The hits came slow at first. A bump in the corner. A shove in front of the net. A rub-out in the neutral zone.
The “heavy game” players and coaches from both Minnetonka and Duluth East were expecting in Saturday night’s state Class 2A boys’ hockey championship game didn’t arrive until the second period, finally announcing itself with a series of crashes, bangs and thuds.
From there, the physical play never relented in Minnetonka’s eventual 5-2 victory over the Greyhounds at Xcel Energy Center.
The fireworks started early in the second period. Duluth East’s Ian Mageau drove the net and got a roughing-the-goaltender penalty for his part in the collision with Charlie Glockner. Minnetonka’s Luke Loheit took offense and was called for roughing.
Minutes later, Duluth East’s Ryder Donovan was cartwheeling over Glockner on a bull rush through the crease. Donovan was called for goaltender interference, too.
The physical play only ramped up from there. A night after zero penalties were called in Duluth East’s 4-2 semifinal victory over Edina, seven were called in the second period alone — and 11 in all in the title game.
The biggest, and perhaps most damaging, of the body blows came when the 6-1, 185-pound Loheit sent Duluth East defenseman Frederick Hunter Paine sprawling into the Greyhounds net. Loheit was called for interference. Paine headed off the ice for medical treatment. He returned to start the third period.
“I watched Minnetonka play Edina at Christmastime,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said before Saturday’s game. “It was like a no-check game. I couldn’t believe what I was watching.
“I went, ‘That ain’t going to happen when we play.’ ”
Duluth East bullied its way to 4-2 victory over the Skippers a week later.
“They play a different style than the metro teams,” Minnetonka coach Sean Goldsworthy said. “They play a heavy game.”
Randolph schools his teams on playing “Northern Hockey.” That means every check must be finished. Every loose puck must be contested. That means opposing players camping out in the crease are not treated with care.
With Loheit leading the way, Minnetonka, known more for its speed and finesse, added some considerable bump-and-grind to its game Saturday.