Tag Archives: duluth east

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.

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.

Rising to the Occasion

2 Mar

The drama never fails. For the fifth time in six years, the 7AA final went to overtime. Amsoil Arena rose to a fevered pitch, with girls screaming on every rush, and the stage was set for another kid to write himself into Minnesota high school hockey lore. This time, the hero was one of the more likely ones: Ryder Donovan, who pumped home a no-doubt game-winner in the first minute of overtime. It was the Hounds’ second consecutive title, their ninth in the past 11 years, the 18th under Mike Randolph, and 24th in the history of the program. The legacy writes itself, and Donovan, the senior captain headed to his third Tournament in five years, is a fitting bearer of the torch.

The regular season had its share of tumult. East beat one State Tournament entrant and tied two more, but also lost to teams like Prior Lake and Champlin Park. When not disrupted by bad weather, East pulled things together toward the end and entered the playoffs on a strong note. But questions lingered, and to advance to State, they had to get past two quality opponents. While Cloquet had a similarly frustrating regular season, the Lumberjacks had enough talent to make things interesting, plus a rivalry factor; ten minutes into the game, it looked like they would give the Hounds everything they could handle. And Andover, a top four team all season long, deserved favorite status in 7AA. They’d beaten the Hounds in the regular season, and were deep and dangerous at every position. But neither team could finish it, and 7AA’s goliath claimed another title.

The star of the section run was Ricky Lyle, who accounted for eight of East’s 16 playoff goals, and assisted on five more. The tenacious forward has a flair for the dramatic, and coupled his sniping with a barrage of nasty hits. His scoring-opening against both Cloquet and Andover set the tone, and showed the Hounds would go blow-for-blow with their opponents; his second one against the Huskies swung the momentum in East’s favor. He drew the penalty that set up Donovan’s game-winner, and slipped his teammate a perfect pass to seal a section title. Over four seasons at East, Lyle has found ways to always put himself in the middle of the action, and is playing his way toward a brighter hockey future.

Donovan, too, rose to the occasion. As with his team, his season had its ups and downs, but his prodigious talent shined most in the semis against Cloquet, where he was a one-man wrecking crew on the penalty kill. He set up Lyle on a first shorthanded rush and then finished one of his own thirty seconds later, a dagger that took all the life out of the Lumberjacks. In the section final, battling an illness, he made his presence felt up and down the ice, double-shifting to keep his calming presence out there. Whatever his goal total may be, his skating ability and hands put him in a truly elite class, and in the biggest moment of his season, he didn’t miss.

In a season where their rivals had every chance to derail the defending section champs, the Hounds separated themselves with senior leadership. With 12 seniors on the playoff roster, had the physical maturity to wear down opponents, and they’d been down this road before. Plenty of teams would have folded after giving up a game-tying power play goal midway through the third period, but it never felt like a serious shift in momentum. East went back to work: their top players in particular refused to cave. Not once were they caught up in the moment, while Andover coach Mark Manney said many of his players were.

Much of the credit for East’s success should go to the rebuilt defense. Ever the backbone of a Randolph-coached team, the Hounds came into this season with little experience on the blue line. F.H. Paine was the star of the unit, a two-way playmaker whose open-ice hits might be the nastiest in the state. But Carson Cochran added a veteran presence, E.J. Hietala showed tremendous growth over the course of the season, and Jayson Hagen returned from injury around midseason and was a rock in his own end. If that group could break out reliably, I thought, this group could beat Andover, and they did so just often enough.

‘Just enough’ was the theme of the night. While the Hounds have encountered a few Grand Rapids and Elk River teams over the past decade that had more top-end talent, this Andover team was the first opponent over that time frame that could legitimately outskate an East team, top to bottom. Their forward corps was three lines deep, Ben Fritsinger was one of the state’s very best goalies, and the puck control of the defense, led by junior Wyatt Kaiser, was elite. But East’s physical play did enough to disrupt them, and by driving traffic to the net, they made Fritsinger look mortal. Thursday’s final was only the second game all season in which he gave up more than two goals. Brody Rabold, meanwhile, did just enough to win, and the rest of the Hounds’ supporting cast chipped in here and there as well, from Jack Fitzgerald’s go-ahead goal to Brendan Baker’s strong night all over the ice.

