Team USA wins and the Randolph matter

Marc Elliott

2021 Bronze Medalists TEAM USA at the IIHF World Championships.

GLEN AVON – Hello friends, it’s early Sunday morning, and I’m watching the IIHF World Championships with Team USA facing off with Team Germany for the Bronze Medal. I can’t say the game is ultra-competitive, the U.S. is ahead 5-0 late in the 2nd period, and this tilt is currently devolving into some hockey chippiness and ugly play. The German team is clearly getting frustrated, and their play is reflecting that. The Yanks find themselves in this contest courtesy of a 4-2 loss to Team Canada yesterday, a team the U.S. had soundly defeated earlier in the tournament by a final of 5-1.

To the Canadians credit, they played poorly early in this event and improved as it went on, just as any coach or program would hope. But they did lose their first three games here before pulling themselves together and making their way into the Gold medal game versus Finland later this morning.
After dropping their first game against the Finns (2-1), the Americans reeled off seven straight wins to obtain a spot in the semis, where they came up short against our northern neighbors. Most analysts had Team USA win-ning this contest and getting a spot in the Gold medal game. The boys seemed to be missing a bit of a spark on Saturday, and the Canadians capitalized. Team USA will head back home with some hardware this year, just not what they had wanted.

Obviously, with the Stanley Cup tourney still going in North America, many stars are missing from this event that would add a lot more quality to it, but that is a yearly occurrence. It’s still a good event, and the IIHF does a great job of putting these tourneys on. If you ever have a chance to attend one, I would urge you to do so!

TO COACH OR NOT TO COACH? That is the question. Early last week, long-time coach Mike Randolph announced he was resigning as Head Coach of the storied Duluth East High School hockey program. I do not know Randolph myself but have known a few players who played for him. I never heard a negative word from a single one of them regarding Randolph, the team or how he ran the program.

In fact, during his tenure there, East has had one of the most successful programs in state high school hockey history. With Randolph as coach, the team went to 18 state tournaments, winning twice with six runner-up titles. That means that the team competed in 8 state championship games with him at the helm. That equates to a .444 average of appearances in title games when they made it to the big dance.

It cannot be overstated how big of an accomplishment that is. At this time, it is unknown whether he will seek to coach at another program or call it a career. He is third all-time in wins in high school hockey history here with 658 victories, but has been under investigation by a private firm hired by the Duluth School Board.

The nature of any complaints or allegations against him hasn’t been made public. It would be pure conjecture on my behalf to attempt a guess at what those may be. But if the board believed these were enough to hire a private investigator, they are either quite serious, or an overly ambitious school board is hell-bent on removing him and making sure he can’t come back at some point. It’s likely only the deepest of “insiders” will ever be privy to that knowledge.

I spent 13 seasons in amateur hockey – twelve as a coach and one solely as an administrator. I could make an educated guess at the current concerns, but there lies an excellent chance that I would be wrong, so I won’t.
Randolph states that “parental pressure” led him to the point where coaching was no longer enjoyable and that the resulting stress made the decision for him.
I can identify with that.
At my first stop, I coached for four years and oversaw the entire program in the fifth. The coaching experience was exceptional. The administrative part was not. It was highly stressful.
In my second opportunity, I coached for five years and served a dual role as an administrator for four. The coaching end was primarily good; the administrative end once again was not without its stress.
There were too many times when I asked myself how volunteer work could end up being so dreadful. Upon some self-reflection, I had to face up to realize I had to bear the burden for some of it. There were times when hard decisions came into play, and it wasn’t just the parents who were part of the equation that had to be pleased.

At the end of the day, there were matters I could have done better on, and there were some parents who were going to be unreasonable no matter what. That seems to be a part of amateur sports volunteering these days, and it can destroy one’s attitude about doing it in too many cases.
My final coaching stop was at a private high school for three seasons. The parental support system was phenomenal. In my last season, I had one problematic player on my hands, and his “my-kid-can-do-no-wrong” parents pushed me over the edge. That and increasing demands on my professional time made my departure decision from the game easy.

I’ve not looked back and am still a huge fan of the game I love. I even began to skate again last fall until a winter-long health battle derailed that. When my strength fully returns, I’ll be back at it.
Upon reflection, My experience was mostly a good one. And like many things in life, it seems that a few can ruin it for the many. I’m certain Coach Randolph will gain that perspective in time if he hasn’t already.
My son played for 12 seasons, and I can only think of one time where I had a private conversation with one of his coaches. And that was to see where the coach felt he was at as a player and what I could do to help further his abilities.
Of course, at the upper-level pro-grams like East, it can be challenging for some parents to maintain a healthy perspective of what a program should be doing for them or their player.
When I first coached 40 years ago, USA Hockey was still AHAUS. Programs relating to parental behavior within the team setting were nonexistent. There is a lot of great information available now, including handbooks for parents that also outline behavioral expectations.
But even having those in place might not be enough to spare a great coach like Randolph from those who have improper perspectives or ignore them entirely and create stressful situations for the coaches in question.
At the end of this dilemma, will we find out if East administrators failed to protect Randolph from some overzealous parents or if Randolph himself made a couple of mistakes? In either regard, 658 wins just walked out the door. Was that preventable? PEACE