Tag Archives: hockey

MN HS AA Rankings for 1/12/20

12 Jan

Due to an outage on the USHSHO forum, weekly rankings are appearing here this week. Apologies for the interruption in regularly scheduled programming.

Well, so much for this getting any easier as the season went along.

1. Eden Prairie (11-2-1)

-First off, let’s acknowledge what the Eagles are not: they are not an elite, surefire #1 on the level of recent state champions like Edina or Minnetonka. We should not be surprised that this team needs to fight to scrape out one-goal wins against teams like Cloquet, whatever the rankings may say. That’s just how tight things are this season, and beyond their star players, it gets thin pretty quickly. What the Eagles are, however, is a team that continues to collect plenty of decent wins while suffering only a few losses, and they’re also the only team that can claim to have a cavalry on its way later this season, when Jackson Blake finally becomes eligible and Carter Batchelder becomes healthy. If they can survive four tough games over the next two weeks, they’ll certainly have earned this spot.

This week: Thurs vs. #10 Minnetonka, Sat vs. St. Michael-Albertville

2. Moorhead (13-3-1)

-I almost found it in me to put the Spuds at #1, but an overtime win over St. Cloud, which continues a run of tough games against section opponents, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. They are often even less controlling of big games than Eden Prairie, so hence my skepticism, but the East Grand Forks win was another in a growing collection of quality wins. They head to Duluth in their only action this week.

This week: Sat at Duluth East

3. Blake (12-3)

-Give this team its due as it heads down the stretch: they’ve now won eight in a row, and while the schedule hasn’t been the hardest, they’ve beaten just about everyone with authority, which is not something any other team is doing right now. They deserve some hype as they head into their Hockey Day appearance.

This week: Tues at Burnsville, Sat vs. #14 Blaine (Hockey Day)

4. Andover (10-3-1)

-The Huskies received the kiss of death last week and both lost and tied in the past week. A narrow defeat at the hands of the defending Class A champs isn’t overly concerning in my book; failing to beat middling Totino-Grace, on the other hand, sounds some alarm bells. The Maple Grove rematch this week will be instructive.

This week: Tues at #6 Maple Grove, Thurs at Armstrong/Cooper, Sat at Anoka

5. Rosemount (13-3)

-The Irish had a chance to claim the top spot when Andover lost, but blew it in a loss to Lakeville North. They rebounded with a convincing win over Eastview, which has value in the section. They haven’t allowed more than two goals in their last six, which is the right formula for this squad to make a deep run; they just have to avoid total outages offensively to continue winning. They continue with conference play this week.

This week: Thurs vs. Burnsville, Sat vs. Shakopee

6. Maple Grove (10-3)

-The actually somewhat consistent Crimson picked up a win over Centennial to restore some order to 5AA seeding, but it wasn’t exactly the sort of effort that will quiet any doubters. They got run over by Andover in the teams’ first meeting, but with the Huskies now looking a little more vulnerable, we’ll see if the Crimson can improve on that result.

This week: Tues vs. #4 Andover, Thurs at Elk River, Sat vs. Rogers

7. White Bear Lake (10-2-1)

-The Bears picked up an important section win over Stillwater, but lost a chance to move up with a loss to Minnetonka. On paper they should roll through their next few weeks of section play, so they need to get it done here if they want to stay in the conversation as a top team.

This week: Thurs at Woodbury, Sat at Park (Cottage Grove)

8. Cretin-Derham Hall (11-3-1)

-The Raiders picked up methodical wins over Stillwater and Forest Lake and then rallied to pick up a quality tie with Hermantown. They’ve lost just once in their past 13, and their next four should probably be wins, too.

This week: Thurs at Mounds View, Sat at Woodbury

9. Prior Lake (9-4-2)

-This is the point where I just start making things up. A tie against Burnsville put a momentary damper on the Lakers’ run, but they turned it around with a quality win over Lakeville South later in the week. Statewide parity might just allow this team to arrive ahead of schedule and make a real run at 2AA. Road tests against Duluth East and Lakeville North could allow them to further cement a quality position.

This week: Tues at Duluth East, Thurs at Lakeville North, Sat at Farmington

10. Minnetonka (8-7)

-The Skippers knocked off White Bear Lake and have now won seven of their last nine, which keeps them moving up these boards by virtue of their momentum; while they also have more losses, they’re also among the leaders in quality wins in the state right now. If they can keep that going against the top-ranked Eagles, things will suddenly be looking pretty rosy for a team that had fallen off a cliff about a month ago.

