Minnetonka clipped Duluth East 5-2 in a rematch of last season’s Class 2A state championship boys hockey game Saturday afternoon at Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
AJ Kittelson scored a pair of goals and added an assist for the Skippers (14-0), and senior power forward Ricky Lyle had a goal and assist for the Greyhounds (8-3-1). ‘Tonka led 5-1 after two periods.
Post-game quotes from coaches Sean Goldsworthy of Minnetonka and Mike Randolph of Duluth East:
Howie: Goldie, did the game live up to the pre-game hype?
Goldsworthy: I didn’t think it was a 5-2 game. I mean, it easily could have been 3-3, 4-4. I thought our goalie (Charlie Glockner) played really well when he needed to. He made a couple big saves specifically in the second period that created some separation, and then we won the special teams battle. I said it last year, we could play these guys ten times, and it’s going to be 5-5.
It was a good game for us, because we got exposed in a couple areas that will make us better. I think we probably did some things that exposed their team to get better, too. As Mike (Randolph) said last year, ‘You want to win every game, but this isn’t a game we’re both necessarily focusing on right now.’ The focus is to get better by March. So, I think this game helped us out a ton, and gave us a little bit of confidence. They’re one of the best teams in the state and to come in here, in their building, and win is a pretty good accomplishment.
Howie: Your thoughts on the banged-up Greyhounds?
Goldsworthy: They’re really balanced and really good. I mean, they’re big and physical. I thought our puck movement was really high, so they were chasing for a good portion of the second period. Then when they lost (Frederick) Paine … he’s a top five defensemen in the state and moves pucks, it had a big impact on their team. We have key guys like (Grant) Docter and (Josh) Luedtke back there, too, and we had to weather some storms without Josh last year where we got exposed, too. So, hopefully Paine will get back in the lineup and help them because he’s a big part of their team.
Howie: Does your team generally move the puck as well as it did tonight?
Goldsworthy: Yeah, we usually do. We really focus on it. We preach puck movement, and we don’t play selfish. We’re not the biggest team but we move well, we move pucks, we play north and we’re always in an attack mode. If teams can’t handle our pace, they spend a lot of time in their zone.
Howie: Your thoughts on Class 2A overall, and up-and-down Chaska in particular?
Goldsworthy: Yeah, we saw Chaska earlier when they weren’t playing really good. They have some really high-end skill. Mike told me today that he thought Blaine was really solid, although we haven’t played them yet. We do play Andover in a couple of weeks at Hockey Day, so that will give us a better feel of yet another elite team in 2A. We thought Maple Grove, who we beat 5-2 in a Christmas tournament, is a really good club. We’re lucky to be in the Lake Conference, so starting in about a week and a half, it’s every night against the Edinas, Eden Prairies, Wayzatas. If that doesn’t get us ready for the end of the year, then we’re just not trying hard. There’s probably 10 teams that could put together a pretty good run in 2A, and two of those teams were on the ice today.
. . .
Howie: Mike (Randolph), the Skippers took it to your banged-up club today, eh?
Randolph: They’re an excellent team from the net out. It was good for our kids to play the best team in the state. And, they’re clearly the best team in the state.
Howie: The best team you’ve seen this year?
Randolph: Oh yeah, those two defensemen are really, really good. And they make a lot of their teammates look good, probably a little better than they are.
Howie: What did you say to your players after the game?
Randolph: That ‘Tonka is clearly better than us, now. It hurt having Paine go down early in the first period, obviously. We also had a player get kicked out of the game last night, which didn’t help at all. But aside from that, they’re better than us. Just clearly better than us. They’re the number one team in the state, and I think it was opportunity for our guys to see how far we’ve got to go.
Howie: Have you faced a team this season that moves the puck as well up the ice as ‘Tonka did?
Randolph: No. Their challenge – ‘cause I’ve had teams like this – is to keep it going. A lot of teams on ‘Tonka’s schedule can’t compete against those guys. They’re clearly the number one team and should be the favorite to win the state tournament. But at the end of day, the best team doesn’t always win the state tourney.
Howie: ‘Tonka exposed your team tonight, eh?
Randolph: I put on the bulletin board before the game, ‘You better play 51 minutes.’ I told the guys, if we play 50 minutes they’ll put two, maybe three in the back of our net in a hurry. We didn’t play 51 minutes. I thought we had some mojo going in the second period, when we could have given them a little scare. One of my goals was to give them a tight game. But the two-on-one goal they scored against us during a defensive breakdown in the second period killed any momentum we were generating.
Howie: Down 5-1, were you pleased with you team’s response in the third period?
Randolph: We knew we weren’t going to win at that point, so our goal was to come out, compete hard and win the third. We accomplished this. I was proud of our guys that they didn’t quit, and I told them that. But at the same time, this game showed us how much work we have left to do. We haven’t arrived. But that’s why I love playing these games, when you learn more about your team, how good you are. To be the best, we need to play the best. We don’t talk about the best or being the best. We play the best, to see if we can beat ’em in our own building.
. . .
Imagine a new Minnesota high school boys hockey 16-team super-conference consisting of:
. Maple Grove
. Eden Prairie
. White Bear Lake
. St. Thomas Academy
. Duluth East
. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
. Lakeville North
Teams would play a 15-game, seven-weekend and one single game balanced conference schedule played mostly on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. All teams would be guaranteed at least seven home games, and only eight teams would be required to travel to Duluth each season. Teams would complete their 25-game regular season schedule against traditional rivals, including current conference opponents.
For example, Week 1 might look like this:
Minnetonka at Edina
Andover at Maple Grove
Eden Prairie at Blaine
White Bear Lake at St. Thomas Academy
Hill-Murray at Duluth East (Amsoil)
Rosemount at Hermantown (Amsoil)
Chaska at Wayzata
Benilde-St. Margaret’s at Lakeville North
Maple Grove at Minnetonka
Edina at Andover
Blaine at White Bear Lake
St. Thomas Academy at Eden Prairie
Hill-Murray at Hermantown (Amsoil)
Rosemount at Duluth East (Amsoil)
Lakeville North at Chaska
Wayzata at Benilde-St. Margaret’s
Note: All Duluth East and Hermantown super-conference home games would be played as doubleheaders at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, in four weekends.
Of course, the proposed super-conference would maintain its own standings and statistics. Hermantown would be required to step up to 2A to qualify as a member of the super-conference.