph above, there’s a case here for Worth’s more complete linemate, Ryder Donovan. But I’m going with Worth because of his level of influence and unique skillset. As a pure goal-scorer, the ever-adventurous Worth has maybe only one peer on this list, and he backed that up with a great State Tournament performance in 2018.

Josh Ludtke, Minnetonka (2019)

-The leader of a state championship Skipper team, Ludtke paired with Grant Docter to make for one of the greatest defensive pairs of this era.

Luc Snuggerud, Eden Prairie (2014)

-2014 was a banner year for defensemen, and Snuggerud was one of the most offensively skilled blueliners of this era. He left it all on the ice in his Eagles’ double-overtime loss to Lakeville North in the state semis that year.

Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East (2014)

-The smooth-skating Beaulieu made things look effortless and is largely responsible for extending East’s reign over 7AA in 2013 and 2014. He was rostered on four Tourney teams, all of which won two games while there.

Matt Gleason, Cretin-Derham Hall (2020)

-The most prolific forward of the post-Mittelstadt era, Gleason recorded over 200 points on some Cretin teams that were pretty good, but struggled to break through in challenging sections.

Tyler Nanne, Edina (2014)

-Nanne was probably the most essential member of the Hornets’ back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, and his big hits in the 2014 rout of Lakeville North are my enduring memory of that one. He had a bit of help with that supporting cast, of course, but

Dylan Samberg, Hermantown (2017)

-Samberg was the greatest Hermantown player over this period, and he has a state championship-winning goal to his name to boot. Under his watch, the Hawks finally shook the bridesmaid status that plagued them in the years before and that has returned somewhat since.

[u]The Top 15[/u]

15. Nick Bjugstad, Blaine (2010)

-Bjugstad’s Bengals never quite achieved the Tourney glory of some of the other teams on this list—his final year in high school saw an upset loss to Apple Valley at State—but that takes nothing away from his dominance, which included 181 points despite accelerating his senior year.

14. Sammy Walker, Edina (2018)

-Walker made a name for himself when he was one of the best players on the ice in the 2015 Tournament, and by the end of his time at Edina, he was the leader of one of the most lethal offenses the state has ever produced. The one regret: he never added his name to that list of Hornet state champions, as his seasons ended in two semifinal losses to Duluth East sandwiched around two section final losses (one upsetting, one not) to Wayzata.

13. Hank Sorensen, Wayzata (2016)*

-Few players had high school careers as entertaining as Sorensen, whose physical play led Wayzata to its upset of Eden Prairie in the 2016 championship game. No one hit harder or changed the complexion of a game more by the mere fact of his physical presence, and for that, he makes the list.

12. Ben Hanowski, Little Falls (2009)

-This Little Falls Flyer electrified the state in the late 00s, and he later proved he was no small-school flash in the pan after high school as well. His name litters the record books, including career points (405), career goals (196), and points in a single season (135). He carried his team to four Tourneys; they won their first-round game twice and gave St. Thomas its best test in 2008 despite the unfortunate first round draw. They never could crack through to a final, though, as the undefeated Flyers fell in a clunker to Breck in his senior season.

11. Dylan Malmquist, Edina (2015)

-A two-time state champion and the offensive leader of the Hornets’ dominant run during the middle of the decade. While not as great a pro prospect as his 2015 teammate Sammy Walker, he is the all-time leading scorer in the state’s most decorated program. Could they have won three in a row if he’d been able to go against East in 2015?

10. Pat White, Grand Rapids (2007)

-Few players took the State Tournament by storm as much as Patrick White, who carried a couple of Rapids teams that didn’t have stunning depth to back-to-back runner-up finishes. His teams came out of very deep 7AAs and knocked off arguably the top team in the field both years, beating Hill-Murray in the 2006 semifinals and Edina in the 2007 quarterfinals.

9. Justin Kloos, Lakeville South (2012)

-Kloos’s 238 points across three seasons against pretty good schedules at South put him in select company. His team wasn’t as strong as some of those of his compatriots here, but he was the architect of a great State Tournament upset and got a third-place finish for his efforts. His 103 points as a senior are the most for a AA player in the two-class era, with the asterisk that Dave Spehar had two fewer in three fewer games in 1995.

8. Brock Nelson, Warroad (2010)

-Nelson is the greatest player to come out of a Class A school over the past 15 years, and it really isn’t close. He put up absurd point totals and carried Warroad to three Tourneys, finishing third twice and second once.

