When Duluth East started two freshman forwards Monday night against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, one couldn’t help but wonder if the Greyhounds had cast an eye toward the future and raised the white flag on the school’s worst season since the Eisenhower administration.
The Greyhounds had celebrated their seniors before Saturday’s 5-0 loss to Elk River, so was this the beginning of a youth movement?
That thought was quickly dispelled, however, when seniors scored East’s first two goals en route to a 5-0 pasting of the Lumberjacks at Heritage Center.
Freshmen Cole Christian and Grant Winkler began the game on the first line, but senior Charlie Erickson struck for two goals and senior goaltender Konrad Kausch stopped all 27 shots he faced as East (8-10-1) snapped a five-game winless streak that had spanned four weeks.
“They were our two best players against Elk River and so they got the start. Period,” East coach Mike Randolph said of Christian, who scored a goal in the second period, and Winkler.
“I’m thinking about the next game (not next season),” Randolph added. “We have to get some consistency in our game and get some momentum going and get some wins.”
Erickson, the team’s leading scorer with 21 points, began and ended the scoring. He deflected a Ryan Cummings shot from the point past CEC netminder Jacob Walsh 6:04 into the game and ripped home a low slap shot from the right faceoff circle on a power play late in the second period.
“Our goal is to get things going toward the end of the season,” Erickson said. “We have a big run here and we have to make things look more positive going into the playoffs.”
In between Erickson’s goals, Jack Fellman corralled a loose puck by the left side of the net and slipped it through an opening, Josh Locker scored his first varsity goal and Christian netted his second by firing a shot from the right faceoff circle off the post.
East is in the middle of a seven-game, 11-day stretch to close the regular season, thanks to two rescheduled games inserted into the mix after a widespread illness caused three games to be postponed.
Saturday’s game was the first back on the ice since Jan. 21 and the Greyhounds didn’t have their legs. That wasn’t the case Monday as East players came out aggressively to avenge an overtime loss to CEC in December.
“They played with a lot more energy than they did against Elk River,” Randolph said. “They looked like they were still sick against Elk River.”
Erickson added: “Everyone was gassed and tired in our last game. It was pretty exhausting, but we’re beginning to get into the flow of things.”
East held captain’s practices for those healthy enough to participate. Kausch was one of those too ill to play, but he’s looking at the experience through rose-colored glasses.
“It was good to get a break,” he said. “We had been really busy so we had time to ourselves to think about the next three weeks.”
Randolph believes in the glass-is-half-full theory, too.
“I think it’s a good thing, I really do,” the coach said. “They know how we need to play, it’s a matter of getting them to play that way. Tonight was way better than the other night.”
Those nights have been few and far between in this, East’s worst season record-wise in 67 years. But there's still time to get it right before the Section 7AA playoffs begin.
“It hasn’t been an easy year, a lot of ups and downs,” Erickson said. “But it’s all about building for the playoffs. That’s how we do it at East. Things might not go 100 percent for us all year but as soon as sections roll around we want to know that we’re 100 percent ready.”