Legendary, 28th-season Greyhounds’ boys hockey coach Mike Randolph has zero tolerance for inflated egos mushrooming in or outside the team’s locker room. Not at school, not in the community.
“Nobody can put themselves above the team, or we’re going nowhere,” Randolph said of the team’s longstanding expectations for himself, his players and his coaching staff — and signalling their united, disciplined approach to a team-first-and-only mentality.
“If we stick together in a team effort, we generally feel we can have some success,” said Randolph.
The Minnesota Class 2A top-ranked Greyhounds — according to the HowieHanson.com — feature a veteran, talented team to possibly crow about. But, as always and with Randolph at the helm, expect the Greyhounds to always remain humble and focused in victory and defeat.
In a challenging back-to-back test to begin the season, Duluth East opens at No. 8 White Bear Lake Friday night and plays host to No. 7 Wayzata Saturday afternoon.
Randolph has challenged his team to approach this weekend’s openers one period and a game at a time, lest they forget their second game of a back-to-back to begin last season.
“We got smoked by Minnetonka, and lost in running time,” said Randolph of the nightmarish home opener. “Our focus is Friday against White Bear Lake. They have an excellent team, featuring one of the best forward lines in the state, and they’re working in several players off their state champion bantam team from a year ago. Our kids are excited for the home-opener Saturday, but we have to take care of Friday night first.”
The Greyhounds’ acutely disciplined system requires a team-first, defense-before-offense commitment. This proven, successful approach will again be put to test this weekend.
“The better we play without the puck, the better success we’ll have with the puck,” Randolph said. “If we’re chasing the puck all game, standing around, it’s not a lot of fun seeing the puck in the back of our net. If we’re playing good team defense, our offense will come.”
I have Duluth East ranked ahead of Edina, Moorhead, Minnetonka and St. Thomas Academy. Wayzata and White Bear Lake are state tourney-caliber teams.
Duluth East lost to eventual Class 2A state champion Grand Rapids in the Section 7AA final in double-overtime a year ago, finishing 18-9-1 overall. The Greyhounds are the team to beat in 7AA this season.
“We have pretty much the same team as last year, just a year older,” said Randolph. “We don’t have to start from scratch, and a lot of our guys know how we play and what’s expected. We’re working really hard reinforcing things, and it’s a good group.”
Randolph is bullish on his forward group, yet openly concerned about his inexperienced goaltenders, junior Lukan Hanson and senior Parker Klieve.
The Greyhounds’ elite players are senior forwards Ian Mageau and Garret Worth, junior forward Ryder Donovan and senior defenseman Luke LaMaster.
“We’re experienced in a lot of positions, including up front with nine forwards who have section final experience,” said Randolph. “We have three solid defensemen and although we like our two goaltenders, it remains to be seen who will step up. Hopefully we’ll be as strong in goal as we have been in the last few years.”
To a man, Duluth East players and coaches have their sights set on a possible playoff rematch against two-time defending 7AA champion Grand Rapids.
“We lost with six seconds left two years ago and in double-overtime last season,” Randolph said of the season-ending, section losses to the Thunderhawks. “Grand Rapids had great teams, and there’s no shame in losing to the eventual state champion in double-overtime in your section final. But it was tough on the kids, who battled hard both years, and it was personally hard to go into the locker room afterwards.”
The Greyhounds want back to the state tournament, big-time. If I were a betting man, which I’m not, I wouldn’t bet against them making a deep run in the playoffs. A Duluth East vs. Edina state final would be peaches.
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Duluth East’s LaMaster, Worth and Donovan were named to Let’s Play Hockey’s prestigious list of top-50 players in Minnesota high school boys hockey in 2017-18.
Mageau, Hanson and Austin Jouppi made the publication’s players-to-watch list.
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Minnesota Class 2A High School Boys Hockey Rankings (Top-15)
1. Duluth East
3. St. Thomas Academy
6. Holy Family Catholic
8. White Bear Lake
9. Cretin-Derham Hall
12. Elk River
14. Eden Prairie
15. Grand Rapids