This week: Thurs at #1 Eden Prairie, Sat at Bloomington Jefferson

11. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (7-5-2)

-A shutout win over Hill was a step in the right direction for the Red Knights, and their upcoming schedule gives them a chance to build on it, too. If this offense is ever going to get on track in the way we thought it might back in November, now is the time.

This week: Thurs at Bloomington Jefferson, Sat vs. Chaska

12. Hill-Murray (9-4-2)

-Nothing is trending in the right direction for the Pioneers, who got shut out by Benilde and lost to a Mahtomedi team they’d beaten by five in December. This team is getting increasingly paradoxical after its hot start. The coming week which features a similarly inconsistent opponent and a Hastings team that just made a splash against another traditional AA power.

This week: Thurs vs. #13 Wayzata, Sat at Hastings

13. Wayzata (9-5-1)

-Trojans will be Trojans: a loss to St. Michael-Albertville hurts, and a narrow escape against a Buffalo team that the rest of the Lake has been slaughtering doesn’t exactly help the cause, either. This sort of lurch is par for the course with this program; the coming week gives them a chance to make their customary adjustment back in the other direction.

This week: Thurs at 1#12 Hill-Murray, Sat at Edina

14. Blaine (9-5)

-The Bengals took care of business against weaker Northwest Suburban opponents, which is something we really shouldn’t take for granted this season. An interesting Hockey Day test with chart-climbing Blake looms.

This week: Tues vs. Spring Lake Park, Sat at #3 Blake (Hockey Day)

15. Roseau (12-3)

-The Rams boosted their stock some with an impressive comeback win against previously undefeated Warroad. That’s the only game they’ve played against a quality team in either class over the past month, so they’re hard to gauge right now; their lone game this week will give us a bit more to work with.

This week: Tues at East Grand Forks

[u]The Next Ten[/u]

Edina (7-7-2)

-The Hornets suffered a tie to St. Michael-Albertville but recovered to record a quality win over Lakeville South. After producing little in recent weeks, the offense finally seemed to be on track some. We’ll see if they can keep that rolling against two beatable conference opponents this week.

Grand Rapids (7-5-1)

-The Thunderhawks had themselves a very positive week: they tied a very good Hermantown team, edged Duluth East in a key 7AA fight, and fought past Greenway to reclaim bragging rights in their greatest rivalry. A win over Cloquet on Tuesday can put them in firm control of the race for the 2-seed in 7AA.

Lakeville North (9-4-1)

-The Panthers engaged in the sort of nonsense that has defined this season over the past week, as they upset Rosemount before turning around and losing to Eagan. They can improve their station by doing something against Prior Lake this week.

Lakeville South (9-5)

-A week after looking like world-beaters, the Cougars had a rough week in which they lost to Prior Lake and Edina. Eagan and Eastview this coming week will be telling: is this team a front-liner in the South Suburban, or are they part of one very large, crowded conference?

Stillwater (8-3-1)

-While competitive, meetings with higher-ranked teams did not go well for the Ponies, as they fell to Cretin and White Bear; more glaringly, they tied Forest Lake after all of that. On paper they should win both of their conference games this week.

St. Michael-Albertville (6-6-2)

-The Knights had themselves a quality week with a tie against Edina and a win over Wayzata; at the very least, they’re showing they’re not overmatched by their new conference. Eden Prairie looms this coming week.

Burnsville (9-3-2)

-A tie with Prior Lake is a notable improvement on the Blaze’s previous meeting with the Lakers. This week is a good moment of truth, as they face Blake, Rosemount, and a lurking Eagan team.

Eagan (11-4)

-The Wildcats are starting to build some momentum after quality wins over Eastview and Lakeville North. They really haven’t been tested at all outside of the conference, but are collecting respectable wins and have a chance to make even more noise this coming week against Lakeville South and Burnsville.

Holy Family (7-7)

-Finally, a AA team that won two games with authority this past week! Okay, those wins came against Litchfield and Waconia, but we’ll take what we can get. The Delano game this week could be an interesting one, as the Tigers are coming off a good showing against St. Cloud Cathedral.

