Duluth East Hockey
Jottings and Notes on the 1997-98 Season
December 1997

December 4, 1997

East 8, Duluth Marshall 0. A night to pad the stats. East got seven of their eight goals in a furious second period barrage, and some of the JV players saw considerable action tonight. I noticed Mike Randolph wasn't behind the bench tonight, and the JV coach, Terry Johnson, was in his place. What's up with that, was Mike down scouting Hill-Murray for next Saturday's game??

Marshall's program, while still weak, looks quite a bit improved from the previous few years; they seem to play a somewhat disciplined style, but in the end, they were simply outmatched by a far superior Hound team. The final shot count was 31-2, showing once again that East could be the premier defensive power in Minnesota. Future games may prove me wrong on this, but I still have the impression that they need more scoring punch. I'm not exactly sure what the answer is to this. Randolph seems to have the lines pretty much set, although Terry Johnson did a little juggling tonight. They really don't have the snipers, just three very solid checking lines, and a defense that still appears to be even stronger than last year's team. Saturday's game against Hill-Murray should give a good indication on where East stands against another state power.

December 7, 1997

East 3, Hill-Murray 0. When we got into the car to drive to dinner at 5, I turned on the radio to hear the score (the game wasn't on local radio). I was sure I heard the radio announcer say that Hill-Murray had won the game 3-0. Positive! So, I was prepared to write something along the lines of "East needs scoring punch, and they aren't the best team in the state". And the comment would have been entirely justified, or so I had thought.

Two things I had missed; first, the score was wrong, and it was East, not Hill-Murray, that had won the game. Second, if you have a defense that won't let opposing players near your net, you don't need much of an offense to win games. 3-0 will do just as well as 10-0.

I wasn't able to attend the game, due to my wife's hospitalization this past week, and I was looking forward to seeing Aldrich Arena and seeing what East would do in a hostile environment. If anyone attended the game, I'd really appreciate it if you would email me with your comments on the game! Other than that, my observations are from the box score in the News-Tribune and what few highlites I saw on TV of the game.

My first comment is; East is the best defensive team I've ever seen play at the high school level at this time. With the full realization that the Jefferson teams of the early 90's had very strong defense, East's defense is better. Evidence on this? They have now shutout two of the top teams in the state (Elk River being the other one). They are giving up an average of 10.5 shots per game, much better than last year's team, which was a defensive power in its own right. They outshot Hill-Murray 28-16, quite an impressive feat. And Hill-Murray is no defensive slouch either, with most of their defensemen returning from last year's State Tournament team.

I remember thinking that last year, it wasn't until they defeated Moorhead to boost their record to 9-0 that I believed this was a team that could win the State Championship. I believe that right now, after only the fourth game. Sure, a lot can happen; injuries, facing a hot goalie, and of course there's Hibbing and Greenway to get past just to get to the State Tournament. But they have the horses, and there seems to be something else that motivates them. Last year, it was to prove they could win without Spehar and Locker. What is it this year? Is it the memory of that 1-0 loss to Edina in the State Championship game? Or is it the knowledge that everyone is gunning for them? I'm not sure, but they are playing with a purpose, much like last year's team.

Their next game will be against Superior at Wessman Arena next Thursday. Superior has traditionally given East a good game, but it appears the Spartans are down somewhat this year (losing to Duluth Central 5-4). The main thing at this point is for East to not let down. This shouldn't be much of a concern. Mike Randolph, more than any East coach I've seen, has a knack for getting them up to play every game, not just the important ones.

Minneapolis North/Henry. So, the kid gets ejected from the game, and what does he do? Go tramping up into the stands to confront some fans, and the cops have to restrain him with pepper spray? What the hell is this anyways??? Reports are that the La Crosse student section was hurling racial slurs against the North/Henry players. If that's the case, then it's a sad commentary on fan conduct at a high school sporting event. It is still no reason for a player to go berzerk!

The offending player should be kicked off the team, straight away. Better yet; perhaps North/Henry should disband their hockey team and forfeit their remaining games. This team is a serious black mark on the State High School League, and flies in the face of every rule of conduct and sportsmanship. At the least, if their coach has that little control over his players, fire the coach. What a sham.

