Prep boys hockey: East falls short in Class AA quarterfinals

ST. PAUL -- Going into Thursday night's Class AA state tournament quarterfinal, it was no secret that offense would be at a premium for Duluth East. The Greyhounds' opponent, St. Thomas Academy, had allowed one goal or fewer 17 times during the 1...

Tyler Schank / Duluth East's Finn Hoops (10) and St. Thomas Academy's Andrew Boemer (17) compete for the puck in the second period of a Class AA boys hockey quarterfinal Thursday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

ST. PAUL - Going into Thursday night’s Class AA state tournament quarterfinal, it was no secret that offense would be at a premium for Duluth East.

The Greyhounds’ opponent, St. Thomas Academy, had allowed one goal or fewer 17 times during the 18-game winning streak the Cadets carried to Xcel Energy Center.

That storyline stayed true to form before an announced evening-session crowd of 18,375. In fact, all St. Thomas needed was a pair of Ryan O’Neill goals - one in the first period, another in the third - and Muzzy Donohue’s stingy netminding to down East 3-1 and reach tonight’s semifinals vs. No. 1 Edina.

The Greyhounds outshot the Cadets 29-20, but had little to show for the advantage in dropping into the consolation round.

“We’ve had games like that where we’ve had opportunities, but couldn’t finish,” East coach Mike Randolph said. “They had their chances and they buried them.”


Throw in the Greyhounds’ pounding style of play, keyed by Ricky Lyle and Frederick Paine, and it was no surprise to see these teams engage in a low-scoring affair - quite the contrast from their 2015 quarterfinal, which East won 6-5 in overtime after twice trailing by three.

The Greyhounds (18-7-2), seeded fifth, wore down the fourth-seeded Cadets (25-3-1) in the second period after Charlie Erickson forged a 1-1 tie by skating horizontal with the goal line, then drifting out front and lifting a power-play backhander over Donohue’s left shoulder.

After drawing even, East sustained the pressure that led to Erickson’s score. The Greyhounds drilled a pair of posts while getting to almost every loose puck.

But St. Thomas, looking to send longtime co-coaches Tom and Greg Vannelli into retirement with the program’s first big-school state title, regrouped and regained its stride in the third. At the 9:46 mark, Nico Vega slipped a pass out front that avoided traffic and ended up on O’Neill’s stick in the slot. He rifled in the eventual winner.

“It was just right in my wheelhouse,” O’Neill said.

It looked like East had tied it with 6:07 remaining as the puck pinballed around the St. Thomas crease. Donohue said his teammate, defenseman Carter Henry, kept it out with his skate. Afterward, the Jumbotron sure seemed to show it cross the goal line, but it wasn’t reviewable and play continued.

“I think we had some bounces that didn’t go our way,” Lyle said. “We had some chances - I had some chances - that we didn’t bury. Their goalie played a great game.”

Greg Vannelli wouldn’t disagree with the puck-luck assessment.


“We’ve had a lot of games where they went the other way,” the coach said. “I guess it was our turn this time.”

Donohue finished with 28 saves, while Brody Rabold had 17 for East, which faces Moorhead at noon today at Mariucci Arena.

Vannelli and his brother, Tom, have led the Cadets since 2003, winning five Class A titles along the way. Greg said the Cadets were fortunate to get through the quarterfinals.

“That was a heavyweight fight,” he said. “This was as good a game as we’ve had all year.”

East, winners of seven straight coming in and trying to return to the championship game for the second consecutive year, fell behind midway through the first period after failing to clear the puck, which skidded free along the boards. O’Neill came streaking in on the right side and unleashed a laser from the faceoff circle to the far side.

That was it until Erickson tied it.

But the Greyhounds couldn’t crack the Cadets’ defense again.

Duluth East 0-1-0-1
St. Thomas Acad. 1-0-2-3 First period - 1. STA, Ryan O’Neill, 8:23.


Second period - 2. DE, Charlie Erickson (Jonathan Jones, Ryder Donovan), 12:45 (pp).

Third period - 3. STA, O’Neill (Nico Vega, Thomas Winges), 9:46; 4. STA, McClain Beaudette, 15:32 (en).

Saves - Brody Rabold, DE, 17; Muzzy Donohue, STA, 28.

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