Duluth East boys' hockey coach Mike Randolph doesn't scare easily.

Too many seasons (30) behind the bench. Too much success (two state titles, more than 600 career victories). More headaches than he cares to recall.

So he remained unfazed as a combination of injury, hot opposing goaltenders and a struggling star player contributed to setbacks within the fifth-ranked Greyhounds' 9-3-1 start this season.

"You see your true team within adversity," Randolph said. "That's something I talked to [Minnetonka coach Sean] Goldsworthy about when they came up here. They haven't experienced that yet."

The defending Class 2A state champion Skippers (14-0) defeated the Greyhounds 5-2 on Jan. 5 at Duluth's Heritage Center. The hyped showdown between last year's state tournament championship game foes did not play out as expected.

Defenseman Frederick Paine was injured on the first shift. And the 'Hounds were already without defenseman Ryan Cummings, ejected from the previous night's game against Stillwater for checking from behind.

"Minnetonka is the best team but we could've given them a better game," Randolph said.

Duluth's two public school programs, East and Denfeld, met two days later. East escaped with a 2-1 overtime victory despite a 57-22 advantage in shots on goal.

That game, one of four that East took to overtime already this season, was reminiscent to a 2-1 overtime victory Dec. 13 against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. The Hounds outshot the Lumberjacks 30-12 that night.

Against Denfeld, Ricky Lyle and Jonathan Jones provided the goals. Mr. Hockey hopeful Ryder Donovan did not crack the score sheet.

Donovan, a 6-4 senior forward, leads the team with 18 points and is tied for second with six goals heading into Thursday's game against Grand Rapids. He had several chances against Denfeld but could not bury.

"He's really struggling," Randolph said. "He's fighting it."

In later November, Donovan rescinded his verbal commitment to North Dakota and reopened the college recruiting process.

"He needs to make a college decision and just put it behind him," Randolph said. "He gets a lot of calls from college coaches and NHL guys."

Of course, Donovan isn't alone. Duluth East lost 3-1 at Champlin Park despite outshooting the Rebels 57-22. Same lopsided shot totals as Denfeld. Different result.

"We're getting our chances but we have to be patient," Randolph said. "You can't try to get cuter. You have to keep it simple."

Paine should return in "a couple weeks," Randolph said. As for the other concerns, there's still time.

"We have until February," Randolph said. "If we haven't been working hard, if we haven't been coming together, I'd be worried."