December 10, 1997

Rheese Carlson. He goes to Iowa, plays a couple games in the USHL, and then decides to return home to play with his brother Ross at East. His parents get the go-ahead from Mike Miernicki (the activity directory at East) so long as Rheese enrolls by November 10. He makes this deadline by a week, and the Duluth School Board gives him their approval to play.

Then this whole thing gets perverted, for lack of a better word. Skip Peltier, the high school league associate director in charge of eligibility, tells Mike Randolph, East's coach, that if a player leaves Minnesota and then returns to play, someone in the other state must attain guardianship, and then give it up after he returns to Minnesota. Now Peltier informs the Duluth School board of this, and they state that the criteria had not been met.

There is a hearing scheduled for Thursday, where the School Board will once again take up the issue. It will be the third meeting held on this matter, and it appears likely that Rheese will be declared ineligible. Since he played the first two games of this season, 6-0 and 3-0 wins over Duluth Central and Elk River, respectively, those games would be forfeited by East.

I don't believe this will affect East's season. If anything, it will give them one more reason to play even harder. Furthermore, while Rheese is a fine player, he had only contributed one assist in his two games. By no stretch of the imagination can you assert that he was the difference in either game, both of which East dominated strongly.

It will be interesting to see if this affects their ranking in the Let's Play Hockey and Mpls Star-Tribune polls. It shouldn't; they might be 2-2 on paper , but everyone in Minnesota with a brain realizes they are the best team in the state right now.

Of a personal nature, I'm interested in seeing how this affects their computerized PageStat rankings. For the sake of objectivity, I would have to follow the official results and enter 1-0 losses for those two games, since they would have forfeited them. It doesn't matter that I know they are really 4-0 on ice; if I don't make the change, it opens up the door for all kinds of exceptions being claimed. "Well, our star center was out and we lost 3-2, you should give us more points for that because blah blah blah". See what I'm saying?

I want to cry political interference, but doing so would open me up to an obvious charge that I'm biased due to my allegiance to Duluth East. And I would have no defense to the charge. It just seems to me that someone somewhere screwed up big-time in this deal. Whether it's Mike Miernicki or Skip Peltier or just a real honest misunderstanding (the rules can be difficult to interpret at times), it matters not. East will recover, and will still be the best team in the state. Losing a second-line forward won't change that in the least.

December 11, 1997

East 3, Superior 0. I must admit, I'd never been to Wessman Arena before. I was told that it's a nice place to watch a hockey game, with good sight lines and somewhat warm. I was also told that the ice isn't very good there, it's soft and gets torn up easily.

My source was right on the latter, and totally wrong on the former. Wessman is a nightmare. They have seats on only one side of the rink. For some reason, I was expecting to find something along the lines of a scaled-down version of the DECC. Boy, was I wrong on that one. It's about as similar to the DECC as this year's version of the Superior Spartans is to Duluth East.

And, it was cold; despite that, the ice was still bad, soft and tending to slow down East's speed. It didn't matter. East simply shortened their passes a bit, and created a lot of good chances. One thing still sticks in my mind; this is not the offensive power they've had the past three seasons. They did outshoot the Spartans 35-9, so you could say it was another domination by a faster, far more skilled team. From the looks of it, Superior will have trouble even in Wisconsin this year. They were rated #4 in the lastest WI poll. I would venture a guess that they would be at a disadvantage to no fewer than 40-50 of Minnesota's teams. That's how far Wisconsin High School hockey lags behind Minnesota's.

A few reckless plays in East's end nearly ended in giving up their first goal of the season. Coole had to make a couple of nice saves, but other than that, Superior was never much of a factor. This puts East at 5-0 (pending the outcome of the Minnesota State High School League's ruling on Rheese Carlson's eligibility), but they'll be tested Saturday up in Grand Rapids.