Fortune did not frown upon the Hounds, either. Lyle’s second goal of the night, which tied the game at two, took a convenient bounce off his leg. The referees made their presence felt throughout the game, first by calling nothing in the early going to enable a physical war, and then by suddenly inserting themselves in the middle of the third period. This broke both ways, and each team, when gifted a power play opportunity, finished immediately. Andover’s came at an opportune time to tie the game in the third after East had appeared to enter lockdown mode, and East’s came in overtime. The Hounds never relinquished the puck, and Donovan finished just eight seconds in to the man advantage.

East heads to State as the 5-seed, and will open in the late game against St. Thomas Academy, a rematch of the 2015 thriller in which the Hounds came back from 3-0 and 5-2 deficits to win in overtime. Their side of the bracket, which also features Moorhead and top-ranked Edina, is brutal, but just about everything a fan of high school hockey could ask for in terms of juicy matchups in the quarterfinals and semifinal. The Hounds won’t be a favorite on paper, but they probably will be in the arena, and they should make this week a memorable one, in one way or another. St. Paul, here we come.

Snowbound Hounds

13 Feb

Winter has been cruel to us hockey fans this season. Never before has the end of a Duluth East regular season felt so incomplete: Tuesday night’s game with Maple Grove, a showdown with a top ten team that would reveal the team’s trajectory heading into the playoffs, fell victim to the incessant snow piling up all across Minnesota. Tack on the loss of a game to Lakeville South the previous week, and East has played just three games in the season’s final three weeks. While they’ve played well of late, these Hounds are as much of a mystery heading into sections as any East team I’ve seen.

At my last check-in on this blog, the team was sitting comfortably in the top ten. They’d taken a few lumps but were still in the general area we all thought they were at the start of the season. Three losses in their next four games, including a brutal road trip to the west and rock-bottom in an ugly effort against Prior Lake, changed the narrative somewhat. The team’s season was on the brink. Over on the forum, I authored a somewhat snippy post that demanded certain changes.

The Hounds have responded with four straight wins. None of their opponents were elite, but they have looked better with each effort. It began with a solid game against a top 20 Eagan team that nearly got away from them before an overtime win, a solid takedown of Elk River, a stout defensive effort against Cloquet, and then a demolition of Superior.

The defense, my largest concern coming into the season, has been sound in recent weeks. A healthy Jayson Hagen has helped balance out a relatively inexperienced group, and while F.H. Paine remains its lone real offensive weapon, this group is smart and avoids making many mistakes. With that foundation in place, the offense has started to come. I am pleased with Mike Randolph’s new lines, which do a good job of balancing different talents and creating three lines that can do some damage. The most noticeable since the shift, in only by the sheer size of its constituents, is the top line of Jacob Jeannette, Jonathan Jones, and Ryder Donovan. Aside from being one of the tallest lines in state history, it has a nice balance of skill surprising speed for its size. It can steamroll opponents into submission, and seems to headline the new East identity.

Jeannette’s emergence over the past month is perhaps the most positive development for East’s offense. The sophomore’s use of his solid body makes him unique for such a young player, and he has the speed and skill to work with Donovan and give him the complementary piece he needs. Perhaps not coincidentally, Donovan has begun to finish a bit more in these past few games, and his control over games has seemed that much more complete. This line’s success allows Randolph to drape his talented upperclassmen across the second and third lines, which can skate with any of their equivalents in the state. Ricky Lyle, Logan Anderson, and Jack Fitzgerald form a potent second line, while Brendan Baker anchors the third line alongside Charlie Erickson. The one possibly unsettled spot is the third forward on the third line, where Zarley Ziemski and now Nolan Aleff have seen some time.

