Tag Archives: 2018-2019

Active Former Hounds, 2019

2 Sep

Here’s the annual better-late-than-never accounting of former Duluth East hockey players who played post-high school hockey this past season. Stats come from EliteProspects. Asterisks denote early departures.

Zack Fitzgerald (’04 D)* The longest-tenured ex-Greyhound, now 34, continued his career with a fifth season in England, this time with the Glasgow Clan. The longtime enforcer put up 17 points, his highest total of his professional career, which began in 2005-2006. His 178 penalty minutes, while still basically double anyone else on the team, was his lowest ever total as well. The legend lives on for Fitzgerald, whose nephew, Jack Fitzgerald, graduated from East this past spring.

Cade Fairchild (’07 D)* Fairchild returned to the Russian KHL, his first overseas destination, but only stuck for six games with Riga this past season. He then took his services to KalPa in Finland, where he was reasonably productive. Now 30, the former fourth-round pick has now spent five seasons on the European circuit.

Derek Forbort (’10 D)* The former first-round pick completed his third full season in the NHL and continued to log steady numbers despite his Kings team finishing in the cellar. He’s now successfully established himself as an NHLer.

Andy Welinski (’11 D)* In other former East defensemen now plying their trade in Southern California, Welinski split his season evenly between the Anaheim Ducks and the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. He had four points with the big club, including his first NHL goal, and 19 in 27 games with the Gulls. He also had a productive postseason run for the Gulls, with 10 points in 16 games as they made it to the semifinals of the playoffs for the Calder Cup.

Dom Toninato (’12 F) Like Welinski, Toninato collected his first NHL goal, though he played just two games with the Colorado Avalanche in 2018-2019. He spent most of his season with the Colorado Eagles of the AHL, where he put up a workmanlike 29 points in 57 games. He’s now moved on to the Florida Panthers’ system for 2019-2020.

Jake Randolph (’12 F) Randolph’s first year out of college took him to Jacksonville of the ECHL, where he put together his usual collection of assists and a 20-point season. He’ll now follow in the tradition of Hound headed across the pond and is slated to play in Sweden this coming season.

Trevor Olson (’12 F) Randolph and Toninato’s former linemate also went to the ECHL for his first full season of professional hockey, and put together a strong 32-point season for the Orlando Solar Bears. He’ll be back with them in 2019-2020.

Meirs Moore (’13 D) Moore wrapped up his four-year tenure at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York with a four-point effort. He never put up the big points in college like he did in high school, but put together a strong enough career to get a shot in the ECHL with South Carolina this coming season.

Conner Valesano (’13 F)* Valesano’s junior campaign at D-III UW-Stout saw him collect a respectable 16 points, which was good for third on his team. He’ll wrap up his college career this coming year.

Alex Toscano (’13 F) Toscano, another of the many Hounds who have made their way to Menomonie, Wisconsin at Stout in recent years, had 11 points in his junior year, his highest total to date. He also dramatically reduced his penalty minutes.

Hogan Davidson (’13 F) The Hounds’ old agitator had another strong season at D-III Nichols College in Massachusetts, where he finished tied for second on his team with 18 points. He’s got his senior season ahead of him.

Phil Beaulieu (’14 D) A year after he led all NCAA Division-I defensemen in scoring, Beaulieu was right there again with a strong campaign for Northern Michigan. He logged 35 points in 38 games for the Wildcats, and now heads into his senior year.

Alex Trapp (’14 D) Trapp’s junior season at St. Thomas was his best to date, as he settled into a regular role and collected 10 points from the blue line. He even put in a bit of time at forward, demonstrating his longstanding versatility.

Nick Altmann (’15 F) Altmann had a quality freshman season for D-III Williams College in Massachusetts, as he finished fifth on his team in scoring with 14 points.

Ash Altmann (’16 F) The younger Altmann brother wrapped up a three-year run with the Minnesota Wilderness with a 14-point effort. He’ll join the D-III ranks this coming winter as he heads to St. Olaf.

Luke Dow (’16 F) Dow had a strong third season with the Wilderness, where he amassed 38 points and wrapped up his tenure as the NAHL club’s all-time leading scorer.

Shay Donovan (’16 D) Patience paid off for Donovan, who will be joining his younger brother at Wisconsin this fall. The steady defenseman wrapped up his 3-year NAHL campaign with a solid 16-point campaign for Scranton-Wilkes Barre, and will now add his name to the Hounds’ D-I ranks.

Alex Spencer (’16 D) The Hounds’ big man began his collegiate career by appearing in five games for Wisconsin-Superior.

Reid Hill (’17 D) Hill appeared in just one NAHL game this past season, though he did collect an assist in that appearance with Janesville. He has now made his way to the University of St. Thomas.

Garrett Worth (’18 F) Worth’s post-college debut did not go according to plan, as he failed to stick in the USHL and wandered among three different BCHL teams over the course of the season. There’s too much talent here to waste, though, and he’ll get a crack with Des Moines of the USHL this coming season.

Luke LaMaster (’18 D) The Hounds’ second 2018 Mr. Hockey finalist also had a lost season, though in his case, it was entirely due to injury. The Badger recruit will join Sioux City’s USHL squad for 2019-2020.

Ian Mageau (’18 F) Worth’s compatriot on the Hounds’ top line in 2018 put up 16 points with Austin in the NAHL, and rather than labor on in junior hockey, he’s chosen to head to St. Thomas for the next stage of his hockey life.

