The second high school game for Hockey Day Minnesota 2016 at the St. Luke's Orthopedics Sports Medicine Hockey Rink in Duluth is a rematch of last year’s AA championship between Lakeville North and Duluth East, and features two streaking teams who welcome the chance to make a statement against the other.
Lakeville North casts a long shadow in its division. It wasn’t always that way- when Coach Trent Eigner arrived in 2011, the joke was that its most successful athletic program was its marching band. The Panthers had a habit of succumbing to opponents by large margins. There was talent but little focus.
Now overflowing with players destined for D1, last year’s undefeated season and subsequent championship is a symptom of the successful system installed by Eigner and his assistants.
Standout points leader Ryan Poehling was selected first overall in the USHL draft last year, but elected to return for his senior season.
“Nothing beats high school hockey,” Poehling said. “It’s the only time where you are playing for your school, and more importantly playing with your buddies.”
Watching his two brothers make the same decision after being drafted may have influenced his thinking- all three plan to play for St. Cloud.
While Lakeville may cast a shadow, Mike Randolph’s Duluth East team is not content to stand in it.
They’ve played the role of spoiler more than once– in order to get to last year’s championship, the Greyhounds knocked off powerhouse Edina in convincing fashion before eventually falling to the Panthers.
In a moment of sportsmanship rarely demonstrated so directly, Coach Randolph’s press conference after the loss began with heartfelt admiration and appreciation for the Lakeville team. He is a fervent believer in high school hockey, and attributed the Panthers’ success to the team sticking together despite the temptations of the USHL.
The Hounds have built a long winning streak in 2016, with goalie Kirk Meierhoff looking ascendant in net and senior captain Ash Altmann garnering more than a little Mr. Hockey chatter.
Ian Mageau and Ryan Peterson trade off as assist leaders, with Luke Dow and Shay Donovan close behind. Looking ahead, the Greyhounds graduate eleven seniors in June, making the upcoming offseason about cultivating a new generation of leaders…and giant-killers.
Remainder Of Day:
At 4 p.m. Wild Sled Hockey will begin at Bayfront Park just as FOX Sports North will air the Minnesota Golden Gophers versus the Penn State Nittany Lions game at Mariucci Arena.
At 5:30 p.m. the outdoor rink in Duluth will host the PeeWee AA Duluth East vs. Stillwater teams followed by the Duluth Firefighters vs. Duluth Police at 7 p.m.
Also at 7 p.m. the Minnesota Wild will be taking on the Blues in St. Louis, which will be broadcast live on a giant screen at Bayfront Park as part of the Hockey Day Wrap Party.
Hockey Day Minnesota is a showcase of the culture that creates champions. Born of the cold, fostered by countless families and coaches, tirelessly beloved by those who play.
This is how it happens, and more than anywhere else in the country, this is where it happens.
Let’s Play Hockey.