Duluth East (7-8)

-The Hounds slid down the table a bit following losses to Grand Rapids and Eden Prairie. The consistency just isn’t there, and they’re still looking for one obvious strength they could ride to more than a distant hope of an upset. The tests keep coming this week as they face sharp-looking Prior Lake and some Spuds.

[u]Sections[/u]

1AA

18 Lakeville North

19 Lakeville South

Hastings

Farmington

-This section has me contorting back and forth as I try to figure out where the Lakevilles stand in relation to the rest of the state and where the rest of the section stands in relation to the Lakevilles. North, with its win over South and South’s recent slide, is back on top; Rochester Century may win 20 games (and may get a higher seed because of it), but if we’re using traditional seeding criteria, the loss to Farmington makes it hard to put the Panthers higher than the 5-seed, despite this past week’s win over Owatonna. Next Saturday will be a defining day in this section, as Century and Hastings face off and the Lakevilles have their rematch.

2AA

1 Eden Prairie

9 Prior Lake

10 Minnetonka

Chaska

-How much does that holiday tournament loss to Chaska have to sting for Prior Lake? Without it, they’d be in the clubhouse with an undefeated record against 2AA competition. Even so, if Eden Prairie and Minnetonka split their Lake meetings, they may yet nab the top spot; if one of those teams sweeps, I’d give it the top seed. I think the top three are clear enough here, but the order they’ll fall in is still anyone’s guess. Chaska is hanging on the 4-seed ahead of Holy Family by virtue of that Prior Lake win right now.

3AA

5 Rosemount

22 Burnsville

23 Eagan

Eastview

-Could St. Thomas be starting the playoffs on the road? With losses to Rosemount and Eastview, it’s now a distinct possibility. Right now, things are making reasonable sense here, as Rosemount and Burnsville are both undefeated in section play and have a meeting looming this week; Eagan has lost to those two but beat Eastview. With plenty of South Suburban games left, though, there’s plenty of time for this section to fall into line and be a mess like all the others.

4AA

7 White Bear Lake

12 Hill-Murray

20 Stillwater

Mounds View

-Finally, a section with relative clarity: the Bears remain in control after a win over Stillwater. The only way I see the Bears falling from the top spot is with a Stillwater sweep of its remaining section games, in which case that Irondale loss would be a factor. The loser of the Stillwater-Hill game will likely be stuck with the 3-seed. Mounds View took a step toward the 4-seed with a win over East Ridge on Saturday.

5AA

6 Maple Grove

14Blaine

Centennial

Champlin Park

-With its sweep of Centennial, Maple Grove is back atop the heap in this one. The Maple Grove-Blaine rematch is next Thursday; both teams still control their own destiny here, while Centennial can go no higher than 2 with a win over Blaine. Champlin has a strong record but went 0-3 against the top 3 and has a test against Totino looming to decide the 4-seed.

6AA

3 Blake

8 Cretin-Derham Hall

11 Benilde-St. Margaret’s

13 Wayzata

16 Edina

-Nothing has fundamentally changed here since our pained check-in two weeks ago: these teams all remain 1-1 or 1-1-1 against each other, and any shifting is due only to placement in the overall rankings. That should change over the next two weeks, as we have the second of three Edina-Wayzata meetings and a big battle between Benilde and Blake. The winner of the Blake-Benilde game, barring a tailspin in non-section play, will have a good claim to the top seed; the Lake teams’ records may end up holding them back and leaving one, or even both, in the 4-5 game. A little clarity, please?

7AA

4 Andover

17 Grand Rapids

Cloquet

25 Duluth East

-A mercifully straightforward section: Andover is the state’s one sure 1-seed, and Grand Rapids has made strides toward the 2-seed. From here, everything really runs through the Jacks, who face Rapids twice and East for a second time in the coming weeks; they also have Forest Lake, which is looming in QRF. East has the Rangers next week also.

8AA

15 Roseau

2 Moorhead

21 St. Michael-Albertville

St. Cloud

-Can a team contend for #1 in the state and not the top seed in its own section? That might just be the case for Moorhead right now, though they have a chance to flip that if they can hang on to this spot over the next two weeks and beat Roseau in the process. STMA, though probably doomed to no more than a 3-seed, is certainly showing it can be dangerous. St. Cloud, with a win and a tie over Brainerd and a good showing against the Spuds, is now in position for the 4-seed.