Austin Jouppi (’18 F) Perhaps surprisingly, the most impressive post-high school performance from a Class of 2018 Greyhound came from Jouppi, who carried his torrid finish to his high school career through into an impressive 41-point season with Bismarck of the NAHL. His performance earned plenty of accolades, and he’s played his way into a 30-man roster spot with Des Moines of the USHL this coming season, where he could play alongside three former East teammates: Worth, 2019 grad Hunter Paine, and early departure Logan Anderson.

Nick Lanigan (’18 F) Never a big scorer in high school, Lanigan scrapped his way to a very respectable 17-point season with the Magicians of the NAHL.

Will Fisher (’18 D) Fisher bounced around a bit in his first year of high school, as he played 16 games with Bismarck in the NAHL, followed by two with New Jersey and then a six-game stint with the Boston Junior Rangers of the Tier III Eastern Hockey League.

Porter Haney (’18 F) Haney, a part-timer on the 2018 Hounds runner-up squad, put up 31 points with the Rochester Grizzlies of the NA3HL.

Dropping from the list this past season: Jack Forbort (2 years at UW-Stout). Expect plenty of additions to this list next season as well.

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The Ryder of a Lifetime: Duluth East 2018-2019 in Review

14 Mar

After the end of the 2018 state championship game, I joined the parents and fans in waiting for the Duluth East players to emerge from the bowels of the Xcel Center. I commiserated with the other loyalists and gave a few players some hugs. But a brief moment with Ryder Donovan, the then-junior forward, became my iconic memory of that Tourney. He told me in no uncertain terms that he had unfinished business, and promised he would do what he could to bring the Hounds back.

It wasn’t always clear that East would finish that business. The team ran out to a strong start, but things began to unravel with a loss to Champlin Park that kicked off a spotty 4-5-2 run in the middle of the season. The offense went cold for long stretches, and the team pressed when down. Mike Randolph continued his endless search for answers to life’s persistent line-building questions and cycled through countless options in search of a winning combination. More so than at any point in recent memory, this East team teetered on the edge: would they all pull together and make one more run, or would they come apart at the seams? But by the end of the season things seemed to fall back into line, and by the grace of a reinforced defense, a Ricky Lyle barrage, and Donovan’s delivery on his promise, they made their way back to St. Paul. The section final upset of Andover was a triumph of steady determination and unflinching belief, even as events over the course of the year gave reason for doubt.

A state championship was always going to be a reach for this group. These Hounds did not have the across-the-board front-end skill that several of the other top-end teams did. Their great demon over the course of the season, an inability to finish the chances they had, reared its head in the state quarterfinals. The Hounds carried play and out-chanced St. Thomas Academy over the course of the game, but could only slip one goal past Muzzy Donohue in net, and several golden chances went by the wayside. The gameplan was there, but the execution was not. The question will linger as to what this team could have done if given a crack at Edina on Friday night, but it wasn’t to be.

The Hounds defended their pride in the consolation bracket at Mariucci, where they avenged an ugly January loss to Moorhead and rolled past Lakeville South to add another trophy to the case. Showings at Mariucci say something about the mindset of a team after a dream comes to an end, and these Hounds found ways to produce. Donovan and his fellow seniors went out with some style, and some of the underclassmen began to pick up the scoring load and gave a glimpse of the future. The last few games were a fitting sendoff for a group that was deep, skilled, and just plain fun.

We now bid farewell to a deep senior class that also had an excellent cast of characters. Carson Cochran provided steady defense and the greatest save of East’s 2018 semifinal win over Edina, while E.J. Hietala and Jayson Hagen blossomed into quality defensemen as seniors. Brody Rabold and Lukan Hanson were a steady tandem in goal, and it was a shame there was room for only one of them in the lineup. David Holliday provided valuable depth, while Jonathan Jones combined his giant frame with some subtle skill, and should get a shot at higher-level hockey somewhere. Jack Fitzgerald and Brendan Baker were steady producers over long varsity careers. Ricky Lyle combined his tenacious hits with a flair for the dramatic, and put the team on his back in sections. Frederick Hunter Paine, or whatever name he goes by these days, shared Lyle’s physical edge and was the two-way star on the blue line.

Ryder Donovan’s graduation, meanwhile, feels like the end of an era for Duluth East hockey. He was a central player in so many moments over his five years on the roster, a run that included three Tourney berths and two second place finishes. His senior year came freighted with immense pressure and a change in college plans, yet the future NHL draft pick made it clear he left with no regrets. The narrow losses leave questions of what might have been, but those wistful what-ifs of our adolescent lives define high school for all but the most charmed among us. The true test comes in developing the ability to learn from that unavoidable adversity, and in building a community of people that one can look back on fondly, no matter how far one may wander. On that count, Ryder was far ahead of his years from the start, and understood exactly what he was a part of. He is an example to the East program for years to come.

We wish Ryder and his teammates the best in hockey and in life, and thank them for their time in this brotherhood of Greyhound hockey. From early morning bag skates to section championship celebrations, they built memories that will last a lifetime, and those who will be back next season now get some well-earned time off before the excitement starts to build again. I’ll sign off in my role as the scribe for this program until any offseason intrigue or preseason previews bring me back. The adventure never ends.

Tourney Preview 2019

3 Mar

It’s the first full week in March, which can only mean one thing: the annual party in St. Paul kicks off this Wednesday, and we get four straight days of nonstop hockey fun. As usual, Danny, Tony, and I have a preview podcast up, and I now offer some storylines and capsules on each game.

An Open Class A Field With no Hermantown for the first time in ten years, the Class A field has a decidedly fresh, open look to it. We’ll see if any of the unseeded teams, two of them making their first Tourney trips, can stick with the top three; otherwise, it has the makings of a very entertaining final two rounds. St. Cloud Cathedral and Mahtomedi are the deepest teams of the bunch, but neither has ever made it out of a State semifinal. East Grand Forks is the only one in this group to win it all in Class A, but will need to prove it has the depth to run with the top two. Greenway, fresh off the upset of Hermantown, is the wild card here: can they build on their momentum and go the whole way?