We still need to see how these new arrangements hold up against top-end competition. One of East’s edges over its Northwest Suburban rivals for the 7AA crown in recent seasons, I’ve believed, is their schedule, which has continued to include quality games up to the end while Elk River and Andover closed with the dregs of their conference. With East’s lack of games down the stretch, any battle-tested edge there may be nullified. I also still have genuinely no idea who will get the nod in net between Lukan Hanson and Brody Rabold once the playoffs start. (Of late, it’s been a good problem to have: both have been solid, with Rabold carrying much of the load in January and the now-healthy Hanson’s more measured sense of control adding a calming presence in his two recent starts.) There’s still some concern that the lack of offense could reappear at the worst possible time.

7AA, however, appears pretty straightforward, barring some odd twist in the QRF seeding formula following Grand Rapids’ late surge. East is going to open the playoffs with Duluth Marshall and, assuming no catastrophes against a team they beat 8-3 in December, will probably collide with Cloquet in the 7AA semifinals. The Lumberjacks are injury-battered and have mustered just one goal in seven periods against the Hounds this season, so their appearance in this game may not even be certain. But if they get better special teams play and a few breaks in a chaotic playoff environment, they’re good enough to give East a run. If the Hounds get by that one, their season will come down to a rematch with Andover, the team they beat in overtime in last season’s final and lost to in overtime in December. That December meeting at Andover was a dead-even game, with a slight territorial edge to the Hounds before they started coughing up odd-man rushes in the extra frame. If the reinforced defense and new line combinations are indeed a genuine improvement, there is good reason to like East at Amsoil.

Andover, however, has shown few signs of a let-up, with only two hiccups down the stretch. The first was a game played in the -20s in Bemidji against the then-top ranked team in the state, and featured a goalie change that coach Mark Manney will not make in a playoff game; I thought they were the superior team 5-on-5 against a Minnetonka team that had little trouble dispatching of East. The other, more concerning result was an 8-2 loss to Blaine. While East well knows that any team can have an off night, that one does at least raise some questions about what will happen if things start to snowball in a playoff game for the Huskies, as they are still very new to this whole favorite status. They can match the Hounds’ depth and have more speed and skill on the back end, but can they rise to the occasion and make their first State Tournament?

Enough with the speculation, and enough of the tinkering. This is the time of the year that Randolph builds his teams for, and it’s time for East to show its playoff mettle.

One More Piece

13 Jan

As the Duluth East boys’ hockey team concludes an adventurous homestand, now seems an appropriate time for a midseason assessment. The team sits at 10-3-2 through 15 games, a showing that has them firmly in the top ten but hovering outside the very top tier of teams. Two of those losses are to the top two teams in the state, with a narrow loss to Andover in overtime and a much less narrow defeat at the hands of Minnetonka in early January. (The less said about the other loss, the better.) 1-1 ties with Eden Prairie and Blaine, on the other hand, seem to peg the Hounds accurately at this point in the season: right on par with a couple of teams that have the talent to go deep into March, but still in search of that missing ingredient to tip them over the top.

The rap on this squad so far has been its inconsistent offensive output. While they have occasional outbursts—seven goals against Stillwater, six against Grand Rapids, five against Lakeville North—they have a lot of plodding, low-scoring games. Midway through this past week’s Grand Rapids, when the Hounds were sitting at three goals in their past 80 minutes against weaker competition, speculation began to mount if their shot conversion rate could be historically bad. East has outshot every opponent this season save Minnetonka, but rarely do they put them away, and at times have to fight back from unexpected early deficits. This isn’t a wild surprise to anyone who’s watched Duluth East hockey over the years; excepting seasons when they have overwhelming offensive talent such as last season, the Randolph-Olson-Toninato teams at the start of the decade, and the dynastic mid-90s Dave Spehar teams, Greyhound hockey under Mike Randolph plays defense first. The team works its systems all season long, all with an eye to late February.

By mid-January, however, things should start to settle into form, and after half a season of endless tinkering, Randolph appears to have settled on several, if not all, of his lines. Ricky Lyle and Jonathan Jones are a heavy combination on the second line, which comes out against other teams’ top units, and with Logan Anderson centering things, they’ve got some offensive flair, too. Jacob Jeanette is becoming a force on the third line, and they’ve got some cards up their sleeve thanks to their depth, with Exhibit A being Zarley Ziemski, who came up to varsity to log a hat trick against Stillwater. The power play, while fairly pedestrian statistically so far, has started generating much better looks since Ryder Donovan moved to the circle, leaving Frederick Hunter Paine alone atop the umbrella.

