East is ‘Old but inexperienced,’ inspiring Randolph
In the scheme of all things sporting, it may not seem like such a huge thing that Duluth East lost its home opening high school hockey game 3-1 to a very good Wayzata team on Saturday afternoon at Essential Heritage Center.
After all, there were some other significant setbacks by area teams that we usually see win. Consider football, where the Vikings made a fabulous late rally after being outscored 17-0 in the third quarter, which wound up being a 37-30 loss to the Seattle Seahawks Monday night. That came a coup0le days after the Minnesota Golden Gophers
were unable to keep pace with the Wisconsin Badgers and suffered a 38-17 whipping at the hands of the Badgers.
There was also Alabama, which always wins the big games, but lost one to arch-rival Auburn, 48-45 Saturday to officially eliminate themselves from any chance at the NCAA national championship tournament. Then we turn to hockey, where the UMD Bulldogs dropped not one but both games of their series against Minnesota State-Mankato — 4-1 and 3-1.
Alongside those, East’s loss may not seem that big. But the Greyhounds also lost their opener, 5-0, at White Bear Lake Friday. Starting 0-2 is not like an East team, but it is not surprising to coach Mike Randolph.
Randolph is an interesting study as a coach. But he probably hasn’t been this enthused about coaching a Greyhounds team since 2015, when a team that seemed limited in manpower gathered itself up during the
second half of the season and made a stirring run through to the Section 7AA championship, and an unlikely trip to the state tournament. They kept up their unlikely roll.
“We played St. Thomas and we ended up beating them in overtime,” Randolph recalled. “Then we did the same thing to Elk River. But then we ran into Edina…”
Losing to Edina is rarely a shock, but in that case, getting to the final — in fat getting to the tournament — was the surprise.
“We’ve already told this year’s team about that,” Randolph said. “We told them that we have to keep improving all through the season, because come playoff time, the team that wins will have to be mentally tough. And with the schedule we have, we’re going to be mentally tough.”
When asked about all the departures East suffered from graduation and the defection of two top returnees — Logan Anderson, who had played since ninth grade, and Jacob Jeannette, who had played only one season, as a sophomore — both chose to go off to junior hockey. So it was assumed this year’s team would be young and inexperienced.
“Nom,” said Randolph, “we’re old and inexperienced.”
So rich is the East youth feeder system that it is hard to break into the varsity roster in a normal year, when a lot of seniors and juniors abound as returnees. But the strength of East’s program also is its junior varsity, which plays a full schedule and is coached with the same Greyhound discipline as the varsity.
“Charlie Erickson is the only returnee we have who played regularly,” said Randolph. “We expect him to be one of our leading scorers, and we expect Finn Hoops and Zarley Ziemski to score, too. We have 10 seniors on this team, including Hoops and Erickson, but they’ve only played JV until this year. Now they get their chance to become our go-to guys.”
That could indicate it will be a tough year for the Greyhounds, but you couldn’t tell by talking to Randolph, who is genuinely enthused about coaching this team.
“It’s going to be a blast,” he said. “But we’re going to have to measure our progress by small steps. We have so much work to do, that we haven’t gotten around to go beyond the situational teaching to work on things that will take more hockey sense to master.
“We were in both games so far. We lost 5-0 at White Bear Lake but we were in the game. They’ve got a nice team, but we had some chances to win the game but our power play couldn’t get anything done. It was the same against Wayzata. We were ahead 1-0 after one period, and we got a 5-minute power play when they got a major penalty. But our power play didn’t get anything going, and we lost 3-1 on an empty-net goal.
“So those first two losses are on me, because I haven’t gotten around to working on the power play. We are so inexperienced in what it takes to play at the level we want to play at that we’ve had a lot of things to do in practice that are more important than the power play. At this point, I’m trying to figure out who might be able to make the plays and work on the power play.”
Konrad Kausch is the senior goaltender and Randolph excuses him of any blame for the first two losses. “He did his job, in fact he was our best player both games,” said Randolph. “And we’ll be a lot better when we get Ryan Cummings back. He’s out, going through concussion protocol after he got hit against White Bear Lake. He’ll be a key for our defense and for our whole team.”
After all the strong, state championship-caliber teams Randolph has coached and developed at East, he remains fired-up instead of discouraged about the possibility of a tough season.
“When you’ve got a powerhouse team, you run the risk of over-coaching them,” said Randolph. “Not this year. But we have so much to do, it’s going to be fun watching them develop, and to see this team at the end of January and the end of February.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix, but there is nothing wrong with us that we can’t fix.”
The Greyhounds had their game against Lakeville South postponed by last weekend’s blizzard, and they will try to reschedule it. This week, they play at Bemidji on Thursday, and come home to face 7AA favorite Andover on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Heritage. It was Andover, favored in last year’s 7AA tournament, that East upset in overtime in the 7AA final.
Randolph knows how tough Andover will be, and Grand Rapids, and maybe Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, right up here in 7AA. But it’s just all part of the development process, which is something that satisfies the inner coaching mentality of Randolph.
“I’ve got a lot of time to watch videotapes and have fun putting this mess together,” Randolph said. “It is a mess right now, but it’s going to be fun to watch the improvement. Right now, we might have won those first two games if our power play had worked, so at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, we’re going to start working on our power play. And at 6 a.m. the next day. It’s a priority right now.”