7. Anders Lee, St. Thomas Academy/Edina (2009)

-A five-time State Tournament entrant and the best transfer in the history of high school hockey, Lee was one of the state’s greats both during and after his high school days. He won it all as a freshman at St. Thomas in 2006, but couldn’t tip some great Edina classes over the top after that.

6. Nick Leddy, Eden Prairie (2009)

-It was pretty simple: when Leddy was on the ice in 2009, the other team didn’t score. He carried an otherwise sophomore-dominated team to a title that season, scoring a goal in the title game win over Moorhead.

5. Aaron Ness, Roseau (2008)

-As entertaining a defenseman as the state has ever produced, Ness owned both ends of the rink in high school. He took home a state title in 2007, though the dream of a repeat and an undefeated season came up short the next year.

4. Grant Besse, Benilde-St. Margaret’s (2013)

-The state’s greatest goal-scorer of the past 15 years wrote his name into the record books in the 2012 Tourney, when he scored five times in the title game against Hill-Murray. His 163 goals against good AA competition made him a modern-day Dave Spehar.

3. Ryan McDonagh, Cretin-Derham Hall (2007)

-After a run of forwards from #7-#12 on this list, there are a bunch of defensemen near the top here, as a dominant high school defenseman can rack up absurd minutes and completely control a game. I’m putting McDonagh at the head of that list, as he carried his Raiders to a title despite not having an Edina or Eden Prairie-style supporting cast. Like the two players immediately behind him on this list, he won it all as a junior but came up short on an arguably better team as a senior.

2. Kyle Rau, Eden Prairie (2011)

-Rau simply is Minnesota’s Mr. High School Hockey: a two-time state champion, both as a sophomore alongside Leddy in 2009 and with his deep core of senior sidekicks in 2011, where he scored the most famous goal of this stretch on a diving effort in triple overtime. His story is what dreams are made of. He, Leddy, Nanne, and Samberg in Class A are the only four players on this list who won it all as seniors, showing just how hard that dream is even for the best.

1. Casey Mittelstadt, Eden Prairie (2017)

-No player was as total in his ability to do insane things than Casey Mittelstadt, whose offensive skillset is unrivaled in this era. He put up 204 points over three seasons of Lake Conference hockey and took his team to three Tourneys, where they were twice the top seed. The one knock, of course: Casey never won it all, while the five players right below him on this list did. Should it be enough to drop him? In my book, no, but it’s an open debate.

Pandemic Rankings: Mascot Edition

In this week’s edition of random Sunday morning pandemic rankings, I rank and categorize every active boys’ high school hockey program’s mascot, plus a handful from recent history. We’ll roll through a bunch of categories before we get to the authoritative top 15.

Nameless Wonders

We start with the mascots that don’t exist: some co-ops have decided to not even bother with one. In some ways I prefer this to a meteorological or celestial phenomenon glued on top of a group of schools with their own unique mascots, which seems to be the standard operating procedure for co-ops.


Minnesota River

The Inane

These schools take pride in stating the obvious.

Prior Lake Lakers

Detroit Lakes Lakers

White Bear Lake Bears

St. Francis Saints

Red Wing Wingers

Buffalo Bison

Elk River Elks

-This one is the winner of this category: not only is it inane, it’s grammatically wrong. The plural of elk is elk. Unless they were naming themselves after the fraternal organization, I guess, in which case their mascot should be a group of 70-year-old dudes running a bingo game or something.

Mixed Messaging

Am I supposed to be intimidated or amused by these ones? Nobody knows!

Stillwater Ponies

-There has to be a good origin story here.

Winona Winhawks

Grand Rapids Thunderhawks

-Slapping prefixes on to poor, unsuspecting hawks is a surprisingly common theme.

Thief River Falls Prowlers

-Is it a cat, or something more…questionable?

Burnsville Blaze

-Like Grand Rapids, a replacement for a now decommissioned Native American mascot; unclear if a reference to a fire or a subtle nod to the use of an illicit substance.

Kittson Central Bearcats

-Is it a bear, or is it a cat? Actually, the proper name for it seems to be a binturong!

Flocking to Boredom

Birds, for some reason, make for attractive high school mascots. With ten entries, “Eagles” is the most common name in the state, though the southern part of the state sure loves its cardinals.