Edina’s Redeem Team Last season’s Edina team often seemed untouchable, but it all came crashing down when they collided with Duluth East on Friday night. This group of Hornets hasn’t been as dominant as the previous season’s, but they do appear to be peaking at the right time, and have the most talent of anyone at State. In some ways, the smaller gap between them and their competition and help: it won’t be unfamiliar territory if they find themselves in a dogfight, as it may have been for last season’s squad. But they will still need to go through three tough games to finish the deal, and withstand a likely barrage of physical play from their opponents.

A Thursday Night Carnival It doesn’t get much better than this: two northern powers come south to face the two teams I’ve jokingly called Minnesota’s Axis of Evil, Edina and St. Thomas Academy, in back-to-back games on Thursday night. On paper, it’s one of the most entertaining quarterfinal sessions in recent memory, and gives us some chance at a fifth Duluth East-Edina semifinal in nine years. From the Edina-Grand Rapids battles of the 70s to East versus Jefferson in the 90s, these night games between North and Metro are among the most iconic the Tourney has to offer, and we’ll see if these two—and potentially more from there—can live up to the hype.

Power Forwards Collide? The upper side of the AA bracket, which features four big suburban schools, may lack the storylines of the lower side, but there will still be plenty of talent on display. White Bear’s student section should liven up the Thursday morning session as the Bears go for the upset of Blaine, and Lakeville South has slain giants in its other two State appearances this decade. But if the top seeds advance, we’ll be treated to rematch of a 6-5 December thriller in which Eden Prairie beat Blaine. The Bengals’ Bryce Brodzinski and the Eagles’ Jack Jensen are among the frontrunners for Mr. Hockey, and combine physical play with scoring finesse.

Senior Nights While the Tourney often showcases some up-and-coming stars, a lot of the AA contenders this season are dominated by their senior classes. That’s certainly true for Edina, Duluth East, and St. Thomas, and Moorhead and Blaine also rely on some senior big men to carry much of the offensive load. The Lakeville South-Eden Prairie game is the one real exception here, where both teams have a lot of quality sophomores, and White Bear is relatively balanced. Does that veteran leadership carry a team to a title, or do any of these vaunted groups start to feel the pressure to claim a title?

Now, capsules for each quarterfinal:

NORTH BRANCH VS. #2 ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL

11:00 Wednesday

-The Tourney opens with a season-long frontrunner in Class A welcoming a new entrant. These teams have no recent history against each other.

North Branch (19-7-2, Unranked, 2-seed in 5A)

First State appearance

Key section win: 3-2 over 4-seed Chisago Lakes, 3-1 over 3-seed Princeton

-The Vikings are new to the Tourney and may have arrived ahead of schedule, as they have a strong sophomore core. Cody Croal (14) is the star of that young group, but Joey Kircher (9) and Tucker Sachs (38) are also among their top four scorers. Jacob Richards (15) is their senior leader, and Jake Turek (35) will get the nod in goal. They don’t have a ton of depth, though they do have a goal-scoring defenseman in Justin Sachs (18), plus a freshman, Alex Langevin (16), who produces some. That defense and Turek will face a stiff test against Cathedral, and needs to come up big for the Vikings to stick around.

St. Cloud Cathedral (24-4, #5, 1-seed in 6A)

State appearances: 9 (last in 2017)

Key section win: 4-1 over #4 Alexandria

-With Hermantown out of the way, the Crusaders probably have the most top-end talent of anyone in the field. The top line, which features Blake Perbix (27), Jack Smith (20), and Nate Warner (8), who missed much of the season with an injury but is playing now, is loaded with skill, and they also have strong depth up front. The defense, led by Reid Bogenholm (2), Jon Bell (4), and C.J. Zins (15), can also move the puck well and contribute to the cause. Senior Noah Amundson (30) has the goaltending job. While they lost 6-2 to Mahtomedi without Warner a few weeks ago, they have the skill to pull off their first trip to the Class A title game and finish the deal. They also enter the Tourney on a strong note after taking care of the team that beat them a season ago, Alexandria, in the 6A final.

MINNESOTA RIVER VS. #3 EAST GRAND FORKS

1:00 Wednesday

-As in the first game of the day, a Tourney debutant collides with a regular. These two have no history.

Minnesota River (20-4, #17, 2-seed in 1A)

First State appearance

Key section wins: 6-2 over 3-seed Albert Lea, 5-3 over 4-seed Rochester Lourdes

-The Bulldogs, who formerly went by LSHSPTCUC—the acronym for co-op constituents LeSueur, Henderson, St. Peter, Tri-City United, and Cleveland, and now including Belle Plaine—make their debut at the Xcel Center after a strong season. Hunter Wilmes (8) is their clear leading scorer, and Tyson Sowder (9) isn’t far behind him in goals scored, with Charlie Weick (3) rounding out their offensive headlines. They have respectable depth for an unseeded Class A team, as their top eight forwards all registered over 15 points in the regular season. They did lose to the other two unseeded teams in the Tourney this season, and will be facing an entirely new level of competition in this one, but otherwise had a very strong year.