Rebounding Hounds

15 Dec

Few things are as predictable in Minnesota high school hockey as Duluth East contention. The program boasts 67 consecutive winning seasons and hasn’t lost a quarterfinal game since 1993, by far the longest streaks of any team in high school hockey; it has appeared in 11 straight 7AA finals. A few games into the 2019-2020 season, all of that looked to be in jeopardy. It still may be, as one upset win doesn’t change everything. But the Greyhounds’ season is slowly taking shape, and as new players step up and Mike Randolph tries to find the right formula, they may yet have a say in the direction of section 7AA.

A casual observer probably wouldn’t recognize very many members of these new look Hounds. A huge senior class that featured several high-end talents graduated. Logan Anderson and Jacob Jeannette, who would have been two-thirds of a Greyhound top line this season, left for junior hockey. Charlie Erickson is only returning player who had double digit point totals last season, and Zarley Ziemski is the only other forward with anything resembling regular varsity ice time. The defense returns three semi-regular contributors a season ago, but none of them were really the leaders of that unit, and few things are harder to replace in high school hockey than an elite defenseman such as Hunter Paine. This is particularly true in the Duluth East system, which asks its defensemen to both be active in the offensive zone and hold up going the other direction when the forecheck breaks down.

That inexperience was clear in the Hounds’ first few games of the young season. They held up into the third period in games against solid teams from White Bear Lake and Wayzata, but things unraveled in the third period as their opponents wore them down and sprung odd-man rushes. After a win over Bemidji, a 7-1 loss to section rival Andover exposed these shortcomings in the extreme, and Randolph dug deep into his bag of mysterious game plans as the Huskies handed him his worst loss to a section opponent in 31 years behind the bench. Chastened, the Hounds came out looking much more like a traditional East team in a game against Cloquet, but those shaky moments on defense ultimately outweighed a sound forecheck and led to an overtime loss.

With a 1-4 record and no semblance of momentum, a battle with a top ten Blaine team this past Saturday looked to be a tall order. But the Hounds came out and showed they won’t go lightly. They paired the solid system play they showed in Cloquet with improved defensive performance and kept gameplay fairly even. Down 1-0 in the middle of the second period, the game could have slipped away, but instead the team went to work and collected two dirty goals before locking down, popping a pretty third goal, and adding a fluky empty netter to seal their finest win on the young season.

The Hounds’ formula for contention in spite of the changes is evident. Konrad Kausch has looked strong in goal, a vital backstop to the growing pains of a young defense. The top line of Erickson, Ziemski, and Finn Hoops is starting to generate some offense, and a second line anchored by Jack Fellman and Nolan Aleff has its moments of quality. The defense, for all its travails, combines some experienced seniors and a couple of underclassmen who are capable of putting up some points; Isaac Schweiger, inserted into the lineup for the Blaine game, was the unsung hero in that upset. Lest we forget, this junior class (plus Jeannette and Kausch) went on a run and finished second at PeeWee AA state a few years back, so the track record is there.

Elsewhere in 7AA, Grand Rapids opened with wins over Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Minnetonka, proving their young guns are capable of playing with some of the state’s top teams. Cloquet has also looked respectable and will ride star Christian Galatz as far as possible. Forest Lake is undefeated as of this writing, which will boost their standing in the QRF system that seeds the section, though they have yet to play a difficult opponent and have a tie against lowly Park of Cottage Grove. Right now, though, everyone is chasing the Andover juggernaut, a group defined by superb team speed and an elite top defensive pair. In their win over East they also showed a newfound physicality, adding an aspect to their game that had been missing in overtime section final losses to East the past two seasons. Taking down the Huskies will require an even more perfect game plan than a season ago; a complete team effort that combines a great goaltending effort, a defense that limits odd-man rushes, and an opportunistic offense willing to scrap for anything.

For now, though, we can delay any requiems for Duluth East: when they put it all together, they can compete. A week of home games that include two respectable but beatable teams, Centennial and Lakeville North, will be telling. They have a heap of important section games in the second half of the season, and will also get more contests against the state’s elite, from Eden Prairie to Maple Grove. With continued game-by-game progress, they could yet be a contender at the end.

Puck Drop 2019-2020

20 Nov

We’re finally here: the 2019-2020 season begins with its first few games tomorrow night. A preseason podcast and my AA rankings have already made their way out into the world, and my next task is to write a foreword for a book. If you need more hockey coverage to pass the time between now and puck drop, though, here are five storylines as we head into a new decade of high school hockey.

