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Howie: East’s Randolph calls it like he sees it

One of the many things I appreciate about Duluth East boys hockey coach Mike Randolph is how refreshingly candid he is. He’s always been a great quote, right from the outset of both of our careers.

Ol’ Randy, a personal friend, is old-school in this regard, and today I’m proud to announce that an elite, knower-of-all-things committee of one has elected him into the prestigious Duluth Times’ Greatest Quoteable Coaches Hall of Fame, joining previous inductees and legendary coaching characters Jim Malosky, Bill Kennedy and Bruce Plante.

In a phone interview Monday afternoon, Randolph was asked what challenges lie ahead for his elite program and specifically his 6-5-1, rebuilding Greyhounds, who play host to Section 7AA kingpin Grand Rapids at 7 p.m. today at Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.

During the 2021 Greyhounds’ rebuilding-from-the-ice-up boot camp, Randolph’s talented underclassmen are growing thickening hockey whiskers while playing double-digit minutes against some of Minnesota’s top teams and players. But, will the investment in the young group reap dividends for the East’s program down the road? Here’s Randolph’s thoughts on this subject and others below:

“We’re a work in progress, and I think our young players have learned a lot about what it takes to play at this level. Our goaltending has struggled a little bit lately, which is to be expected since we’re rotating a sophomore and a freshman. They’re still finding their way. Our schedule has been against some tough teams and then some easier teams. Sometimes you get a false sense of where you’re at against the weaker teams. Then you find out where you’re really at when you face a high-level team like St. Thomas Academy (which overpowered the visiting Greyhounds 7-1 last Saturday), when I think our guys were amazed at the speed of the game, especially by the opposing veteran players who are gearing up to move on to the next level. They’re the best team we’ve seen — although Hermantown was really good, too. St. Thomas had a kid who’s been drafted in the NHL by Vegas, a forward who’s going to Michigan, and another forward who’s headed to Colgate. Then they had a bunch of other really good players. We learned that we’ve got to play better without the puck, because when we do play the top teams they have the puck most of the time.

“You can talk to the players all you want about the importance of off-season training, and how important it is, but until they really see it I don’t think they really believe what you’re saying. We’ve put together the best schedule we could just for this purpose, to open the young guys’ eyes to the work that they have ahead of them. Our new players come into the season after playing 50 games as a bantam, 55 games as a pee wee, and they find out you may only play 25 games in high school, but it’s condensed. Sometimes they think, ‘Ah. 25 games. That’ll be nothing.’ They find out really quick that it’s intense, a lot harder than they think. This year’s group has done a heck of job with it, really, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Randolph, predicting how his young players will continue to develop:

“Guys go through high school and develop other interests, get on to other things. They say they want to be the best player they can be, but yet they’ve got other things pulling at them. So what’s ahead for our talented younger group? Frankly, it remains to be seen. We’re very high on them, but it’s been such a different year that it’s really hard to get a pulse of where they’re going to go. As always, we will have exit meetings with the guys at the end of the year, when we will emphasize the importance of getting ready for next season. We’ll see whether they take it to heart, of if they go out the door and forget about it. But, again, I do believe this young group has a lot potential.”

Randolph, sizing up Section 7AA:

“There’s two front-runners, Andover and (Grand) Rapids. Then there’s a bunch of us that will try to challenge them. I haven’t seen Andover play yet, but people say they haven’t played a very tough schedule. But they’re taking care of business anyhow, based on their schedule. They’ll play Maple Grove here in a bit, so that game will tell us a lot about what kind of team they have. It will be interesting who gets the No. 1 seed in 7AA, between Rapids and Andover. The rest of us are a distance away, but anything can happen in a one-game playoff. The first round will probably be (Duluth) Marshall at Rapids, and we will play Cloquet. The other bracket will likely be Andover against Anoka, and Forest Lake and Elk River. It’s still up in the air who will be the number one seed between Rapids and Andover. Whoever gets the QRF number one seed, then the 7AA final will be played in their arena.”

Published in Columns Minnesota Hockey Quote Me, Howie

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