East Grand Forks (20-8, #6, 1-seed in 8A)

State appearances: 12 (3 one-class, 9 in Class A; last in 2017)

State championships: 2 (2014, 2015)

Key section win: 5-1 over 3-seed Warroad

-The Green Wave are back in the Tourney after a one-year absence, and are the only team with a Class A title in this year’s field; coach Tyler Palmscino, who was behind the bench for their two titles, is also back this season. As usual, they have a tough group of players, with Tanner Mack (19) being their leading scorer and Carter Beck (7) and Jake Hjelle (8) next in line. Sophomore forward Landon Parker (10) and freshman defenseman Trey Ausmus (9) give them some serious young talent; their depth is better than most of the teams behind them, but not quite on the level of Cathedral or Mahtomedi. They lost 7-2 to Cathedral early in the season, so barring a surprise upset, we’ll see if they’ve come along enough to give the Crusaders a game on Friday.

NEW ULM VS. #1 MAHTOMEDI

6:00 Wednesday

-The top seed takes on a surprise out of the southwest to begin the evening session. Mahtomedi beat New Ulm 6-3 in a 2015 quarterfinal meeting.

New Ulm (17-8-1, Unranked, 3-seed in 3A)

State appearances: 6 (last in 2015)

Key section win: 2-1 over 2-seed Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, 6-4 over 5-seed Hutchinson

-The Eagles are the mild surprise entrant out of 3A after a run through sections that included a win over defending champion Litchfield. Offensively, junior Glavine Schugel (2) is this group’s clear leader, and he has support from Josh Seidl (3), Landon Strong (11), and a productive freshman in Braxten Hoffmann (10). Shane Esser (14) and Ethan O’Connor (12) lead the way defensively, and Jack Raymond (1) has been their man in goal. Withstanding the depth of a Mahtomedi will be a serious test for this team.

Mahtomedi (21-6-1, #2, 2-seed in 4A)

State appearances: 11 (3 in a row)

Key section win: 5-0 over #3 Totino-Grace

-The Zephyrs roll into State after a convincing 5-0 win over Totino-Grace, and took the top seed on the strength of a 6-2 win over Cathedral in January. While no stranger to the Tourney, they are in a new position as the favorite, and have yet to advance past the semifinals. Nikolai Dulak (9) leads the way offensively, with support from Joe Paradise (17), Colin Hagstrom (4), and Kory Pilarski (10). The defense also has a couple of active offensive contributors in Dylan L’Allier (15) and Noah Skillings (8). They have a freshman, Ben Dardis (32), in goal, who has been excellent down the stretch. They don’t quite have Cathedral’s firepower, but they are the deepest team in the field, and will look to ride that edge into uncharted territory.

#5 DELANO VS. #4 GREENWAY/NASHWAUK-KEEWATIN

8:00 Wednesday

-The team that beat the defending state champs plays the team that beat this season’s #1 in the Class A nightcap. Delano won a regular season meeting 4-3, and both come into this game with some momentum.

Delano (17-9-2, #15, 2-seed in 2A)

State appearances: 2 (first in 2017)

Key section win: 2-0 over #10 Orono

-The Tigers enter the Tourney on a hot streak, as they are undefeated in their last ten, and pulled a mild upset of defending state champion Orono in the 2A final. Goaltender Aaron Kruse (30) was the star of their run through sections, as he posted three straight shutouts. The offense isn’t as flashy as Greenway’s, but they get steady production out of two lines, with the forward corps led by Hogan Williams (12), Adam Brown (13), Quinn Daly (28), and Joseph Blanchard (21). Jack Keranen (3), a sophomore, leads their charge from the blue line. With continued steady production and great play from Kruse, they have the pieces to be tough out, even if they don’t have the flair of Greenway or Mahtomedi.

Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (15-13, #9, 3-seed in 7A)

State appearances: 10 (7 one-class, 1 Tier II, 1 in AA; last in AA in 2001)

State championships: 3 (one-class Tournament, 1967 and 1968; Tier II, 1992)

-The Raiders are the state’s goliath-slayers after toppling top-ranked Hermantown in the 7A final, and give the Iron Range its first Tourney entrant since 2011. They roll just two lines and four D, but there’s a lot of talent in that group, led by the dynamic offensive duo of St. Cloud State recruit Ben Troumbly (8) and Casadonte Lawson (13). Nikolai Rajala (19) anchors a tough second line, and a solid defensive corps includes a second future Husky in Christian Miller (12) and Cameron Lantz (10). Logan Wright (24) was a hero in goal in sections. If their depth can hold up over the course of the Tourney, this team has enough quality parts to make a run.

WHITE BEAR LAKE VS. #2 BLAINE

11:00 Thursday

-The long-suffering Bears meet a Blaine team looking to make its stamp on the Tourney. Their regular season date was lost to weather. Blaine leads the series 2-1 in the past five years, with the Bears winning the 2018 meeting 6-4. The Bears also won their lone State Tournament meeting, a 2011 consolation semifinal.

White Bear Lake (21-4-1, #7, 1-seed in 4AA)

State appearances: 19 (last in 2011)

Key section win: 3-2 over #15 Hill-Murray

-A year after a star-studded Bears team fell short, a more balanced, steady version broke through for the program’s first Tourney berth in eight years. Senior veteran Blake Meister (29) is their leading scorer, while up-and-coming sophomore Lleyton Roed (9) led the team in goals. Chase Bill (26), Billy Rose (10), Grant Hofeld (5), and Sam Newpower (8) round out their strong top two lines. Goalie Evan Foss (33) has been solid, and while the defense produces very few points, it takes care of business in its own end. To break the program’s 0-18 first round curse, they’ll need to rely on their edge in scoring depth and keep that defense at home to try to contain Bryce Brodzinski and company.