Changing of the Guard? Three perennial State Tournament contenders, Edina, St. Thomas, and Duluth East, have been decimated by graduation and departure; while they will remain relevant to varying degrees, this season has a chance to bring out a lot of new faces. The top teams in St. Thomas and East’s sections, Rosemount and Andover, respectively, have never been to AA State; Edina’s chief antagonists include a Benilde team that has only been twice in AA and a Blake team that’s never been. These aren’t minor transitions, either: every one of those teams is a state title contender in a pretty open race. History tells us the old powers don’t go quietly, but there is a chance at a lot of fresh blood in the AA Tourney this season.

Eagles in Formation? Eden Prairie is #1, and its collection of star power on the defending runners-up is among the more impressive out there. The questions begin right after that, though. With Mason Langenbrunner arriving from Cloquet, Ben Steeves from New Hampshire, and Jackson Blake up from bantams via Shattuck, there are legitimate questions as to how this team will jell. There’s also very little varsity experience beyond their collection of stars. Can they get enough out of some very green depth players to hold up against the other top few teams, most of which can go at least three lines deep?

Defense wins championships? The unifying trend across the top AA teams is the quality of the defense. Headliners like Eden Prairie’s Luke Mittelstadt (now united with Langenbrunner), Benilde’s Nate Schweitzer, Andover’s Wyatt Kaiser, and Rosemount’s Jake Ratzlaff will get the attention, but these teams are all deep in back, capable of rolling two or three pairs and confident they won’t see a drop-off. Goals could be at a premium in some marquee matchups this season. And in a year when defense may lead the way, who can get the most out of their forwards?

The Lake gets deeper For years, the Lake Conference has been the undisputed cream of the crop in Minnesota, and the small size of this five-team festival allowed its powers to load up on nonconference schedules that were always the best in the state. Now, though, things are changing: St. Michael-Albertville and Buffalo, two interesting though hardly top-tier programs, have joined the fray. The powers now have smaller nonconference slates, which creates less crossover and sets up a little more ranking intrigue; the changes will also spare us three annual Edina-Eden Prairie meetings. I, for one, am glad to see a new wrinkle in a conference that tended to feel repetitive by season’s end.

A Class A Slugfest If AA is fairly open this season, Class A is a different, though equally enticing story: the front-end talent on the top three teams is the best it’s been in years. Defending champ St. Cloud Cathedral returns most of its core, Hermantown boasts Blake Biondi and Joey Pierce, and East Grand Forks has loaded up with some star young talents and an acquisition from North Dakota. If those three make it through to semifinal Friday in March, we’ll have a few heavyweight fights to decide a state title.

It’s not always that easy, though: throw in some added intrigue up north with rising Warroad, ever-present Thief River Falls, Greenway’s continued relevance, and a peaking Eveleth group, and we have the makings of some good races. Outside of steady Mahtomedi, the metro sections of Class A feel as unsettled as they ever have, which leaves an opening for someone new to crash the party. My fun pick to watch this season, though, is a North Branch team that has a shot at being the first seeded team from 5A in its present form.

As always, follow along as you please and send your thoughts my way. I’m headed to the Twin Cities this weekend to catch my first few games of the season, and action in the Duluth area will begin in earnest after Thanksgiving. See you at the rink!

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.

Doggedness

15 Apr

The University of Minnesota Duluth claimed its third national championship this past Saturday, its second in a row in a run of three straight national title game appearances. Unlike many Duluthians, I have no personal ties to UMD save living in the same city as its campus, and as I’m still eagerly awaiting the creation of a hockey program at my alma mater (I expect I’ll be waiting a while), their exploits provide reliable entertainment in the meantime. College hockey, in my book, will never match the intensity and the pageantry of the high school game, but I make a handful of Bulldog games each season, and when two-thirds of the national champion’s roster is comprised of Minnesotans, I’ll know a thing or two about the players on the ice.

