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Apparently, nothing is going to come easy to this season’s Duluth East hockey team. And East coach Mike Randolph doesn’t want it any other way.
The Greyhounds escaped a wildly exciting 6-6 tie at Cloquet last Thursday, outshooting the Lumberjacks 44-21, but needing to reverse the game’s momentum to get the tie with just under 5 seconds remaining in the latest chapter of one of Northeastern Minnesota’s top Class AA rivalries.
Then on Tuesday night, back at Essentia Heritage Center, the ’Hounds took on Centennial in a battle of early-season unbeatens. It was a swift, highly competitive and high-spirited game, and for the second straight game, East seemed to take complete control with another dominant edge in shots — 43-17 this time. Against Centennial, East built a logical 3-1 lead, but then they had to overcome the most exciting and explosive player they’ve faced in Lucas McGregor, who scored his third goal to lift the Cougars into a 3-3 tie with 5 minutes remaining.
East couldn’t solve the tie at Cloquet, but this time senior winger Ian Mageau scored on a power-play rebound with 4:51 left to break the tie, then also hit an empty net for a 5-3 victory.
“It’s awesome we get to play teams like this, which are really tough and are good enough to expose our weaknesses,” said Randolph, who can say that the victory over Centennial allowed him to start on his second 600 victories.
Of course, the Greyhounds don’t have to wait long for another intense rivalry test, playing in Thursday’s Perkins Frenzy at Heritage. Denfeld faces Superior at 5 p.m., then East comes back to face Marshall at 7 p.m.
But whatever happens this season, the Greyhounds undoubtedly will never forget the incredible finish to last week’s game against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. And nobody who watched the game in Northwoods Arena will soon forget it, either.
East hit the ice and started raining shots at goaltender Owen Carlson, but by the time the edge got to 7-3, Cloquet had an improbably 2-0 lead on power-play goals by Kade Bender and Landon Langenbrunner. Randolph, who has been alternating goaltenders, pulled starter Parker Kleive and sent in Lukan Hanson. East got a goal back to cut it to 2-1, then appeared to run away with a 4-goal second period, good for a 5-3 lead.
Lumberjacks first-year coach Kevin Smalley said he used a few choice words that might not be appropriate for any publication, and if the East players thought Cloquet was folding, they were wrong. The Lumberjacks got a second goal from Langenbrunner on another power play — making all four Cloquet goals on power plays — to cut the deficit to 5-4. As the game ticked down to its final minutes, Bender caught a long pass from Dane Stoyanoff, his fourth assist of the night, and Bender zoomed in to score with a goal-crashing rush at 13:55.
With the game suddenly tied 5-5, there was no simple way for East to halt the momentum flowing at them. Overtime was a distinct probability in the final minute, when Langenbrunner fired a rink-wide pass from right boards to left, for Branden Matteen. Alertly, East defenseman Luke LaMaster stepped up to intervene, but the puck took a weird hop and skipped over his stick.
Matteen played the ricochet off the left boards and was in clean. Hanson braced, but Matteen drilled his shot in, and the Lumberjacks sent the Northwoods Arena crowd into a frenzy with the apparent winning goal with just over 15 seconds left — officially 16:44, although the scorer incorrectly failed to round the tenths of seconds up, and declared the goal at 16:45. The crowd was roaring, chanting “Sieve, sieve,” at Hanson, as the ensuing faceoff took place.
The Greyhounds tried to rush, but went offside, stopping the clock with 8.4 seconds remaining. That gave Randolph the chance to pull Hanson for a sixth attacker, and Branden Baker went out to join the top line of Ryder Donovan centering Mageau and Garrett Worth. The crowd was still chanting “Sieve” at Hanson, in the East goal, when Donovan got the faceoff to Worth, who broke up the right boards and zipped a perfect pass across the slot, right to Baker. No panic involved, Baker was free to pick his spot, and he drilled 10-footer between Carlson’s skates for the 6-6 tie, with the clock showing 4.1 seconds. That means the official time should be 16:55, although it was announced, and listed, as 16:56.
Two goals, 11 seconds apart, in the final 16 seconds. Incredible. Even though East outshot the Lumberjacks 9-2 in the 8-minute overtime, Carlson regained his touch and stopped them all. Somehow, the 6-6 tie seemed appropriate.
It was suggested to both coaches that there wouldn’t be any of the fans out at the box office requesting a refund. “It was a great game,” said Randolph, who admitted that while he never wavered from his coaching focus, he did find himself watching like a fan as the amazing happenings unfolded. “They’re tough, even though they just lost to Superior. I actually thought we played a good game all through the three solid periods.”
Smalley, who moved from Denfeld to Cloquet as coach this season to try his hand at leading a Double-A team against the Greyhounds, said, “They’ve got a lot of power, but I found out what we were made of. We weren’t going to lay down in the third, just because they scored four in the second.”
Against Centennial, East got goals from defenseman Will Fisher, who fired a screened bullet from the point, from Frederick Hunter-Paine and Ricky Lyle in the second, then got Mageau’s tie-breaker with 4:51 remaining when Hunter-Paine made a dazzling rush to the net, only to be blocked by goalie Travis Allen, who couldn’t adjust for Mageau’s quick rebound. Mageau’s empty-net goal was his sixth of the season.
“Our fourth line played really well, so I went with four,” said Randolph. “When you’ve got that kind of depth you can wear down the other team.”
True, East outshot Centennial 15-3 in the third period, but after the elusive McGregor broke in and scored to complete a hat trick, Randolph pulled first-line center Donovan aside and assigned him to just get on McGregor and stop the uprising. Empty net goal or not, nothing has come easy for East, which takes a 4-0-2 record against a very talented Marshall outfit Thursday night.