Apple Valley Eagles

Becker-Big Lake Eagles

Eden Prairie Eagles

New Ulm Eagles

Red Lake Falls Eagles

Rochester Lourdes Eagles

Totino-Grace Eagles

St. Cloud Apollo Eagles

Windom Eagles

Alexandria Cardinals

Coon Rapids Cardinals

Fairmont Cardinals

Luverne Cardinals

Redwood Valley Cardinals

Willmar Cardinals

Chaska Hawks

Hermantown Hawks

Faribault Falcons

Waseca Bluejays

East Ridge Raptors

-For the first several years of this school’s existence, I assumed this mascot was a dinosaur, and I was sorely disappointed when I learned it was just another stupid bird.

Osseo Orioles

St. Louis Park Orioles

Cat People

Like senile old ladies, high school mascots have way too many cats. Also, since when is a Royal a cat? All three teams named “Royals” are cats.

Chisago Lakes Wildcats

Dodge County Wildcats

Eagan Wildcats

Waconia Wildcats

Albert Lea Tigers

Delano Tigers

Farmington Tigers

Hutchinson Tigers

Marshall Tigers

St. Cloud Tech Tigers

Lakeville North Panthers

Park Rapids Panthers

Rochester Century Panthers

Spring Lake Park Panthers

Centennial Cougars

Lakeville South Cougars

Mankato East Cougars

St. Paul Como Park Cougars

Bloomington Jefferson Jaguars

Blaine Bengals

Legacy Christian Academy Lions

Providence Academy Lions

Hopkins Royals

Rogers Royals

Woodbury Royals

Shakopee Sabres

-Questionable, but their mascot is a saber-toothed tiger, so they get stuck here.

Dead Old Soldiers

Along with birds and cats, vague historic military references make for a large category.

Brainerd Warriors

Henry Sibley Warriors

-We’ll see if the name change for the high school changes the mascot. It wouldn’t hurt.

Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders

Greenway Raiders

Hastings Raiders

Northfield Raiders

Roseville Raiders

Crookston Pirates

Champlin Park Rebels

Moose Lake Rebels

St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders

Irondale Knights

St. Michael-Albertville Knights

Orono Spartans

Richfield Spartans

Rochester Mayo Spartans

Simley Spartans

St. Paul Academy Spartans

New Prague Trojans

Wayzata Trojans

Worthington Trojans

North Branch Vikings

Other Commonly Used Names

Say hello to various dogs, horses, frequently repeated animals, and meteorological or celestial phenomena. While not quite as common as all the birds and cats, these names evince little creativity.

Cambridge-Isanti Blue Jackets

Hibbing Bluejackets

-Is it one word, or two? The debate rages.

Andover Huskies

Owatonna Huskies

Pine City Dragons

Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Dragons

Blake Bears

Lake of the Woods Bears

Bagley Flyers

Northern Lakes Lightning

Eastview Lightning

Breckenridge/Wahpeton Blades

Forest Lake Rangers

Rock Ridge Wolverines

Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines

Chanhassen Storm

Morris/Benson Storm

North Shore Storm

Sauk Rapids-Rice Storm

Breck Mustangs

Mora Mustangs

Mounds View Mustangs

Robbinsdale Wings

Academy of Holy Angels Stars

River Lakes Stars

Prairie Centre North Stars

Southwest Christian/Richfield Stars

Adding Some Color

Some of these just slap an adjective on a boring mascot, but even that makes things much better, and some of the best—Scarlets, Crimson—do generate pretty strong images. I still don’t know what a Green Wave is.

Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights

Minnehaha Academy Redhawks

Mound-Westonka White Hawks

Maple Grove Crimson

Mankato West Scarlets

East Grand Forks Green Wave

More Unique, but Nothing Special

At least someone tried.

LaCrescent Lancers

Holy Family Fire

Park (Cottage Grove) Wolfpack

St. Thomas Academy Cadets

Virginia Blue Devils

Sartell-St. Stephen Sabres

-In Shakopee, sabres are cats; in Sartell, they are swords.

Tartan Titans

-Bonus points for alliteration.

Riding Reputation

These ones would be in the previous category, but they get bonus points for being iconic in hockey.

Edina Hornets

Hill-Murray Pioneers

Duluth East Greyhounds

Roseau Rams

Historical/Local Relevance

Call these the honorable mentions: they often aren’t the most creative names on earth, but at least they have some obvious tie to the school or local community that just makes sense, and they get credit for that. Some honor local blue-collar or ethnic roots, or, in Minnetonka’s case, white-collar yacht-piloting roots.