East's first five games. I'm not necessarily surprised that they're 5-0 (altho I would have been more apt to believe 4-1), but I'm surprised at how strong the defense has been. The 1995-96 Hounds started the season with four straight shutouts. I don't know (yet) if any Hounds team prior to this one has started the season with five shutouts. Opponents have been held to an average of just over 10 shot on goal per game, while East has fired off an average of 36 shots, a better than 7-2 ratio. Their ratio of shots-to-goals isn't as good this year, and I'm not sure why that is. I would have thought it would improve this year, but it goes to show just how good players like Mathias and Wheeler were last season.

Defensively, Angell and Finnegan have been as strong a pair as I've ever seen at the high school level. Their second duo of Jon Hedberg and Mark Anunti has also been very strong. I see great things ahead for Hedberg. On offense, they need snipers. Players like Taggart are good, but not in the same class as the forwards they had last year. Randolph may have to juggle the other three lines a bit, in an attempt to find some combination that will click. Three games have already been decided by 3-0 margins, but I don't remember a team that averaged 4.6 goals a game going on to win the State Tournament. The point may be moot, if their defense continues to shine. They won't shut everybody out, and it will be interesting to see how they react to falling behind in a game. Last year, they found themselves behind a few times in hostile rinks, and they came back to win each one except for the tie they had up in Hibbing just before the sectinal playoffs. The only time they didn't come back was in the state championship game.

I said before the season began that I thought they would go 16-6, and it looks as though this will be conservative. If they continue to play the way have, they should end up more like 19-3....or better. Depends on injuries, of course. Grand Rapids may be a test; Edina will certainly be. So will their games at the DECC against Greenway and Hibbing. They travel to Anoka at the end of the regular season, and that could be a great game, also.

Hibbing/Greenway/Roseau/Warroad. Given the time, I would love to be up in Warroad or Roseau this weekend. Greenway and Hibbing are making the trip north to face two of Section 8's finest teams. We'll find out just how good all four teams are this weekend. My prediction? Roseau will win both games, and Warroad will lose both. Roseau will give Moorhead a serious run for their money in 8AA this season. In fact, I'd say that Roseau is right now the best team in that section.

December 14, 1997

Grand Rapids 7, East 5. For anyone who had doubts (as I did) whether Grand Rapids had a quality team this year, those doubts were answered resoundingly tonight. East's string of five shutout games came to end in the first minute of the game. The Thunderhawks built a 2-0 lead, East came back to tie it, then Rapids scored two more for a 4-2 lead. After that, the teams traded goals; East kept coming back to within a goal, but could never tie the game again.

I wasn't surprised that East didn't shutout Grand Rapids; in fact, I'm not entirely surprised that East lost the game. I had to laugh when I read the story headline in the Duluth New-Tribune the next day.."Grand Rapids stuns East". Apparently, sports staff at the Trib don't have a very firm grasp of a few realities. First, the game was up there, where Grand Rapids is always tough. Second, East was due for a letdown. Third, the local press doesn't do a very good job of covering high school hockey up here. I've seen better coverage of East hockey in the Mpls Star-Tribune from time to time. This doesn't speak well for our local press.

Result of the game aside, I still think East is the team to beat in Section 7AA. Not much meaning can be attached to one game this early in the season; we'll see how Grand Rapids fares when they have to come down to the DECC later this season.

December 16, 1997

East 4, Cloquet 0. Another fairly easy shutout victory with Adam Coole in the nets. In fact, two shutouts; the junior varsity also chalked up a win by a 6-0 count. I was wondering how East would react after being beaten by Grand Rapids last Saturday, and I saw mixed results. The defense was much more diligent, and I think this was probably at the expense of the offense somwhat. Finnegan and Angell didn't rush the puck as much as they had been in previous games I'd witnessed. On offense, they seem so close to clicking, but not quite putting it all together. I'm not sure if this is just due to lack of snipers, lack of a certain chemistry on the lines, or whatever. Perhaps I've just been spoiled by the impressive numbers they've racked up during the past four seasons. The passing wasn't as crisp as I've seen, and there were times when they passed the puck one too many times. Cloquet defending their centering attempts fairly well, and a lot of completed centering passes were followed by misfires or weak shots.

