State boys hockey: Duluth East falls to Lakeville North in Class AA championship
ST. PAUL -- After upsetting St. Thomas Academy in the quarterfinals and Edina in the semifinals, Duluth East faced its most daunting challenge yet Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, where unblemished Lakeville North and its lethal arsenal of M...
ST. PAUL - After upsetting St. Thomas Academy in the quarterfinals and Edina in the semifinals, Duluth East faced its most daunting challenge yet Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center, where unblemished Lakeville North and its lethal arsenal of Mr. Hockey finalists and Division I recruits awaited in the Class AA finals of the Minnesota high school boys hockey tournament.
The Greyhounds hung around in front of a championship-game record 19,495 fans, the majority of them hoping for one more magical moment from East, but the powerful Panthers ground their way to a 4-1 victory to become the state’s first big-school team to run the table unscathed since Bloomington Jefferson in 1992-93.
No. 1 Lakeville North, which beat East 2-1 on Jan. 13 and which counts six D-I players on its roster, finishes 31-0.
“It’s absolute exhilaration,” Panthers coach Trent Eigner said through moist eyes.
Sophomore Ryan Poehling, reportedly “sick as a dog” before the game, converted an East turnover into the game’s first goal in the first period, and brothers Jack and Nick Poehling (senior twins) teamed up to make it a 2-0 game in the second when Jack redirected Nick’s drive from the point for a power-play score. Both Jack and Nick Poehling are Mr. Hockey finalists - as is teammate Jack Sadek - and St. Cloud State signees.
Ryan Poehling likewise has committed to play for the Huskies, while Sadek is Minnesota-bound.
“The whole team is really good,” Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph said. “That’s why they’re 31-0. One of the best high school teams I’ve ever seen.”
On the flip side, East (16-11-4) doesn’t have any players up for high school hockey’s most coveted individual honor. Nor are there any Division I commits (yet). Instead, the Greyhounds advanced to Saturday by embracing a team-first and defense-heavy philosophy that sparked a 10-3-3 stretch to end the season.
With so many three-goal deficits overcome during this run, Randolph quipped: “Did we get down by three? That’s what I was waiting for. We waited too long.”
East’s strategy was clear from the start - keep it close and have a chance late. Everybody was a defenseman for the Greyhounds, who tried to tie up and trap the Panthers every chance they got. So much emphasis on defense, though, was noticeable on the other end, especially in the opening period when East had just one shot on goal.
East opened things up a bit in the third, with chants of “Here we go, Greyhounds, here we go” reverberating throughout Xcel, but couldn’t muster a true threat to the Panthers’ perfection. Ryan Peterson ended the shutout bid with a power-play deflection. Nick Poehling finished the scoring with an empty-netter.
It was East’s third straight title-game loss since the program’s last championship, in 1998. And it came on the heels of Hermantown running its skid to 0-6 in finals since winning in 2007. Add to that Duluth Marshall’s three consecutive losses and two more by Grand Rapids in the mid-2000s, and Championship Saturday has been unkind to the Northland of late.
But it couldn’t take away from everything the Greyhounds accomplished after finishing the regular season a single game over .500 (11-10-4).
“It’s a special, special group of guys who overachieved,” Randolph said, noting how proud he was of his players. “As is, I think, the entire state of Minnesota.”
-- This year’s tournament shattered attendance records. A total of 135,618 fans attended, smashing the old mark of 129,643, set in 2008. That included 21,609 for Friday night’s Class AA semifinal session, the largest crowd for an indoor hockey game in state history.
-- Had the Greyhounds defeated Lakeville North, their loss total would have been the most for a champion since 14-14 Eveleth-Gilbert won the Tier II title in 1992-93.
-- Duluth East’s Peterson, Alex Spencer, Ash Altmann and Gunnar Howg were named to the Class AA all-tournament team. They were joined by Jack McNeely, Jack Poehling, Jack Sadek, Nick Poehling and Ryan Edquist from Lakeville North. Others named were Edina’s Garrett Wait and St. Thomas Academy’s Peter Tufto and Seamus Donohue.
Duluth East 0-0-1-1
Lakeville North 1-1-2-4
First period - 1. LN, Ryan Poehling (Nick Poehling), 12:33.
Second period - 2. LN, Jack Poehling (Nick Poehling, Henry Enebak), 1:26 (pp).
Third period - 3. LN, Angelo Altavilla (Nick Poehling, Jack Poehling), 4:11; 4. DE, Ryan Peterson (Bryton Lutzka, Shay Donovan), 11:21 (pp); 5. LN, Nick Poehling (Jack Poehling), 16:54 (en).
Saves - Ryan Edquist, LN, 12; Gunnar Howg, DE, 19.