Blaine (22-2-2, #2, 1-seed in 5AA)

State appearances: 12 (last in 2015)

Championships: 1 (2000)

Key section win: 2-1 over #6 Maple Grove

-When the Bengals go to State, if often seems to involve a dynamic forward duo, and this group is no different. Senior Bryce Brodzinski (22) may be the favorite to win Mr. Hockey, and his junior sidekick Carson Richels (17) scored the game-winner over Maple Grove and has piled up a heap of points as well. Nick Hauck (21) is an assist machine for a defense that performed well this season, and Joe Daninger (1) may be the best goaltender left in the AA field. They don’t have the scoring depth of some of the other top teams, though Will Hillman (9) adds some goal-scoring punch, and their lower lines do a good job of logging quality ice time. They haven’t lost in 18 games, though that last defeat came to potential semifinal opponent Eden Prairie.

LAKEVILLE SOUTH VS. #3 EDEN PRAIRIE

1:00 Thursday

-The surprise 3-seed meets the lowest-ranked team in the field in the day’s second game. Eden Prairie won a regular season meeting 7-4, and also won the 2017 3rd place game in overtime over the Cougars. Those are their only two recent meetings.

Lakeville South (14-12-1, Unranked, 4-seed in 1AA)

State appearances: 4 (last in 2017)

Key section wins: 8-1 over #23 Hastings, 4-0 over 2-seed Lakeville North

-The Cougars make the Tourney as a 4-seed, but were probably the most complete team in the section over the course of the regular season. Adam Harvey (9) and Nico Aguilera (10) are the senior leaders at forward and defense, respectively. Beyond that this is a fairly young group, as sophomores Cade Arenholz (19) and Jack Novak (14) contribute to a fairly spread-out offense, while Jacob Malinski (21) and D-I recruit Griffin Ludtke (3) round out a productive defense. Henry Welsch (1) has been strong in net. They have pulled significant quarterfinal upsets in their last two Tourney appearances.

Eden Prairie (17-9-2, #11, 3-seed in 2AA)

State appearances: 11 (last in 2017)

Championships: 2 (2009, 2011)

Key section wins: 7-3 over #10 Chaska, 3-1 over #24 Holy Family

-The Eagles were the beneficiaries of Holy Family’s upset of defending champion Minnetonka and a generous seed, but have been a dangerous team in their own right this season, with excellent depth at forward and no shortage of stars. Jack Jensen (18) is one of the state’s top senior talents, and he’s supported by an excellent cast of up-and-coming sophomores, including Drew Holt (8), Carter Batchelder (22), and defenseman Luke Mittelstadt (27). Brother John Mittelstadt (9) adds some punch up front, while Spencer Rudrud (7) is an unsung hero whose physical line will likely play a key role, especially if they advance to face the Brodzinski-Richels combo from Blaine. If they can hold up in back, they have a solid shot at the state final.

MOORHEAD VS. #1 EDINA

6:00 Thursday

-An evening of North vs. Metro begins with two storied programs. Edina won a regular season meeting 6-5, which is their only recent game. Their only State Tournament meeting came in 2009, when the Spuds upset top-seeded Edina 5-2 in the quarterfinals.

Moorhead (21-6-1, #9, 1-seed in 8AA)

State appearances: 16 (last in 2017)

Key section wins: 3-0 over #17 Buffalo, 3-2 over #18 Brainerd

-The Spuds marched through 8AA, and as a team that has given some top teams (including Edina) tight games this season, they are no easy draw. While not the deepest team in the field, the top line of Kyler Kleven (10), Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe (4), and Nolan Westra (7) can be overpowering, and junior defenseman Luke Gramer (3) is an elite talent, and their only real offensive threat from the blue line. Thomas Horan (2) and Carter Johnson (18) head up their second unit, and Hudson Hodges (31) has performed well since winning the goalie job. Knocking off Edina is a tall order, but it the Spuds’ big guns produce and the lower lines can hold serve, they have a shot.

Edina (24-2-1, #1, 1-seed in 6AA)

State appearances: 39 (6 as Edina East/West in 70s and 80s; 2 in a row)

Championships: 12 (1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, 2013, and 2014 as Edina; 1974, 1978, and 1979 as Edina East)

Key section wins: 4-2 over #20 Blake, 5-1 over #13 Benilde-St. Margaret’s

-The Hornets enter this year’s Tourney as prohibitive favorites. As usual, they have some front-line talent at forward, this year in the form of Mr. Hockey finalists Jett Jungels (22) and Mason Nevers (18), plus second line anchor Liam Malmquist (7). Their real strength, however, is a rock-solid defense led by star Mike Vorlicky (17), defensive rock Mason Reiners (21), Jake Boltmann (2), and up-and-coming Nick Williams (4). They aren’t as deep as in some past seasons, though Kevin Delaney (23) had as strong senior year, and Brett Chorske (17) adds a large physical presence. If they can protect sophomore goalie Louden Hogg (1) adequately, they can atone for last season’s miss. The road will not be easy, but the talent is there.

#5 DULUTH EAST VS. #4 ST. THOMAS ACADEMY

8:00 Thursday

-Two Tourney regulars collide in another excellent North vs. Metro battle. East leads the all-time series 3-1, including a 6-5, 2OT win in the 2015 quarterfinals.

Duluth East (18-6-2, #12, 2-seed in 7AA)

State appearances: 24 (2 in a row)

Championships: 3 (1960, 1995, 1998)

Key section wins: 4-1 over #21 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 4-3 (OT) over #4 Andover

-The Greyhounds return to State after yet another stunner in the 7AA final. While this team is not as deep with star power as last season’s runners-up, they do have a few big guns, including slick-skating Mr. Hockey finalist Ryder Donovan (22), gritty defenseman F.H. Paine (20), and Ricky Lyle (15), who went on a tear through sections. Beyond that, they’re deep with respectable players at every position, and are probably the most physical team in the field. Logan Anderson (28) and Brendan Baker (37) play productive supporting roles, and Jacob Jeannette (19) is next in the line of East stars. With good play in back and continued steadiness out of Brody Rabold (39), they have a chance to go on a run.

