Duluth East's top-rated regional and No. 3 statewide hockey team was running like a well-oiled machine before taking the last two weeks off from the most rigorous regular-season schedule imaginable. It figured they might be in need of a tune-up after the break, and it didn't help that St. Francis kept trying to clog up the gears Thursday night.

But the top-seeded Greyhounds overcame the rugged Saints 5-0 behind two goals from sophomore Nick Licari in the Section 7AA quarterfinal at the DECC. The Greyhounds got an idea that they'd better be ready from the night's opener, in which Ely -- the bottom seed in Section 7A -- stunned second-seeded Denfeld 7-2 in the A-class quarterfinal.

"It was a good game for us after the long layoff," said East coach Mike Randolph. "They pounded us a little, but they're a good team, and they've got some good players. I'd bet that's the best St. Francis team they've ever had."

The Greyhounds, 19-4, advance to face Hibbing, in Hibbing, at high noon on Saturday in a semifinal battle, after the fifth-seeded Bluejackets traveled to Brainerd to eliminate the fourth-seeded entry 8-0. Greenway of Coleraine, the No. 2 seed, overcame neighboring rival Grand Rapids 5-2, to gain the right to face Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, which beat Forest Lake in Thursday's quarterfinals.

St. Francis weathered some early East pressure, and, though outshot 13-5 in the first period, kept the game scoreless until 11:36, when Licari wound up alone in the slot. Andy LeTourneau, who grabbed a loose puck, fed him for the game's first goal. The game slipped away from St. Francis in the second period, when Tommy Kolar scored from the crease at 4:31, and Tom Sawatske scored a power-play goal that was deflected in cleanly but inadvertently by a Saints defenseman at 9:14.

"They had too many quick guys," said St. Francis coach Marty DeKanick. "But if we pick up the guy on the one goal and don't tip one into our own net, it would have still been 1-0. We passed up a lot of shots."

True, the Saints seemed so preoccupied with containing East they neglected their own offense, which includes Justin Davis, one of the state's top 10 scorers. East goaltender Dan Hoehne needed only 11 saves to register the shutout. Vince Beaman, in the St. Francis net, had more of a struggle, as East outshot the Saints 36-11.

LeTourneau boosted it to 4-0 midway through the third period, on Tom Allen's third assist of the game, and Licari came out of the penalty box to slam in a Ross Carlson behind-the-net pass at 11:47.

"They played us well," said Licari, who now has 20 goals for the season, although his line had a ragged night. Center Zach Burns injured his back on the first shift and played, although he got a chance for extra rest with a misconduct penalty at the end of the second period. The rarely-penalized Licari was dealt three penalties, including a curious one at the end of the second that inspired the Burns comment. Carlson also had a penalty, meaning, with four minors and a misconduct for the game, that line was the target of the St. Francis checkers and the officials as well.

Denfeld stunned by Ely's splurge

The current debate on whether the wolf population poses a threat to people in larger cities gained some anti-wolf supporters at the DECC Thursday night. The Denfeld hockey team became the endangered species when the Ely Timberwolves invaded the city of Duluth and thrashed the Hunters 7-2 in a Section 7A quarterfinal game.

Ely, which had to win a preliminary round game at higher-seeded Mesabi East on Tuesday, did just that with a 5-2 mild upset, then they came to play for the first time in the DECC and scored three goals in the first period and four in the second to build a 7-0 lead and coast into Saturday's semifinals. The Timberwolves will play International Falls at 7:30 p.m. in Hibbing, after Falls whipped defending champion Silver Bay Thursday. The other 7A semifinal will be at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the DECC, between Marshall, which beat Eveleth-Gilbert, and Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl, which overcame Two Harbors.

The primary attraction in Section 7A is that every entry has the potential to win but fights inconsistency. Ely and Denfeld have been textbook examples. Denfeld can play alert, forceful hockey, as the Hunters did in the third period when Scott Spehar and John Rodberg scored their only goals. Trouble was, it was running time the whole third period, and no time to build on the goals.

"We came out on fire," said Jankowski, the team captain while only a junior. "This is the time to do it. Falls will be tough. They beat us 4-1 during the season. But Mesabi East had beaten us twice, too, 5-4 in overtime and 6-4 on an empty-net goal, and we beat them 5-2."

Ely coach Bob Bestul said the first time his Timberwolves had ever been in the DECC was to scrimmage Denfeld, which outscored them. "I said then that we had to shoot for getting back to play in the DECC," Bestul said. "We stepped it up tonight, and it even surprised me. I'd say the first two periods were the best we've played. We slacked off in the third, but maybe because we'd never been in that position before."

That position was a 7-0 lead. After scoring just eight goals in those six late-season losses, the 'Wolves underwent a bit of soul-searching and then scored 33 goals in four consecutive victories -- going into Saturday.

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