On one front, the Hounds have improved: they are finally nearly healthy. There was a moment of collective fear in the Heritage Center when Paine went down clutching his side early in the Minnetonka game. After a two-game absence Paine returned to the lineup against Eden Prairie, and while he wasn’t quite throwing his weight around to the fullest extent, his presence was obvious. With all due respect to Ryder Donovan, Paine is unique on this team: he’s the only true offensive defenseman, and his physical play can change a game’s dynamics. He would have been very difficult to replace.

With Paine returning to health and Jayson Hagen also entering the lineup for the first time after a lengthy injury, East’s defense is finally rounding into form. Senior EJ Hietala has stepped up into a steady role, and sophomore Garrett Johnson has emerged as a reliable contributor with some offensive ability. Depth on defense was my biggest concern heading into the season, but if the Eden Prairie game is any indication, this team can feel fairly confident in its top six. None of them are going to light up the scoreboard the way Luke LaMaster did a season ago, but no one is asking them to do that; they just need to make smart decisions within the system and choose their moments to jump into the play.

Goaltending was another question mark heading into the season, and Randolph stuck with a three-man rotation through much of the season. Now, however, an injury to Lukan Hanson and raw statistics appear to have temporarily settled the matter: Brody Rabold has come out of nowhere to claim the starting job, and continues to put together strong performances. Randolph’s notoriously short leash come back out if Rabold ever hits a road bump, but for the time being, they appear to have a reliable goalie.

If the situation in back is indeed solidifying, this team’s fortunes down the stretch will rest on its offensive production. The elephant in the room here is Donovan, whose 22 points lead the team but still don’t seem quite commensurate with his many talents. His line, which lately has also featured Jack Fitzgerald and Brendan Baker, needs to start carrying more of the scoring load for this team to make a deep run. The kid has a lot of pressure on him, but the skillset and effort are there; now, it’s just a matter of finding some chemistry and making smart choices as the stakes get ever higher. As good as Andover has been, and as dangerous as Cloquet can be, I think 7AA is East’s to lose if they can find this final piece of the puzzle.

And so the Hounds head into the home stretch. With the long homestand at an end, East meanders west this upcoming week into 8AA territory to face Brainerd and Moorhead. The rest of the season features a bunch of good-but-not-great metro squads that will be good tests of their ability to put away mid-level teams, plus two road rivalry contests against section opponents who are also in that tier in Cloquet and Elk River. The regular season will end with a bang, as they face another front-end opponent in Maple Grove. The tinkering period is coming to an end, and now this East team will have to rise or fall on the strength of the players it has.

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.

Active Former Hounds, 2018

3 Sep

As I do every year, here’s a check-in on the post-high school hockey careers of all active former Greyhounds. The numbers all come from HockeyDB. Asterisks denote players who left East early.

Zack Fitzgerald (’04 D)* Fitzgerald’s lengthy career, which has included long stints in the WHL and AHL, a single NHL game, and the past four seasons in England, continued much as it had before. The now 33-year-old defenseman continues to amass the penalty minutes, though his 181 this past season was his lowest total in a decade. Maybe he’s mellowing with age.

Cade Fairchild (’07 D)* The former Gopher defenseman, another early departure who had a cup of coffee in the NHL, completed a second season with Rogle BK in Sweden. This coming season he’ll be making his way back to the Russian KHL, where he spent two seasons earlier this decade back when he first came over to Europe.

Derek Forbort (’10 D)* Forbort’s second full season in the NHL was as very similar to his first, with the exact same point total (18) and comparable penalty minutes. Now 26, he’s established himself as an NHL regular top four defenseman, and made good on his much-hyped days as a Greyhound.

Andy Welinski (’11 D)* Welinski made his NHL debut this season, appearing in ten games for the Anaheim Ducks (including three in the playoffs) and collecting two assists in the process. The former UMD Bulldog spent the remainder of his season with the San Diego Gulls in the AHL, where he was highly productive, with 10 goals and 24 assists in 51 games, making him their fifth leading scorer. He should continue to get his chances to stick in the big show this coming season.

