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    Baker, Duluth East 'Hounds underclassmen shine in opener

    Duluth East freshman forward Brendan Baker, playing in his first varsity game, earned the praise of his veteran head coach by scoring a pair of goals in a 4-1 victory over fifth-ranked Wayzata on Saturday afternoon at Heritage Center.

    Ash Altmann“He was really good without the puck and put himself into good positions to create his scoring chances,” Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph said of Baker outside the team’s locker room after the game. “It’s great for him, but more importantly for the coaching staff it’s more about how he played during certain situations and how he processed the game.”

    Baker was one of several Duluth East underclassmen who stood out in the lopsided opening-season victory. Freshman defenseman Hunter Paine recorded his first varsity point, collecting an assist on the Greyhounds' first goal of the season, and ninth-grade forward Ryder Donovan was a major force at both ends of the ice.

    Sophomore forward Ian Mageau added a goal and an assist, and sophomore defenseman Luke LaMaster was arguably the best player on the ice. Sophomore Nick Lanigan (pictured) was especially noticeable for his strong play in his own end. And, junior goaltender Kirk Meirerhoff stopped 24 of 25 shots for the Greyhounds, who led 3-0 after two periods and outshot Wayzata 35-25.

    Seniors Luke Dow, a high-scoring forward, and Alex Spencer, a 6-foot-4 defenseman, did not play due to upper-body injuries.

    “We had a lot of freshmen out there and they’ve been with us what, two weeks?” Randolph said. “Baker and Donovan played really well, and the freshmen played a lot of minutes. We played structurally great for this early in the season. We were in the right spots and guys really just bought into the system. You usually don’t see that early in the season.

    “Playing without two of our top players against a strong team such as Wayzata, we knew we had to pick up the slack. And collectively, they did a real nice job with that. We gained a lot of confidence when we got those first couple of goals. Overall, we won a lot of races to the puck and won a lot of battles in the corner, and played with a lot of consistency from the drop of the puck to the end. Our guys did a heckuva job.”

    Randolph said he wasn’t a bit surprised by Meirhoff’s solid play.

    “We’ve always liked him, and he’s always been under the radar in the state,” Randolph said of Meirhoff, who started six varsity games a year ago. “We brought him along slowly in his sophomore year. Wayzata didn’t come at us consistently, but when they did put pressure on us he stood tall. Early in the third period, in particular, he made an unbelievable save. You could tell he was really focused.”

    Duluth East (1-0) visits Cambridge-Isanti Tuesday night.