Text messages began piling up on Mike Randolph’s cell phone soon after the Duluth East boys hockey team returned from its trip to Forest Lake last Tuesday.
A couple messages from players with flu-like symptoms turned into a handful by the next morning and, eventually, a full-blown M*A*S*H unit had formed.
As many as 18 players — including all 12 varsity forwards — were too sick to play in the Greyhounds’ home game against Brainerd last week, forcing a second postponement of that matchup (the first was due to snow). It is rescheduled for Feb. 5 at Heritage Center.
“We canceled that game and then waited to see if it was a 24-hour flu until we canceled the Moorhead game (Saturday),” Randolph said Monday. “We had to cancel that one, and we just canceled (Tuesday's game at) Eagan (on Monday) morning.
“I want to make sure they are OK and fully recovered because I don’t want (opponents) to get sick or us not be able to put a competitive team on the ice.”
There’s little Randolph hasn’t experienced in his 31 seasons behind the Greyhounds bench, but he says this is a first.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Randolph said. “All teams go through flu at different times, but not this many guys. We don’t have enough players to play. Plus, we don’t want to give other teams (this illness).”
The top four lines were all sidelined for the Brainerd game as were four of the top six defensemen and starting goaltender Konrad Kausch. Now the bug is starting to go through the junior varsity, Randolph said.
The team was scheduled to have an optional skate Monday, though Randolph stayed away due to his own illness, and has its first practice since the outbreak set up for Tuesday. Randolph expects to field enough players for Saturday’s home game against Elk River.
To combat the widespread illness, parents washed their kids’ game jerseys and practice jerseys, while the Heritage Center locker rooms were disinfected.
In the meantime, Randolph was on the phone keeping opposing coaches apprised of the situation.
“We’ve had to cancel games and reschedule games, so it’s been pretty hectic the last half week between that and managing all the kids that are sick and them updating us where they are at,” Randolph said.
The setback is not something East (7-9-1) needs during an already challenging season. The inexperienced team is on a four-game winless streak, was shut out in back-to-back games over the New Year and is poised to become the first East team since 1953 to post a losing record.
“It’s been a different year in a lot of ways,” Randolph said.