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Boys High School Hockey Preview: Pitoscia takes the reins at Duluth East

While Pitoscia’s program won’t be a mirror image of Randolph’s, he said they both have the same goal in mind: “developing good people.”

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New Duluth East coach Steve Pitoscia watches bantam players Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, at the Heritage Center in Duluth. Pitoscia took over the position after Mike Randolph departed earlier this year after 32 years with the program. Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune
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Steve Pitoscia knows he’s inherited a job with a long legacy and more than a little pressure.

For the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Duluth East will have a new head coach on the bench when its players take to the ice this season.

Former coach Mike Randolph left the program this spring after more than three decades on the job. In fact, Randolph’s tenure — 32 years — was longer than the 28 years the Berlin Wall stood. Randolph led the Greyhounds to two state championships, five trips to the state final in his tenure and several more appearances in the state tournament.

In fact, Pitoscia was a senior at Duluth East — but not on the hockey team — when Randolph led the Greyhounds to a third-place finish in the state tournament.

Pitoscia first began coaching in 1997 as part of the Cloquet Bantam program before Randolph added him to the Greyhound staff four years later.

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“I just kind of fell in love with coaching,” Pitoscia said of his time with the Cloquet program.

He eventually went on to take over the Duluth East Bantam program after a year on the Greyhound bench and continued in that role for 17 years. He also spent time as an assistant coach at Duluth Marshall and with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers.

Randolph might not be on the bench any more for Duluth East, but his influence will continue to guide the program.

“My whole foundation of how hockey is played and how it’s taught, really, comes from him,” Pitoschia said.

Matt Mathias, one of Pitoscia’s assistant coaches and a 1997 Duluth East graduate, said Randolph is largely responsible for where the program is today.

“Mike Randolph did an amazing job with Duluth East,” Mathias said. “When he came on board in the late 80s, it was a struggling program. Mike Randolph turned that program around and put it where it is today.”

While Pitoscia’s program won’t be a mirror image of Randolph’s, he said they both have the same goal in mind: “developing good people.”

“I think that was important to him and that’ll certainly be important to me,” Pitoscia said. “To do that, I think we teach these kids how to be professionals. It’s not necessarily a professional hockey player, maybe it’s a professional police officer, a lawyer or whatever. At the end of the day, the things that make successful professionals are attention to detail, hard work, preparation, being of high character and doing things the right way, even when people aren’t there to see it.”

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Mathias, who also played at Minnesota Duluth in college, said their goal as a staff is to continue Randolph's tradition of helping their players become better people on and off the ice. It’s the tradition and loyalty to the program that brought Pitoscia back to Duluth.

“Steve was in a great situation in Omaha,” Mathias said. “But because of how much he cares about the Duluth East program, he took that opportunity to come back here.”

The Greyhounds only won six games in 2021, but Pitoscia said there is a lot of talent returning to the program, and while the focus is on improving players as individuals, he hopes to play a style that “continues to develop their hockey ability” for the boys who want to continue playing after high school.

What’s more, in addition to Pitoscia and Mathias, the Duluth East program has turned out coaches in programs around the area. Dylan Mills, a Greyhound alum and University of Minnesota player, is another assistant for Pitoscia. In addition, former Greyhound Ben Johnson coached at Ely before taking over Rock Ridge this season.

Johnson was thrilled to see Pitoscia take over at Duluth East.

“I’ve known Steve for a long time and I’m happy he got the job,” Johnson said. “He’s been dedicated to the East program for so many years. It’s nice to see him finally take it over.”

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New Duluth East coach Steve Pitoscia stands in the Greyhound locker room at the Heritage Center Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

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This article has been updated Monday, Nov. 29 at 11 a.m. to reflect that Pitoscia was a senior at Duluth East in 1994 when the team finished third in the state but was not on the team. The News Tribune regrets the error.

5 PLAYERS TO WATCH

ZAM PLANTE

Hermantown

Junior forward

Plante is considered one of the top prospects in the state. The Minnesota Duluth commit led his team in scoring (29 goals, 32 assists, 61 points) and recorded a goal and two assists in the Hawks’ state quarterfinal loss to Dodge County despite the Hawks being forced to field nearly all junior varsity players after the varsity squad had a COVID-19 exposure in a section game when Plante was injured.

JOEY DELGRECO

Grand Rapids

Senior forward

DelGreco was second on the team in assists (17) and third in points (25) last season and recorded a goal and an assist in two section tournament games. DelGreco is the only returning Thunderhawk that scored more than 20 points last season.

TY HANSON

Hermantown

Junior defenseman

Another Minnesota Duluth commit, Hanson is among the top defensive prospects in the area and was the only Hawk defenseman to tally more than 25 points in 2021.

BRENDAN FRIDAY

Duluth Marshall

Junior forward

Friday led his team in goals (10) and assists (18) and will look to head up a Hilltopper attack that returns most of its scoring production from last season.

JACOB WALSH

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton

Senior goaltender

Walsh was 3-4 last season with a 3.47 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage, but is widely considered one of the top goalies in the area. Earlier this fall, he fared well in the Upper Midwest Elite League against the top talent in the state.

5 GAMES TO WATCH

Rock Ridge at Greenway

7 p.m. Nov. 30

The Wolverines drop the puck on their inaugural season against the Raiders and give fans a look at the future of hockey in the Iron Range Conference. Both teams will look to challenge Hibbing/Chisholm for the conference title.

Grand Rapids at Duluth East

7 p.m. Nov. 30

An early season test for both teams, Grand Rapids is looking to get into the Class AA state tournament for the first time since 2017, while the Greyhounds are trying to find their footing under new coach Steve Pitoscia.

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at Duluth Denfeld

7 p.m. Dec. 9

The Hunters are fresh off a trip to the Section 7A title game, while the Lumberjacks are still smarting from a loss to Grand Rapids in the Section 7AA semifinal. The clash will give each team an indicator of where they stand and how competitive they can be in their respective sections.

Duluth Denfeld at Duluth East

7 p.m. Jan. 18

The Hunters and the Greyhounds tied the last time they faced each other, in the opening game of the 2021 season. A second game between the two city rivals was canceled, and this year the Hunters will face a Duluth East squad without Mike Randolph on the bench for the first time in 32 years.

Hermantown at Grand Rapids

7 p.m. Feb. 15

The regular season finale for both teams, this could be a clash between the eventual Section 7A and 7AA champions and a good indicator for where the Hawks and Thunderhawks are as they look toward the state tournament in March.

TEAM PROFILES

Related Topics: HOCKEYBOYS HOCKEY
Jamey Malcomb has been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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