St. Thomas Academy (24-3-1, #5, 1-seed in 3AA)

State appearances: 4 in AA (3 in a row); 8 in Class A

Championships: 5, all in Class A (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Key section win: 4-1 over #19 Eagan

-The Cadets enter the Tourney on an 18-game win streak and have allowed just 14 goals over that stretch, though the competition wasn’t always front-line. Offensively, Ryan O’Neill (12) had a breakout season, while Rob Christy (11) is the established star, and Brendan McFadden (21) is a wrecking ball. They have strong depth up front, with Luke Herzog (22) also in a tight group among their top point-getters, and Nico Vega (9), who led the way in the section final. The defense, led by Carter Henry (3), has held its own this season after being an issue in past Tourneys, and will be the most important piece of a potential run. There has been some uncertainly in goal, where Muzzy Donohue (1) replaced Wes Gervais (30) after one period on the section final.

That’s enough of my longform written blather until it’s all over. For those of you who will be in attendance, don’t be strangers: come visit in section 107, or we might run into each other somewhere along 7th Street sometime over the course of the week. See you in St. Paul.

Reload Mode Hounds

12 Dec

A few games into the high school hockey season the hype phase begins to fade and reality sets in: we begin to learn what teams actually have, and how far they might go. The preseason puzzle on the east side of Duluth tried to figure how the Greyhounds would reload in the absence of Garrett Worth, Luke LaMaster, Ian Mageau, and a number of other members of a deep senior class. Fresh off a return to their perch atop 7AA, a victory over Edina in a memorable clash of goliaths, and the bitter taste of a state championship game loss to Minnetonka, northeast Minnesota’s hockey bluebloods are looking to fill those gaps and take care of some unfinished business.

The 2018-2019 Hounds are off to a solid, if not exactly flashy, start. This is in part to due to their opponents—White Bear Lake and Wayzata both look tough in the early going, to say nothing of a front-line Andover team—and in part due to Mike Randolph’s coaching system, which always looks for consistent control instead of gaudy scorelines, especially as the team tests combinations and works its systems in the early going. Since a near-disaster in the first three minutes of the season against White Bear they’ve been stout defensively, and stayed that way throughout a back-and-forth affair with now-second-ranked Andover, which ended in an overtime loss in front of a packed house at the Andover Community Center on Saturday.

Luke Kron’s game-winner was a key moment for the Huskies, who had never beaten East before in their history. Their goaltender, Ben Fritsinger, is the real deal, while the top line of Kron, Charlie Schoen, and Nick Dainty had its moments of dominance. They are a deep group on a mission for their first Tourney berth. But from an East perspective, the loss is hardly cause for concern. It was an overtime loss in December; their lineup is less settled than the highly experienced Huskies, and as the game built and the bench shortened, it was the Hounds who carried more of the play. If the top line can finish its chances and the defensemen can rein in floaters who sneak in behind them, they’ll be tough to beat. History tells us the Hounds will improve as the season goes along; will they stay true to form, and how does Andover counter?

Randolph’s typical tinkering will likely continue into January, but the early returns do little to seed any doubt that the Hounds are right back among the state’s best despite their graduation losses. Deep programs often do better than observers might expect after graduating a very successful senior class, in large part due to the quality of many players who were buried on the depth chart the season before. The early contributions of a junior like Charlie Erickson, who would’ve seen a regular shift on any lesser team a season ago, or of a senior such as the giant Jonathan Jones, are an immediate testament to that maxim. The Hounds are playing four lines with regularity, and cycling through a host of defensemen as they look for the group that will get ice time in February and perhaps beyond. With no shortage of options, they are right among the state’s top teams in a season where few to no AA teams look like the East, Edina, and Minnetonka super teams of a season ago.

Mike Randolph has played goaltender roulette and started three different tenders over the first four games. Back around the start of the decade, Randolph’s handling of his goalies was a subject of some criticism, and not without some justification. The goalies, often left on an island watching action at the other end of the ice for long stretches, were often called upon to make only a few saves on breakaways, and their performance in those moments—and mental makeup as they tried to withstand them—could lead to swift hooks and cratering confidence. In recent years, however, Randolph seems to have gotten the goalie game right.Seniors like Gunnar Howg, Kirk Meierhoff, and Parker Kleive weren’t guaranteed anything, but won their respective jobs in open competition and were the no-doubt starters down the stretch and through strong playoff runs. Whether the wheel finally stops on veteran Lukan Hanson, upstart Konrad Kausch, or the unheralded Brody Rabold, someone will need to seize the opportunity.

Aside from a goaltender, the players who will be most essential to East’s rise over the course of the season will be its remaining front-line stars. The team boasts a top-notch defensive pair of Carson Cochran and Frederick Hunter Paine, as tenacious a net-front presence as the state can offer in Ricky Lyle, and of course Ryder Donovan, who has a chance to join the pantheon of East all-time greats. Donovan is projected to go in the first three rounds of the NHL draft, which would be the highest position of any Hound who played his senior year at East since Rusty Fitzgerald in 1991. (A very achievable 50-point season would put him in the top five Hounds since we have statistics; a difficult but not impossible 75 would get him into third, behind the possibly untouchable pair of Chris Locker and Dave Spehar.) The bevy of quality players and the steadiness of the system will ensure that East continues to look like one of the deepest teams in the state. But to truly separate themselves, the Hounds need a huge season out of Donovan, and his breakaways and laps skated around opponents need to turn into points. Lyle and Brendan Baker will be his wingmen, and with Jack Fitzgerald’s expected return from injury against Cloquet, the lower lines should fall into place.