I also sense a certain lack of enthusiam on this team. I picked up on this last year watching whenever they hit the ice. It could well be that I'm confusing a confident attitude with an apithetic attitude; maybe they're just so used to winning that they expect to win in games like this. I was hoping the loss to Rapids would change that, but I didn't see any change in the emotional level of this team.

Overall, I'm pleased with their 6-1 start (oops, 4-3...the first two games have now been forfeited due to Rheese Carlson's ineligibility). Great defense, okay offense.

December 18, 1997

East 6, Silver Bay 1. Only the second game this year in which East trailed, with Silver Bay getting the first goal. The Mariners have improved a lot over last season; they play hard, and they have a few decent players. John Conboy caught my eye a few times with some nice moves and good speed.

East tied the score, and it was 1-1 after the first period, despite East outshooting Silver Bay 15-3. In the second period, East clicked beautifully and poured in five goals. Gabe Taggart and Kevin Oswald went on a bit of a scoring spree, each getting four points in the game. Dan Roman, Ross Carlson and Nick Serre added one goal each. They kept Silver Bay's goalie very busy, outshooting them 51-10 by game's end. One thing that interested me was the absence of Patrick Finnegan on the ice tonight. Is he sick?

Best Teams? It seems that a lot of the teams considered to be the best in Minnesota have been knocked off at least once so far this season. Few teams have been immune from this, most notably Roseau and Anoka. Even Anoka has two ties thus far, to Elk River and Hastings; both are amongst the best this season.

East has beaten Elk River, which then beat Bloomington Jefferson. Edina has lost twice; to Hill-Murray and Armstrong. East beat Hill-Murray, then was defeated by Grand Rapids, which then lost to Hibbing. Prior to that, Hibbing and Greenway had travelled north and fallen victim to both Roseau and Warroad. Who is the best in Minnesota this year?

There is no easy answer to this question. Indeed, it seems there are several teams capable of winning state. The teams which immediately come to mind are Jefferson, Edina, East, Hill-Murray, Hastings, Anoka, Grand Rapids, Hibbing, Greenway, Roseau and Elk River. Any of these eleven teams are legitimate contenders. Rochester John Marshall kicked the pants off Mayo the other night, suggesting they may be in the elite group, also. Only Roseau, John Marshall and Forest Lake are undefeated and untied. Roseau is a legitimate contender. John Marshall could be, except the Mayo win was their only really convincing one. Forest Lake hasn't played a quality schedule this season; their opponents won/loss percentage is only .250.

The Roseau vs. Elk River matchup this weekend may tell something, or it may be inconclusive depending on the outcome. If Roseau wins convincingly, they will make a strong argument for being the best in the state. Jefferson has posted some very big margins of victory, but their defense may be suspect. East hasn't proven they can score in bunches; neither has Hill-Murray. Edina needs to start playing every game like they mean it. Anoka has only won by more than one goal once in their four games. Hastings could be the one, but except for Anoka, hasn't played anyone of real quality yet. Grand Rapids outshot Hibbing by a huge margin Thursday night, and still got beat 5-3. Greenway does have victories over both Grand Rapids and Hibbing, but lost convincingly to Roseau and Warroad and also tied International Falls. Lakeville had been undefeated, but their opponents had an atrocious won/loss percentage. Then they were beaten 6-3 by Eagan. And so on...and on....and on.

It'd very muddled right now, and this is part of what makes it so fun. I can't remember the last time there weren't two or three clearly defined powerhouses. It's a refreshing change, and very good for high school hockey in this state. Eventually, the group will shake itself out to a few teams which are more or less favored, but for now it's making for some great matchups!

December 20, 1997

East 7, Moorhead 1. East played as dominant a period at I've seen this season, scorching the Spuds for five first period goals, and then coasted to another victory. I've been waiting for someone outside the first line to step up, and Ross Carlson did exactly this today, scoring a natural hat-trick on his way to four goals. I didn't catch the shots on goal, but it wasn't overwhelming. I did notice that East scored on five of their nine first period shots, prompting Moorhead's coach to yank the goalie after East had shot out to a 3-0 lead.

