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The debate over what was the most exciting hockey game of the high school season can rage until the state tournament ends, but a couple of games last weekend would crowd their way into the conversation at some point.
Naturally, Duluth East is at the center of several of the games, with Superior, Elk River and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in a crazy week for the Greyhounds, but there were others.
Last Saturday, you could make it out to Essentia-Heritage Center for a 1 p.m. game between Duluth and Elk River, a notorious 7AA rival. It was a tough, physical battle, as the Elks pretty much attacked the Greyhounds from start to finish. It was scoreless until 6:10 of the second period, when Ricky Lyle scored from behind the net for East.
Austin Jouppi, who had scored a hat trick in a 7-0 victory over Superior two nights earlier, scored to make it 2-0, and Ian Mageau raced past a defender for the puck, recovered it and scored in a millisecond for a sudden 3-0 East lead. In the third period, the Elks took their physical attack to the penalty box a couple times, including a game disqualification in a messy session. Garrett Worth and Jouppi scored power-play goals, and Carson Cochrane got his first goal of the season, before Logan Anderson wound it up with yet another power-play goal, and East had dispelled Elk River 7-0 -- the Hounds second 7-0 rout in a row to become 17-1-3 for the season.
As that game ended, a second major contest was starting at Mars-Lakeview Arena, as St. Thomas Academy came to visit Marshall. St. Thomas had lost its first game of the season to Minnetonka, then gone undefeated through 21 games. And they seemed to have things in control against Marshall, which has been struggling to get its offense back on track.
The teams traded goals in the first period, but St. Thomas struck twice to gain a 3-1 lead in the second on goals by Paton Matsui and Ryan O’Neill. Marshall appeared to be out of gas in the third period, until Aiden Bachand got loose in front. He shot, but misfired, only to watch his off-speed change-up slither past goaltender Atticus Kelly at 9:37.
That fired up the Hilltoppers, and after several chances failed, including a 2-on-0 with George Grannis and Willy Stauber, Marshall’s Keelan Golat snuck behind the defense for a hunred-foot pass and broke in alone to score the tying goal. The teams came ou tfor overtime, and at 2:03 of the session, St. Thomas was signalled for a penalty. Peter Hansen got free and blocked an outlet attempt at the right side of the net, and quickly fired his shot past Kelly for the game-winner.
I asked Hansen what he saw for an opening, and he said, “The goalie was out of position, so I saw nothing but net.”
It was a huge victory for Marshall, and while the Hilltoppers were beating the state’s No. 2 ranked Class AA team, Mahtomedi was in Hermantown as the No. 2 Class A outfit. But Blake Biondi scored four times and the Hawks whipped the Zephyrs 4-1. That means that Elk River, St. Thomas Academy and Mahtomedi - three of the state’s highly ranked Twin Cities powers -- all came to Duluth and lost games to Duluth teams.
The biggest surprise was yet to come, however, as Cloquet-Esko-Carlton came to Essentia-Heritage to face East for the rematch of their 6-6 tie from early in the season. The stands were filled to their 1,500 capacity, and they got their money’s worth. East opened with Jack FitzGerald scoring on a rebound in the first period.
Garrett Worth appeared to score at 8:10 for a 2-0 lead, but after pointing at the goal to signal a goal, the referee changed his call and said no goal, because the puck was covered. Worth seemed irked by that, and raced in on his next shift to whistle a shot in off the goal pipe at 12:52 for that 2-0 lead.
But Cloquet has a persistent bunch, and new coach Kevin Smalley has them playing well together, and when Landon Langenbrunner got free on a 2-on-1, he drilled his shot past goalie Parker Kleive to cut the lead in half late in the second period. At 3:12 of the third, Branden Matteen caught a high lob pass from Langenbrunner and raced in to score the tying goal on a breakaway.
East regained the lead at 3-2 when Austin Jouppi came out from behind the net and scored with a backhand stuff shot at 4:20. But then came a succession of eventful calls, midway through the period. East got a penalty, and Brendan Durand scored on the power play at 8:58, tying the game 3-3.
Just 34 seconds later, East got another penalty, and Jedd Anich scored on that power play at 11:19 to put the Lumberjacks ahead 4-3. East held a shot edge of 40-20 until those last two power plays, when Cloquet fired seven of the last nine shots. East goalie Kleive came to the bench for an extra skater as the Greyhounds tried to duplicate the last second tie they gained at Cloquet, and they were applying considerable pressure until it appeared the Lumberjacks iced the puck. However, no call of icing was forthcoming, and Gavin Rasmussen hustled after the puck and scored into the empty net with 34 seconds remaining.
“They deserved to win the game,” said East coach Mike Randolph. “We were lethargic in the third period when we needed to be at our best.”
Section 7AA starts play in two weeks, and while East is clearly the No. 1 seed, suddenly Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and Marshall have thrust themselves into contention. Stay tuned.