Mike Randolph doesn’t mind coaching like a robot. Just so his Duluth East hockey players don’t play like robots. Randolph is the master at adjusting his personnel to fit what he’s trying to accomplish, and he has the uncanny knack for getting his team up to a playoff peak – even if it takes most of the season.
Last season might have been the perfect example. Randolph had tried various styles, systems, strategies and line arrangements, and near the end of the season it all looked futile. But he rearranged things, and pulled off a huge upset to get his Greyhounds to the state tournament. Once there, they almost pulled off a major upset, getting all the way to the finals before losing to undefeated champion Lakeville North.
That’s in the past, of course, and means nothing for this year’s season and teams. It does make a fascinating tie-in for Saturday’s huge Hockey Day Minnesota celebration on the outdoor rink at Bayfront Festival Park, where East will face Lakeville North at 1 p.m.
Denfeld will play Eveleth-Gilbert at 11 a.m., and there will be other action on the temporary outdoor rink as part of the annual Hockey Day Minnesota plan. For the first time, the Fox Sports North crew, which normally sets up at Xcel Energy Center for the day, will set up shop at Bayfront and broadcast the two games live, then extend their commentary to the 4 p.m. University of Minnesota game against Penn State, and the 7 p.m. Minnesota Wild game at St. Louis.
On Monday night, Randolph said he wasn’t thinking or promoting Hockey Day Minnesota; he was too consumed getting his Greyhounds ready for their huge rivalry game against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, which had beaten the ‘Hounds to start a midseason tailspin for East. It took a lot of juggling and plotting before Randolph got East out of a rare four-game losing streak, but here they are: facing Cloquet and winning the rematch 6-3 Monday at Heritage Center gave the Greyhounds a 7-game winning streak.
Intense as their rivalry is – and the game drew a near-capacity crowd to Heritage as well as a regional television audience – coaches Randolph and Cloquet’s Dave Esse have established a mutual relationship of respect from all their years of hostility.
“People don’t realize what a great job Esse does to get the most out of his players every year,” said Randolph. “I’ll guarantee you, nobody wants to play Cloquet in the 7AA playoffs.”
For East, the Cloquet game is another in a typically rugged schedule. East beat perennial powerhouse Elk River 5-2 Saturday, before the Cloquet game, and faces Hopkins Thursday night at Heritage before the Lakeville North date Saturday. And if that’s not enough, the Hounds play Lakeville South next Tuesday.
“We worked our butts off tonight,” said Esse, after the 6-3 game. “We didn’t quit, and we had a couple chances to stay in the game in the third period, but they didn’t go in. It was a really good high school atmosphere in here; I haven’t seen a game with that kind of atmosphere for a long time.
“I still don’t think East gets enough credit for what they do. Mike an outstanding coach, and they play the toughest schedule in the state. But he gets them to play within themselves. I don’t know how the seeding will go, with Grand Rapids, Elk River and East. I’d like to think we’ll be fourth, and probably Marshall fifth. I don’t know who will be the first seed, but East is playing the best right now.”
East was flying to start out the Cloquet game, as the top line with sophomore Garret Worth centering Ash Altmann and Ian Mageau, scored first. Worth rushed up the left, passed ahead to Altmann, who fed across the slot where Mageau converted. But several minutes later, Jedd Anich beat the retreating East defense to a puck that squirted free, and put it past goaltender Kirk Meierhoff to tie it 1-1.
Worth broke in and scored with a rocket to the upper left from 35 feet in the second period, but the Lumberjacks tied it again when Ryan Nelson moved up to the left circle and shot through traffic. The puck bounced up in front, and Meierhoff reached for it in the congestion, but the puck landed behind him and trickled in.
In the third period, Randolph amazingly shook up his lines, taking senior Altmann off Worth’s line and putting him with Luke Dow, another senior. Breaking up the most explosive line in the area seemed questionable -- but you don’t question Randolph at this time of year. Altmann relayed the puck from Dow to Ryan Peterson, who scored on a wraparound for a 3-2 lead at 3:46 of the third period. On the next shift, Mageau got a shot that Eric Newman blocked, and Worth swatted in a backhand on the rebound for his second goal and a 4-2 edge.