Six different players had at least two points from the PA announcements of the scoring; besides Carlson's four goals, Kevin Oswald had one goal and two assists, Chad Roberg had two goals and two assists, Nick Angell had two assists, Patrick Finnegan had two assists and Dan Roman contributed three assists. An excellent offensive showing, and one that does much to dispell the idea that East isn't as good offensively as they were last year.

The play got a little chippy towards the end of the second period. I was concerned that Moorhead would seek retaliation in the third period for being obviously outmatched in the first two periods; to their coaches and players' credit, they kept the play relatively clean from what I could see. A lot of the lesser players saw considerable ice time after the first period. It was nice to see Mike Salmela get more play time than he had in previous games. I noticed, however, the absence of Jesse Hagadorn again. I wonder what happened to him?

Finnegan has been bothered by an ear infection recently, and it still shows somewhat, but it appears he's nearly back to normal. Good thing, too; they'll need all their big guns when Edina comes to town Monday night.

December 22, 1997

East 4, Edina 0. 3,500 fans on hand tonight, easily the biggest crowd for an East game at the DECC so far this year. And a big boot to the head to DECC management, who only had two ticket windows open! One line stretched all the way through the lobby and down the concourse towards Pioneer Hall. On the other side, God knows how far the line stretched outside. What were they thinking? School is out for Christmas holiday and it's a rematch of last year's State Championship. A crowd of this size had to be expected.

My brother arrived 20 minutes before game time; he didn't have a chance of getting through the lineup to the ticket window until most of the first period had been played. He was understandably miffed. Can't say that I blame him.

I got there just in time to see the overtime of the Duluth-Edina girls game. I wished I had arrived sooner to witness more of that event. Duluth won the game 5-4 in overtime, and the crowd reacted as they would have if it was a boys' game. It's a good sign that girls' hockey is taking serious root in Duluth, and it's warranted.

The announcement of the starting lineups was weird. I saw #32 out on the ice during practice and wondered who had taken Rheese Carlson's place in the lineup. Nobody had, as it turned out; just a few hours prior to the game, a Duluth judge had granted an injunction against the Minnesota State High School League's ruling. Rheese is allowed to play until his January 12 hearing.

This pumped the crowd up more than it already was. For whatever reason, Rheese and his younger brother Ross are turning out to be fan favorites amongst the East faithful. The hustle they display on the ice certainly has a lot to do with it. Rheese's eligibility situation has something to do with it, as well.

East came out flying. Mike Marshall snapped in an impressive wrist-shot 2:32 into the game, and East had the early lead. The lead stayed pat until the third period. Adam Coole was tested severely in the second period, turning away three Edina breakaways. Their forwards impressed me with their speed, and East just got caught flat-footed on all three of those plays. Had Edina scored on one or more of those breakaways, the outcome may have been different.

The Hounds thought they had gained a little breathing room just at the end of the second period on an apparent goal, but the referee ruled the puck had been deliberately guided into the Hornets goal with a skate, and the goal was disallowed.

The third period was all East. Edina didn't get another breakaway, and then started taking stupid penalties. While East didn't score on any of those power plays (including a two-man advantage), it hurt Edina's chance of a comeback. Gabe Taggart scored at the 2:17 mark, and the momentum it gave the Hounds was tremendous. Rheese scored from Ross 24 seconds later, prompting a frenzy of celebration at the DECC. East took a penalty later in the period, but Chad Roberg turned it around on Edina , scoring a short-handed goal to ice the victory.

The final shot tally was 35-18 in favor of East. I didn't see the East victory over Hill-Murray, but this was their best effort so far this season, following a very strong effort against Moorhead. It really looks like they're putting it all together; too bad they won't play another game until January 3 when they visit Apple Valley. Edina is a good team, and played a decent game, but once they let East go up 2-0, they couldn't stem the tide of emotion on the Hounds side. It was a convincing victory, one that a team rated first in the state should be capable of.

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