Top-ranked Duluth East cruised to a 7-0, running-time victory over Cloquet in a non-conference high school hockey game Tuesday night at Cloquet Area Recreation Center.

Jake Randolph had three goals and an assist for the Greyhounds, and Dylan Parker posted a 14-save shutout.

Dom Toninato added two goals and three assists for Duluth East (7-0), which out-shot the Lumberjacks 51-14. Phil Beaulieu and Hogan Davidson also scored Greyhounds' goals.

Top Division I prospects Randolph, an emerging Mr. Minnesota Hockey final candidate, and Toninato have stepped up their scoring and leadership, big-time, in the absence of linemate Trevor Olson, who is back skating after slightly tearing the MCL in his right knee in a preseason scrimmage. No surgery was required and he is expected back in the lineup sometime in early January.

Duluth East is a ridiculously talented team, deep, well-coached and could be difficult to upset this season. Not surprisingly, the Greyhounds are defensive-minded, get up the ice in a hurry and prefer to cycle the puck along the boards in the offensive zone. They're a highly entertaining team that moves the puck with speed and accuracy, almost like a small-college team.

Duluth East-Cloquet Game Notes

Duluth East vs. Cloquet hockey is northeastern Minnesota's most spirited high school sports rivalry, and generates the most spectator and media interest.

Up North prep hockey legends who have starred in Greyhounds-Jacks classics throughout the years include Dave Spehar, Phil Verchota and Derek Forbort of Duluth East and Jamie Langenbrunner, Corey Millen, Derek Plante and Cha Karulak of Cloquet, among others.

An educated guess is the Greyhounds lead the all-time series against the mighty Lumberjacks, although no official statistics are kept. The fierce rivals generally play home-and-home games during the regular season, and regularly meet in the Section 7AA playoffs.

This season’s Greyhounds-Jacks games will be particularly interesting. Duluth East is ranked No. 1 in Minnesota Class 2A -- and deservedly so -- and unranked Cloquet has its best team in two years. Not as skilled or deep as the rock-star Greyhounds, the Jacks are tough to beat in their own barn.

Duluth East (6-0) and Cloquet (5-2) meet at 7:30 p.m. today in Cloquet.

A second meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6 at Amsoil Arena in Duluth -- and there’s a good chance the traditional rivals will meet again in a Section 7AA quarterfinal or semifinal game later in the season. Duluth East and Grand Rapids likely will be seeded 1-2 for the 7AA tournament, and in this order.

 

The Greyhounds feature one of the state’s top forward lines, a veteran defense that has no peers in the state and a pair of unbeaten goaltenders who have yet to be tested. A few overly-enthusiastics in Greyhounds Nation, unashamedly, are calling the 2011-12  team the school's best-ever, and expect it to easily win a 2A state championship and finish 29-0 overall.

Rinkwise fans aren't so easily convinced. Grand Rapids has a big, physical and talented team. And even a frisky team like Cloquet, if it's goaltender stands on his head, is capable of upsetting Duluth East in a one game playoff.

Even if Duluth East wins a third straight 7A championship and gains another state berth, powerhouse teams such as Minnetonka, Maple Grove, Eagan, Burnsville, Benilde-St. Margaret's, Eden Prairie and Edina could reach the Final Eight and would be tough opponents. In the prestigious Minnesota state tournament, it's a pick-em, meaning there are no solid favorites.

. . .

Duluth East is led by senior center Jake Randolph, who has scored six goals the past three games and 10 goals and 18 points overall, and junior defenseman Meirs Moore, a rising Division I prospect who quarterbacks the state’s top power-play. Senior right wing Trevor Olson won’t play tonight, as he continues to rehab a minor MCL tear in his right knee.

Duluth will mostly roll three lines, spotting a fourth line, and a speedy and talented second line featuring juniors Conner Valesano, Alex Toscano and Jack Forbort is especially dangerous if opponents focus too strongly on the Greyhounds’ potent first line. Like Randolph and Olson, Valesano is a top Division I prospect, and Forbort a rising star with tremendous speed and finishing ability. Toscano is a power winger who can score, big-time.

Sophomore forward Karson Kulhman is Cloquet’s franchise player, and Minnesota’s No. 2 scorer with 21 points.

Duluth East has won three state championships (1998, ’95 and ’60) and made 18 state tournament appearances. Cloquet has advanced to state four times, including most recently in 2008.

Duluth East coach Mike Randolph is 460-128-19 in 24 seasons, and Cloquet coach Dave Esse is 190-120-19 in 13 seasons.

Local hockey fans are in for a treat tonight. Jake Randolph is the best pure passer in Minnesota since Neal Broten. Hockey purists will appreciate the playmaking skill and poise of Moore, and the upside of Greyhounds sophomore defenseman Phil Beaulieu, who I expect to shine at the next two levels.

As Jacks’ fans know and opponents are learning, Kuehlman has Division I speed.

Duluth East’s power play is ridiculously powerful, almost criminal for a high school team. If the Jacks can't stay out of the penalty box tonight, the Greyhounds will toy with the Jacks.

. . .

Duluth-area players to watch:

. Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East sophomore defenseman. A varsity regular as a freshman, Beaulieu has a chance to be one of Duluth's best-ever players. I project him as a NHL first- or second-round selection. Believe it. He has tremendous hands and sniper ability, and actually is a true forward. He has a quick release, a heavy shot and likely will be 6-foot-3, plus-200 pounds in his senior year. Comparable: Justin Faulk (South St. Paul, UMD, Carolina). Same toughness, grit and major-league shot. Eventually more offensive, with better hands.

. Nick Thompson, Duluth Denfeld freshman defenseman. Already 6-foot-3, long, offensive and defensive -- with the size, toughness and leadership skills scouts expected in Derek Forbort. Huge, huge, huge upside. Comparable: everything Derek Forbort, with amazing toughness, grit and drive.

. Tre Opack, Duluth Denfeld sophomore forward. About 6-foot-2, 180 and growing like a weed. Toughest young athlete I've observed in nearly 40 years as a sportswriter -- a young Henry Boucha, with projected Chris Ponger size and length and Rocky toughness and drive. He's incredibly long, has great hands and finishes in traffic with authority. Reminds me of a young Jack Carlson (who I played against), only right-handed and with far better offensive skills. I project him as a 6-foot-5, 215 high school senior that pro scouts will absolutely drool over. He's currently sidelined with a broken wrist. Comparable: ex-Vikings DB Joey Browner on skates.

Photo -- Duluth East senior forward Dom Toninato celebrated a teammates' goal during the 2010-11 season. Howie Hanson / HowieBlog.com

Older Post

A solution to the Vikings stadium debate; more on Judd Peterson

Newer Post

Must-watch music video: Stand by Me