Randolph’s changed lines both scored, on successive shifts. Ryan Bourgeault converted Matt Rudovich’s rebound at 7:30 to close the gap to 4-3. But just 1:20 after that, Dow scored a bullseye when Peterson fed ahead to him and he scored high right from the left circle to make it 5-3. Shay Donovan completed the scoring from the right point, with Peterson and Dow again assisting, meaning that the two altered lines produced four goals in the third period.
Does that mean Randolph will stick with the revised lines Thursday night? “No way,” he said. “I’m going right back to the way they were. I just did that to get them going.”
The focus of college hockey in Minnesota last weekend was the North Star College Cup tournament at Xcel Center in St. Paul. UMD’s turn came up to sit out the tournament, because there are five Division I teams in the state and only room for four.
Last year, St.. Cloud State was the odd team out, but in a surprising twist, the two WCHA teams – Bemidji State and Minnesota State-Mankato – knocked out the two more heralded teams from more heralded conferences. Bemidji beat UMD, nd Mankato beat Minnesota. That left the anticipated final becoming the third-place game, and UMD beat the Gophers for that honor. Then Bemidji State beat Mankato for the title.
If the setbacks shut up the Gopher boosters and followers, it was hard to tell this time around, because they assumed the NCHC entry (St. Cloud) and Big Ten team (Minnesota) would outclass the two WCHA teams. But while St. Cloud State beat Mankato 5-4 in a nail-biter, Bemidji State, which knocked off Minnesota 4-3, lost to St. Cloud State 5-2 in the title match. MSU-Mankato further embarrassed Minnesota 3-2. That meant the Gophers are 0-4 the last two years after insisting the tournament needed their presence as an elite favorite.
In fact, when you add in the fact that UMD has won six straight games from the Gophers, and St. Cloud State also swept a series at Minnesota, it means the Gophers aere 1-12 in their last 13 games against in-state foes. Minnesota still leads the Big Ten at 8-2 but is only 13-12 overall; Bemidji is 7-9-4 fighting for sixth place in the WCHA and 11-11-5 overall; Mankato is 12-3-5 atop the WCHA and 14-9-5 overall, while St. Cloud State is 12-3-1 atop the NCHC and 22-5-1 to rank No. 3 in the nation. Minnesota’s 8-2 Big Ten mark is balanced by its 13-12 record overall, and the fact the Gophers came into the tournament on a six-game winning streak means only that they have been playing within the mediocre Big Ten for sweeps against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Gopher boosters must accept the fact that Minnesota is No. 1 in the Big Ten, No. 1 in the hearts of their fans...and No. 5 among the state’s D-I programs.
UMD, meanwhile, lost at Northern Michigan and bounced back to gain a split, and comes to AMSOIL Arena desperate for a sweep against Colorado College, the NCHC’s bottom team.
On the women’s side, UMD was stunned 6-4 Friday, the Bulldogs seventh straight loss. The Dogs were outscored 25-12 in those seven games. They came back to win 4-3 Saturday, when Morgan Morse’s won it with a power play goal with 1:54 remaining, her second of the game and third of the weekend. In the first game, Ohio State coach Jenny Potter made her homecoming a victorious one when her team beat the team with which she earned All-American honors in its formative years. In the game, new UMD coach Maura Crowell almost got to the point of changing goaltenders on the fly.
Freshman Maddie Rooney started, but when Ohio State scored freely in a 3-3 first period, Crowell sent Karissa Grapp into the nets for the second. She made it through 6:12 before she, too, gave up three goals, and Kayla Black went in for the rest of the game. She held the Buckeyes scoreless, but the damage was done and even a third-period goal by Morse could do nothing but make the final score a closer 6-4. At 7-13-1 in the WCHA, the Bulldogs have six games remaining – two this weekend at Mankato, two at home against Minnesota, and the final two at St. Cloud. They are six games below .500 with six games left, and two of them are against Minnesota.