Austin Packers

South St. Paul Packers

Rosemount Irish

St. Paul Highland Park Scots

Bemidji Lumberjacks

Minnetonka Skippers

Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers

-Marshall is, indeed, on top of a hill; I go back and forth on whether this one is creative or belongs in the inane category.

Princeton Tigers

-How many people in Princeton get the reference with this one?

The Top 15

15. Rochester John Marshall Rockets

-I just like this one for no apparent reason.

14. Proctor Rails

-If your town was built around a railyard, you might as well have some fun with it.

13. Monticello Moose

-The Moose chant at the X a few years back made this one legendary.

12. Duluth Denfeld Hunters

-Fun fact: not named after people going hunting, but instead for a guy named Hunting.

11. Fergus Falls Otters

-This one is just…fun.

10. Anoka Tornadoes

-As is this one.

9. International Falls Broncos

-Not named for the animal, but for famous son Bronko Nagurski. A few bonus points for history.

8. Little Falls Flyers

-Another name that honors a local of historical significance, Charles Lindbergh.

7. Warroad Warriors

-It may seem like a generic name, but the backstory and living culture here gives it some serious cred.

6. North St. Paul Polars

-Second-best mascot image. RIP.

5. Cloquet Lumberjacks

-The lumberjack dude is pretty hard to beat, and somehow the purple makes it that much more endearing.

4. St. Paul Johnson Governors

-Could go in the “historic/local” category, but this is the best of the bunch.

3. Mahtomedi Zephyrs

-The west wind is a winner, both as a mascot and now on the ice.

2. Ely Timberwolves

Best mascot image out there.

1. Moorhead Spuds

-Could it be anything else?

Pandemic Rankings: Greatest Duluth East Regular Season Games, 2006-2020

As we settle into hockey quarantine, I find myself plagued by a compulsion to continue to rank things on Sunday mornings. My first take: the most memorable Duluth East regular season games over the 15ish years I’ve been following Hounds hockey. I plan to do something like this every week of what would be the hockey season until I can rank actual hockey teams again, and I promise that not all future takes will not be this East-centric.

As usual, I’m going to list 25 entries, with a top 15 ranked and ten honorable mentions though I’ll put them in reverse order to add to the drama or something.

The Honorable Mentions

Edina 3, Duluth East 1, 2008

-A random game of no great consequence, but I just remember this as an incredibly well-played, fairly even game between the eventual runner-up and a Hounds team that was finding its stride defensively. Edina’s Marshall Everson was the difference-maker with two goals, including a late one to put East away.

Duluth East 7, Superior 0, 2018

-Like the Edina 2008 game, this game probably won’t be one most people commit to memory. It stands more in my mind as one of aesthetic near-perfection, with the Hounds’ control about as a total as a team’s can be. I also have a strange fondness for watching games at Wessman Arena, where the high bank of stands just let the total domination unfold before me. It was a beauty to watch. Garrett Worth scored twice in a four-goal first period, while Austin Jouppi had himself a hat trick by the end as well.

Duluth East 7, Elk River 0, 2018

-It’s not often you see a seven-minute power play, but this game managed to achieve that. Austin Jouppi scored twice to pace a relentless Greyhound attack that had the Elks in a dour mood by the third period. East’s play down the stretch in 2018, as repeated games from that era on here will show, was probably the most complete late-season showing by a Hounds team in my time watching the program.

Duluth East 2, Cloquet 1, 2008

-Get used to seeing these two team names on this list. This version wasn’t the most dramatic of the bunch, but a key victory late in one’s senior year is a good bet for the list, and this one, decided by Dillon Friday’s dump-in goal from center ice, secured the top seed for the Hounds.

Cloquet 3, Duluth East 0, 2006

-The gameplay of this one wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but in my memory, it is the East-Cloquet rivalry at its most fevered pitch, a time when going into the Lumberdome was a legitimately scary experience for an East student. At one point, the Cloquet fans threw a golf ball across the ice at us; in response, the ever impartial Cloquet security people ejected a few East kids for no real reason. To be fair, we probably deserved it for some of the things we were yelling.

Duluth East 4, Cloquet 0, 2011

-Like the 2006 game, this wasn’t a real thriller, but Jake Randolph going off on the Jacks was memorable, as was the on-ice scrum at the end featuring East-to-Cloquet transfer Nolan Meyer and a sophomore enforcer-in-the-making in Andrew Kerr.