Several of their key players were true Minnesota high school stars who I saw many times in their glory days. Hunter Shepard put together some of the most dominant goaltending performances I’ve ever seen when in high school at Grand Rapids. (Anyone looking to beat him really should hire Mike Randolph as a temporary consultant.) I first saw Scott Perunovich when he was a sophomore at Hibbing, where he immediately awed me by saucing passing on to the tape of his teammates’ sticks from 100 feet away. This didn’t stop the Hibbing mom in front of me from informing him he was a puck hog all game long, but his boundless talent was obvious. But there was also Nick Wolff, who lit up a couple of Musketeers in the championship game; I remember his Eagan coach, Mike Taylor, calling him a “human rain delay” when he wandered into a press conference a bit behind schedule. Dylan Samberg emulated Kyle Schmidt’s 2011 NCAA championship snow angel after he scored an overtime championship-winner of his own for Hermantown in 2017, and between his two titles as a Hawk and two at UMD, his past four seasons have ended in championships. Not a bad run.

This Frozen Four, the Bulldogs forsook the Schmidt-style drama and just overpowered opponents. Their games in the regional final in Allentown were more stressful than the final two in Buffalo; lulled into a trap, it appeared they might face the exits against scrappy Bowling Green in the first round. But after a convenient bounce knotted it up, the game never seemed in doubt. This group has a superb record in close games in recent playoff games, a testament to both a lack of panic and a steady system that relies on the team’s depth to grind opponents into submission. Once they’d staked themselves to an early lead in the national championship game, they settled into a sequence of steady offensive zone cycles that we Duluth East fans watch all season long, controlling the puck and probing for more. I’m biased, but I can’t name a more appealing style of hockey than that steady, physical brand of northern Minnesota control.

The title cements UMD’s place atop the college hockey ladder for the time being. Scott Sandelin has built a powerhouse on the hill overlooking Lake Superior, and he has done it through a steady process that draws attention only via the results on the ice. While his first two Frozen Fours had a handful of standout players who really elevated the team, that 2011 title put the Dogs on elite recruiting footing. Their depth now is such that no single Bulldog really stands out above the rest, and they can bring a relentless assault from four lines and six defensemen. They can afford to absorb good-but-not-great point totals from the likes of a Riley Tufte, who’s a reliable contributor but not the Casey Middelstadt-level first-rounder some expected him to be. And while they lose a few players to the pros early, as all college teams now do, there’s also some tradition of sticking around that players like Andy Welinski, Alex Iafallo, and Dom Toninato established in the years preceding these titles. Winning culture feeds on itself.

UMD also sits in one of the most attractive recruiting grounds in college hockey, and Sandelin has taken full advantage. While they’ll never claim every local star, they now keep many who previously might have looked elsewhere. (As one who left and came back myself, I will never begrudge the Dave Spehars and Ryder Donovans of the world for trying different paths.) The Bulldogs run a drama-free program, which is no small feat. Sandelin’s accolades are piling up now that he’s joined an elite group of coaches with three national titles, and opportunity may come knocking, though I could also see him being too content with what he’s built at UMD to consider moving on. He’s become an unassuming local legend, and I may even forgive him for choosing to live in Hermantown. (All joking aside, that relationship has been a beneficial match, both as a recruiting pipeline for the Bulldogs and as an attraction to that city in a swamp behind the mall.)

For now, even us Duluthians who aren’t born-and-bred Bulldogs (or, perhaps, bulldogs of a different litter) can thank this group for bringing glory to our city. They’ve done it the right way, they’ve done it with style, and while NCAA playoff hockey can be the ficklest of the major college sports, on paper, there’s no reason to think the success will slow down anytime soon. Right now, Duluth can stake a claim to the hockey capital of America, and don’t think we won’t revel in that crown for as long as we can.

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 Reflection 2019

13 Mar

Less than a week after it all comes to an end, it seems like some other life left behind. I’ve recovered some sleep and escaped the comedown, but my mind is still caught up in my annual reunion with good friends and those once-a-year acquaintances who make their way to St. Paul for four days. From Eveleth to Mahtomedi, from Pine City to Plymouth, from the old Duluth crew to people who come from across the country for just this week, we all unite for our annual revival. Sleepless nights and marathon days, the rhythm of the commute to and from the X, the circuits around the concourse to bring life back to sleeping legs, to say nothing of the revelations that come late at night at Eagle Street. A few moments of wonder pierce through the mad blur and endure beyond those 96 hours, and as always, I look to collect a few of them before my memory fails me.