This team’s potential reminds me of past Hounds editions such as 2012-2013 or perhaps even 1997-1998: groups that had graduated more top-end talent the season before, but still had a couple of major stars, and still had the customary program depth to make a deep run into March. Solid team defense, quality special teams, and steady improvement can turn dreams into reality. If the top line scores the way it can, the second line, anchored by Logan Anderson, should be productive as well. A couple of inexperienced defensemen will need to take steps forward; after a few scary opening minutes against White Bear Lake, the early returns on the rebuilt blue line corps, particularly its top four, are encouraging. (Jayson Hagen waits in the wings as a reinforcement when healthy, too.)

Before March, however, is Cloquet: on Thursday, East renews its longtime rivalry with the Lumberjacks, and rarely has this never-predictable rivalry been more up in the air. Cloquet opened the season hyped as a third highly-ranked 7AA squad beside East and Andover, but the early returns have been an utter disappointment. The Jacks are 1-5, and while most of the losses have been fairly close games with good teams, they have not looked in sync in any facet of their game. East went winless in the teams’ two meetings a season ago, and this rivalry has a way of flattening any talent gaps and erasing any momentum. It will be an instructive game for how both teams handle a chaotic, playoff-like atmosphere, and could invite the emergence of some unsung heroes. As the tinkering continues, the real tests begin to mount, and we’ll learn more about where these Hounds truly stand.

Puck Drop 2018-2019

18 Nov

The Minnesota high school hockey season is upon us this week, and I took care of my big preseason obligations a few days ago, as preseason AA rankings and a preseason Youth Hockey Hub podcast made their way into the world. But, as always, I like to spill out a few more written thoughts that can’t fit within the confines of a ranking system or that I struggled to slip in edgewise amid Danny and Tony’s prattling. Here are a few storylines that I think are worth watching:

The Big Four…Or Is It? Last season we basically knew who the top four AA teams were from start to finish: Minnetonka, Edina, Duluth East, and St. Thomas Academy. This time around, everyone in the preseason rankings business pretty much agrees on the top four, which takes last year’s list and swaps out St. Thomas for Andover. However, I’m not convinced that top four is as rigid as it was a year ago. Tonka is missing Bobby Brink, Edina doesn’t have the scoring depth it did a year ago, East has a few questions in back, and Andover’s star power isn’t quite on the level of those three and is very new to all of this. All four are in tough sections, and of course East and Andover have to go through each other to get to State. Will any of them crack?

Purple Power? Three teams in purple sweaters, while not their section frontrunners, are set to grab some attention this season. Cretin-Derham Hall was the most successful of this group a season ago, as they flirted with the top five and showed a lot of offensive punch behind Matt Gleason, who is one of the state’s finest talents. On the west side of the metro, Chaska has a deep group of D-I players, and while they’ll need to develop a supporting cast to get on the level of the aforementioned Big Four, it’s not hard to imagine it happening. Cloquet, meanwhile, is one of the bigger wild cards in the state. The Langenbrunner brothers are stars and they have a deep group of forwards, but can first year head coach Shea Walters put it all together?

Blast from the Past? The Class A contender list this season features a bunch of teams whose names evoke past glory days. Greenway will have its best chance to break Hermantown’s monopoly and earn a trip to State. Warroad has one of its best teams in years, and is looking to end an eight-year Tournament drought. And while they’ll face a tall order to get anywhere near Hermantown and Greenway, Virginia and Eveleth both bring back a bunch of players from teams that experienced some youth success. On the whole it looks like a good year for northern and central Minnesota in Class A, and even the champions of 1A and 3A return a lot and could be more competitive than those sections often are. The metro only has one real surefire top ten team (Mahtomedi), plus another on the bubble in defending champion Orono.

An Open Mr. Hockey Race? Ryder Donovan of Duluth East is probably the favorite right now based on his draft status and ability to put up big points. At this time last year, the name thrown around most often was probably Jack Jensen of Eden Prairie, and while injuries and his team’s struggles a season ago may have changed that, he’s still an excellent player capable of putting his team on his back. The last nine winners have been forwards, but two defensemen have a chance to break through this season in Minnetonka’s Josh Luedtke and Chaska’s Mike Koester. (These things seem to ebb and flow: before the streak of forwards started, we had a run of five straight defensemen.) I think it’s Donovan’s to lose, but it could be a good fight throughout.

Early Clues? It seems like there’s an inordinate number of good games early in the season this year. The first couple weeks bring us some heavy hitters in the Youth Hockey Hub Opener and the Wayzata Turkey Trot, plus the Duluth East-Andover marquee matchup on December 8. Teams ranging from St. Thomas Academy to Chaska have frontloaded schedules when it comes to quality opponents, and some realignment in holiday jamborees has given some life to some affairs that had become rather flat and predictable meetings of the same teams over and over again. (None of the big ones are really tournaments anymore, which I think is boring from a fan perspective but understand given the convenience for roster management.) With many teams settling into conference schedules from January on, the big matchups that may define the

As usual, Thanksgiving travel will limit my hockey intake on the opening weekend. I plan to start my season with a trip to the cradle of Minnesota high school hockey with a trip to the Eveleth Hippodrome on November 29 to see the Golden Bears collide with the Chaska Hawks. (Some of the game, anyway; I have a work commitment elsewhere on the Range that evening, too.) Duluth East, which will naturally be the subject of a few posts on this blog over the course of the season, opens the next night at home against White Bear Lake, which has been a pest in the two teams’ most recent meetings. After that, we’re off to the races, with Cloquet the next day and that looming East-Andover dogfight the following weekend. See ya at the rink.