Andover 7, Duluth East 1, 2020

-Ugly and not particularly surprising, given the teams’ respective talent levels, but this game was a decisive sign that East’s reign atop 7AA from 2018-2019 would be coming to a close.

Duluth East 6, Cloquet 1, 2009

-After a long string of frustration and tight games with their great rivals of the 00s, including a playoff thriller the Jacks won the season before, the Hounds busted out and buried Cloquet. It touched off a run of 12 East wins in a row over the Jacks before a loss in 2014 brought the rivalry back to a more competitive level. The fracas at the end was also the most dramatic of this era, with East leaving the ice before returning for the handshake line and a charming exchange of pleasantries between Mike Randolph and Dave Esse.

Andover 2, Duluth East 1, 2019

-This game was not a sign of things to come, as East avenged Andover’s first-ever win over the Hounds in sections, but it was a very entertaining, back-and-forth affair in front of a packed house in Andover. Luke Kron popped the overtime game-winner for the Huskies, temporarily avenging the section final loss the year before in this low-scoring game that started as a chess match but turned into a burnburner over time.

Edina 7, Duluth East 1, 2015

-I include this game simply for the shock value of how completely Edina dominated East, despite nine Hounds power plays. As I watched the stream from a couch in the Caribbean, I was ready to throw in the towel. A little over two months later, the Hounds would complete one of the most dramatic script-flips in the history of high school hockey.

The Top 15

15. Duluth East 5, Grand Rapids 0, 2017

-If Cloquet was East’s great rival in the 00s, then Grand Rapids took that title in the teens. This game drops down the list a bit because Grand Rapids was down a few players, and it sits sandwiched between the Thunderhawks’ thrilling section final wins in 2016 and 2017, but in this regular season meeting, the Hounds got some sweet, sweet revenge, who were paced by three-point nights from Garrett Worth and Ian Mageau.

14. Duluth East 4, Eden Prairie 3, 2011

-Add this to the string of games in this section that were fun, memorable, and a reverse of what would happen in the playoffs. In a game played at the newly opened Amsoil Arena, Dom Toninato won it for the Hounds in overtime, despite East being outshot 32-14. Toninato scored twice for the Hounds, while (who else?) Kyle Rau had two for the Eagles, including a tying goal with just under three minutes left in regulation. This one was just a sneak preview of the three-overtime thriller these two would give us that March.

13. Blaine 7, Duluth East 6, 2015

-This might have been the most dramatically see-sawing game I’ve ever seen. Blaine jumped out to a 3-0 lead, East fought back to go up 4-3, Blaine popped three more to lead 6-4, East tied it 6-6, then Blaine won it in overtime. While it was a loss, it was a sign of fight from an East team that was about to go on an epic playoff run. This was also the night some random dude named Danny Ryan sought me out and introduced himself to me. I had no memory of him when he re-introduced himself to me at the State Tournament a month later.

12. East 6, Cloquet 6, 2018

-Talent-wise, this was a game that shouldn’t have been this close, but it was also one of the most massively entertaining games I’ve ever watched. Cloquet came back from a 5-3 deficit to grab a 6-5 lead with 15 seconds remaining. The Hounds’ Brendan Baker then scored with three seconds and change left to salvage the affair. Two of the team’s five regular season blemishes in 2018 came at the hands of their rivals.

11. Duluth East 2, Cloquet 1, 2006

-Ryland Nelson’s overtime game-winner in front of thousands at the DECC avenged the 3-0 loss earlier this season and secured the top seed for East in one of the best seasons 7AA has ever had. The game was a nervy thriller, with Ben Leis making 36 saves for East in the win. He’d allow just one goal in the section semifinal matchup as well, but that time, the East offense drew a blank, and the Jacks collected the third of four playoff wins over East in the 00s.

10. Duluth East 4, Edina 1, 2013

-East’s seven-year reign over 7AA that began in 2009 could have easily come to an end in 2013, a season after the Hounds’ Tourney upset loss to Lakeville South. Rising Grand Rapids was at the Hounds’ heels, and the team came out to a pretty pedestrian start to the season. Then, in the second game of the Schwan Cup, the Hounds burst to life to defeat a favorite. The Hornets, however, would have the last laugh when these two teams met in a Tourney semifinal.