A steady exodus of old powers and one colossal section final upset left Class A as fresh as it has ever felt. Debutants came in from North Branch and a stretch along the Minnesota River to show their newfound puck pride; Mahtomedi found itself in a new favorite status, while Delano suddenly looks like a program on the rise. The small school division crowned a first-time champion, a ruthlessly efficient St. Cloud Cathedral team that left little doubt over three days that they had the formula down right. Derrick Brown and his merry band set a new standard for Class A, and we can expect them at noon on Saturday again in the near future.

In AA, an old guard that has ruled this past decade took home most of the hardware. The Lake Conference guaranteed its eight title in eleven years before the title game even began. St. Thomas Academy’s Vannellis, in their final season, finally broke through to a semifinal, their Cadets bringing a physical and defensive edge that had eluded them in AA quarterfinals past. The Cadets in the stands brought a refreshing energy to their student section and livened up an unusually straightforward Friday night. Lakeville South made a valiant push for a third stunning upset in a decade behind Henry Welsch, whose performance in net pushed toward the record books and came close to derailing Eden Prairie before their run began. But Jack Jensen spared us the chaos of a morning restart with a game-winner late in the third overtime, and the Eagles took flight the next night against Blaine as they stormed back to topple the powerful Bengals.

For a stretch on Saturday night, it looked as if Eden Prairie’s depth would lift the Eagles to a state title. But Edina, ever the gold standard for Minnesota high school hockey, lived up to their legacy yet again. The Hornets stung twice in the third to take the lead, but the Eagles had an answer. Seize the moment, Peter Colby: the unsung senior buried a feed from Jett Jungels and added his name to a list that includes just one other in the two-class era, that of Kyle Rau. Beneath a blanket of snow on championship Saturday, the Hornet revelers took to the icy streets to celebrate a thirteenth crown in fifty-one years.

As always, a handful of players rose to the occasion. Greenway’s Casadonte Lawson dazzled against the background of his brother’s kidney transplant, and his pairing with Ben Troumbly gave the Tourney its most dynamic duo since perhaps Locker and Spehar. Jon Bell recovered from his introduction adventure to claim a spot on the All-Tournament Team. For the AA finalists, glory fell to the less famed names: Clayton Shultz, Louden Hogg, and Colby all took their turns stealing the spotlight from their teams’ established stars. In its swan song, the All-Hockey Hair Team video captured a full range of flow that has become a full-on sideshow. And sometimes, the most jarring sights are not those of glory: Joe Paradise, heir to Herb Brooks’s legacy, lingered in the arena long after everyone else had left the ice after his Mahtomedi team lost to Greenway, gutted by a final defeat at the X.

The truly exceptional combatants in this Tourney came down from Itasca County, where Greenway showed championship resolve in a second-place run. Coleraine, Bovey, Taconite, Marble, Calumet, Pengilly, Nashwauk, and Keewatin relocated themselves to St. Paul for a week. The support came from down the generations, an array of letter jackets dating to the dawn of Iron Range hockey littering the stands across one half of the arena. Already the darlings of the Tourney after an upset of mighty Hermantown, the Raiders made up a two-goal deficit to Delano and then gave us the finest game of the Tourney, a thrilling semifinal against Mahtomedi in which Ben Troumbly’s heroics unleashed a wave of green on St. Paul. The Raiders’ two lines, their legs beaten to mush, somehow kept on coming nearly all the way through the final against St. Cloud Cathedral. Greenway lost a hockey game but won in everything else.

Only two seasons ago, when Monticello showed us the raw excitement of a newcomer, have I seen anything that approached this level of commitment. Greenway in 2019, however, had a different feel, that of a giant from the past roaring back to life. This was a collective identity that left eyes wet and bars dry, a show of support so profound that it took any cliché about tradition or community and made it real. Greenway’s return to greatness was a celebration of everything that high school sports can be, and a reminder that, in some places, it is far more than just a game. To join that nation in the stands and drink it in, if only vicariously, is the Tourney at its best.

Now, though, that great Greenway run is nothing more than a memory. A brutal winter that took out too many games is starting to melt away into Minnesota spring. We add their exploits to the record books, write down what we remember, and stash away recordings to pull out at some distant date when we want to remember what it meant to dive straight into the pursuit of glory for one’s friends, to sacrifice one’s mind and body for a game, to care only about the results on the ice and where the party might be afterward. It goes by all too quickly, though we can always pass it along to that next group to descend on St. Paul for four days in March. We’ll do it all again next year.