Dom Toninato (’12 F) Toninato was the second former Greyhound to make his NHL debut this past season, as he appeared in 37 games for the Colorado Avalanche. He played a lower-line depth role and had just two assists, but became a fixture in the Avalanche lineup, and perhaps the production will follow now that he’s established himself somewhat. He also had 12 points in 35 games for the San Antonio Rampage in the AHL.

Jake Randolph (’12 F) The ever-consistent Randolph rounded out his four-year career at Nebraska-Omaha with a 26-point season, equaling his production on a deeper team his freshman year, and finishing with 97 in his career. The former AP Player of the Year then signed on with the Worcester Railers of the ECHL, where he played in 11 games before the season wrapped up. We’ll see where his professional career goes from here.

Trevor Olson (’12 F) Olson once again was a lower-line fixture for North Dakota in his senior season, collecting 12 points as he wrapped up his Fighting Hawk career. Like his former linemate Randolph, he made the jump to the ECHL upon the conclusion of his college career, and appeared in eight games for the South Carolina Stingrays.

Meirs Moore (’13 D) Moore continues to be a semi-regular presence in the lineup at the D-I Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, where the defenseman had four points in 19 games. One of the highest-scoring Hounds defensemen of all time now heads into his senior season at RPI.

Conner Valesano (’13 F)* Valesano had a second steady season at UW-Stout, where he led the Blue Devils’ three-man Duluth East Class of 2013 contingent with 11 points and cut down drastically on his penalty minutes.

Jack Forbort (’13 F) Forbort also had a respectable sophomore campaign at Stout, where he had eight points in 25 games.

Alex Toscano (’13 F) Toscano matched his longtime teammate Forbort in production in his sophomore year, and also put together a healthy heap of minutes in the sin bin.

Hogan Davidson (’13 F) Davidson put together a strong sophomore campaign at D-III Nichols College in Massachusetts. He collected 20 points, good for sixth on his team, as it amassed an 18-9-3 record. While he never put up big points as a Hound due to their depth during his time there and an untimely injury his senior season, his productivity beyond high school is no surprise to anyone who remembers his work rate on the ice.

Phil Beaulieu (’14 D) While Beaulieu had a strong freshman year at Northern Michigan, his sophomore effort was a true breakout campaign, as he led the nation in scoring among college defensemen. He scored 11 goals and added 31 assists for 42 total points. Add this career to the pile that was entirely predictable based on the way he controlled games during high school.

Alex Trapp (’14 D) Trapp’s sophomore year at St. Thomas saw more limited playing time, with nine total games and no points to his name.

Nick Altmann (’15 F) Altmann had a strong third season in the NAHL, collecting 27 points in 58 games with the Minnesota Wilderness in Cloquet. The 2015 Greyhound captain parlayed that success into a D-III opportunity at Williams College in Massachusetts.

Ash Altmann (’16 F) Nick Altmann’s younger brother also played for the Wilderness this past season, and put up six goals and six assists in 38 games.

Luke Dow (’16 F) Dow, another member of the Greyhounds’ Wilderness club, had the most productive season of any Greyhound currently playing junior hockey, as he finished third on the team with 42 points. Another strong season should lead to a college opportunity of some sort, so we’ll see where he winds up.

Shay Donovan (’16 D) After appearing for the Wilderness in four games, Donovan spent most of the season lending his steady defensive presence to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre of the NAHL, where he had eight points.

Alex Spencer (’16 D) Spencer divided his NAHL time between Shreveport and the Wilderness, where the defensive defenseman finished with 10 points across 54 games. He’ll join D-III Wisconsin-Superior this coming winter.

Reid Hill (’17 D) The only addition to the list this season from the Class of 2017, Hill spent his season in the NAHL, where he got in four games with the Wilderness (if you’re counting, that’s six ex-Greyhounds who played at least one game there last season), but spent most of his time with the Janesville Jets, and put up seven points.

That does it for the 2018 edition of this feature. We’ll check in again next summer.