9. Duluth East 4, Minnetonka 2, 2013

-If the aforementioned Edina win was the game that turned the 2013 season around, this late-season victory was the one that cemented the style of this Hounds edition. Their power play late in the season, which ran through defenseman Meirs Moore atop the umbrella, was perhaps the most lethal I’ve seen on a high school team: it hit 42% in the regular season that year, and this game was no exception, as Moore bombed away for an all-power play natural hat trick to overcome an early 2-0 deficit. This team wasn’t blessed with D-I talent (Moore and Phil Beaulieu were its only two), but those two defensemen and total team buy-in took this group a long way.

8. Duluth East 4, Maple Grove 1, 2012

-After beating #2 Minnetonka in the Schwan Cup Gold championship game, the top-ranked Hounds faced a second #2-ranked team the next week, and was every bit as convincing in victory. This one is lower in the rankings than the Minnetonka game since that Skipper team was legitimately better and because that game came in a tournament, but East’s puck control in this game was so thorough that it was what I had in mind when I picked a name for this a blog.

7. Grand Rapids 4, Duluth East 3, 2016

-An overlooked game, but an important one in retrospect: though Rapids had beaten East in the regular season in 2015, the Hounds’ win in sections that year showed they had something to prove. In regulation, it seemed like East might still have Rapids’ number, as the Hounds came back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in the third period to force overtime. This time, however, the Thunderhawks found a way to win in overtime, which would set the tone for the next two section finals. East’s invincibility in close games against Rapids had come to a close. The unlikely hero for Rapids was defenseman Drake Anderson.

6. Minnetonka 9, Duluth East 3, 2012

-The great Hockey Day debacle: undefeated East went down in a heap at Pagel. There were a lot of asterisks at the time; East was down a bunch of players and the game had been moved indoors on fairly short notice due to bad ice on the planned outdoor rink, but it was the first warning sign that this dream season was not to be.

5. Duluth East 1, Cloquet 1, 2007

-Maybe the best-played of the great East-Cloquet duels of the late 00s that litter this list. The Jacks were down injured star forward Tyler Johnson, so if the Hounds were to grab the top seed in the section and avoid a semifinal clash with Grand Rapids, this was their chance. They didn’t quite do enough. The game was a goaltending clinic: Cloquet’s Reid Ellingson, that season’s Brimsek Award winner, made 53 saves, while East’s Ben Leis, no slouch in his own right, made 39. We thought this game would be a section final preview, but Grand Rapids had other ideas when it faced East in the semis.

4. Duluth East 1, Elk River 1, 2015

-The game I will forever remember as the 2-3 game: East, coming off a loss to Anoka and sitting at 10-9-2, the Hounds busted out their funky forecheck and played the clear 7AA favorite pretty even. Freshman Garrett Worth scored the Hounds’ lone goal, though we still need a replay on whether the Hounds’ effort in overtime went in the net. It was a preview of the Hounds’ double overtime win over the Elks in the 7AA final and the storybook playoff run that will follow. This was the night that turned the season around, and I walked out with a sneaking suspicion that this group might just pull something off.

3. Duluth East 4, Minnetonka 2, 2018

-A delicious clash and preview of the eventual state championship game. A strong second period was the separator for the Hounds, who rode two Garrett Worth goals to a 3-1 lead that they hung on to in the 3rd. They wouldn’t repeat the feat at State, but for one night in January, East rose to #1 in the state for the first time since 2012.

2. Duluth East 6, Minnetonka 2, 2012

-Another battle for the top spot between the Hounds and Skippers, but this one was even more decisive, with East running out to a 2-0 lead after one and a 5-0 lead after two. Back when the Schwan Cup was a sort of midseason championship, this game was a coronation for the East team that, when on its form, was the most dominant one the Hounds have produced since the golden age of the late 90s. Ryan Lundgren scored both first period goals, while Dom Toninato had himself a four-point night at the X.

1. Duluth East 5, Grand Rapids 0, 2014

-Grand Rapids had reason to believe 2014 would be the year the Thunderhawks finally broke through. They had Mr. Hockey winner Avery Peterson up front and Frank Brimsek winner Hunter Shepard in net, both as seniors, and the supporting cast was nothing to sneeze at, either. Heading into this game at the IRA Civic Center, it was time for a Rapids team that had fallen just short in the 2013 section final to make a statement against an East team that didn’t have the overwhelming depth of talent of previous years. Phil Beaulieu and friends, however, had other ideas. Before long, the rout was on. For shock factor in a hostile environment against a rival, this one takes the cake.