Summer Hockey Notes 2018

28 Jul

Last weekend’s Summer Hockey Festival at Braemar Arena in Edina offered a brief dose of hockey for those of us in need of some midsummer action. Twenty teams battled it out over the course of three days, giving the world its first real looks at Janne Kivihalme-coached Lakeville South, a somewhat improved-looking Grand Rapids, and a bunch of kids in bantam or other teams’ breezers who have made their way to a new hockey home for 2018-2019. Watching these sorts of tournaments always comes with a grain of salt, as rosters are incomplete and coaches are sorting through what they have, but they’ve also proven to have some decent predictive power in the past.

Duluth East eased any worries of a drop-off following the graduation of the likes of Garrett Worth, Luke LaMaster, and Ian Mageau with a strong second-place showing. Ryder Donovan looked every bit a Mr. Hockey frontrunner, and the top line of Donovan, Ricky Lyle, and Brendan Baker was tenacious and displayed strong chemistry. Upcoming bantams like Jacob Jeanette and Zarley Ziemski were noticeable in their Greyhound debuts, and the bevy of players looking to claim their spots in the pecking order beyond the top pair on defense largely held their own. The 2018-2019 Greyhounds will be big, tough, and in-your-face. While they still have some sorting to do on the back end an in goal, their forward depth and front-line talent will keep them near the top of the heap this coming season.

Still, the Hounds were not even the best team in their own section at Braemar over the course of the weekend. That title belongs to Andover, which rolled through to a championship. Last season, the Huskies’ top line pairing of Charlie Schoen and Nick Dainty grabbed headlines, and will likely lead the way in their senior seasons. But this time around, it was the rising juniors such as defenseman Wyatt Kaiser and the line of Hunter Zinda, Luke Kron, and Harrison VanderMey that turned my head. The Huskies’ depth will have them sitting pretty in preseason rankings, and with an early December meeting between the Huskies and Hounds, the 7AA dogfight will name its frontrunner early on.

The third power in 7AA, Cloquet, also had a solid showing in Edina. The Jacks, in my mind, are a step behind East and Andover in both star power and depth, but not so far in either that they don’t have a fighting chance at winning the section. There is also the small matter of their head coach following Kevin Smalley’s third arrest for driving while intoxicated and subsequent ouster. Just one year after an abrupt end to a long coaching career, Cloquet will endure another change at the top. There is a fair amount of politicking going on behind the scenes in all of this, and the outcome will have a lot to say about the future of Lumberjack hockey.

Elsewhere, there are rumblings of a power shift in the West Metro. Minnetonka, the defending state champs, will begin the season as #1, and have only reloaded. But beyond that, there are questions. Edina, down a couple of players to early defections, will try to put together a redeem team; while there’s still plenty in the tank for 2018-2019, the future beyond this season is as uncertain as it’s been in 15 years for the Hornets. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, after a two-year down cycle, is on the up and up, and Blake is looking to make waves and fill the void left by Breck’s decline in a certain private school niche. Eden Prairie has more Mittelstadts, Wayzata has the predictability of Pat O’Leary hockey, and Holy Family has had another successful offseason shopping spree. Cretin-Derham Hall, which is not in the West Metro but is stuck in a section with teams that are, will have its best team since Ryan McDonagh roamed the Raider blue line over a decade ago. After a period of relative public school power, the pendulum may be swinging back toward some of the privates in the Metro. The mix of rising contenders and the staying power of the old guard could give 2AA and 6AA as many as 10 teams in the top 25.

Usually, early defections to junior hockey to come from schools that don’t have great odds at a Tournament berth, or from teams that are so deep that they can stand to lose a player or two and still be front-line contenders. This season, however, the relatively low number of departures to date are instead sapping some teams that otherwise might have been home runs. Maple Grove, for example, could have been the next super team if not for three defections this offseason. While the Crimson may still be the frontrunner in 5AA, that squad is not what it could have been. Moorhead could have been a shoo-in in 8AA with Ethan Frisch; without him, 8AA starts to get murky. If Ben Helgeson bolts from Hill-Murray, the Pioneers will still be favored in a thin 4AA, but are more likely than not to continue a State Tournament losing streak that now sits at eight straight. The deep AA sections seem to get stronger while the thinner sections grow weaker.

While the wars brew in the West Metro, much of the rest of the Metro is more predictable. Andover has assumed frontrunner status on the north side, the east in need of someone to emerge to challenge Hill’s supremacy, and the Lakevilles are once again the default top two in 1AA. If I had to find a source of unexpected intrigue, I’d point to 3AA, where rising Rosemount may have enough pieces to win the thing, and Eagan should see its stock climb as well. St. Thomas Academy remains the frontrunner there, but is in need of a jolt to break out of its lengthening string of playoff upset losses.

Elite League rosters also came out this past week, and unsurprisingly, Minnetonka and Duluth East dominate the list for most players. The usual debates over the number of younger players taken have ensued, and there was also some justified angst over seeming competitive imbalance when the Team Southwest roster was revealed. What good does it do anyone to load up a Metro Elite League team like that? At any rate, we’re just over a month from the beginning of that action, which provides another teaser of what’s to come. Until then, we have a summer to enjoy.

On a closing note, this Tweet may be the most Northern Minnesota Hockey thing I have ever seen, and it is marvelous.