Duluth East defeated top-seeded Andover 4-3 in overtime in the Section 7AA boys hockey championship Thursday night at Amsoil Arena. Here’s a few unedited quotes dictated from post-game interviews with Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph and senior captain Ricky Lyle, who had a pair of goals and a first assist on Ryder Donovan’s tap-in OT goal that sent Greyhounds Hockey Nation into an historic frenzy:
HH: Rand, how does this rank among the program’s best victories?
Randolph: It’s hard to rank them, because there’s been so many great ones over the years. I mean, every year’s different. New group, great senior group. We came together, and our leaders took control of our locker room during the snow storms when coaches weren’t there. As coaches, it was good for us to leave them alone and figure out what they wanted to do with the rest of their season. We hit the tank after the Prior Lake game. You have adversity and discover what team you truly are. Andover steam rolled through their season, feeling pretty good about themselves, and we had to battle them tonight. Our players battled through a lot of adversity here, and I’m really proud of them for it.
HH: Did you play up the underdog role in your pre-game remarks to the players?
Randolph: Yeah, a little. But at the same time, I didn’t want to play it up too much because the guys had to go out there and believe that they could get this done. This is one of the most fit teams I’ve ever had. I knew the longer the game went, the more it would wear on Andover. That’s what worked best for us. I mean, we also had to be really good in a lot of areas: good in the net, our defense had to play solid and our forwards had to execute.
HH: How important was it to physically pound on a relatively young and diminutive Andover?
Randolph: That’s how we had to play. We’re learning how to play on the edge and not go over it. Our guys bought into it. Awesome.
HH: So, what’s your team’s identity here down the stretch?
Randolph: We’re a very simple team, which is a hard sell. The players want to make cute plays. We’re a very physical team, but not all of the players want to play physical. I don’t have to tell Ricky (Lyle) to play physical. I don’t have to tell (Fred) Payne to play physical. The key is to get everybody to play that style, to think defense first and to be hard to play against. That was our message: simple, physical, defense. Our guys did all three.
HH: How will the ‘Hounds play at state?
Randolph: You never know. We didn’t just walk through this (the Section 7AA tournament) in a cakewalk. We played two rivals to get to this game (defeating Duluth Marshall 7-0 in 7AA quarterfinal, defeating Cloquet 5-2 in semifinal), then beat the best team in our section. We rose to each test and earned it. So, we’ll enjoy this, relax a bit and soak it in. We’ll find out who we play on Saturday, and then we’ll get ready for our first game at state.
HH: Ricky, your initial post-game thoughts?
Lyle: It was a physical game – they were physical, too – and we knew that we had to take it to them physically to earn this win. Everyone stepped up, even the guys who are not generally big hitters, and it was a spirited team win.
HH: Did you and your ‘mates play with an edge, as the underdog and as defending 7AA champions playing in your own barn?
Lyle: You know, everybody was picking Andover who was ranked higher than us. We used it as motivation, for sure. Seeing Greenway upset Hermantown last night also provided some motivation, got us thinking, ‘If the underdog Greenway can come back and upset Hermantown, we can do this boys.’
HH: Describe your two goals.
Lyle: On the first one, I was just hanging out high in the slot and simply ripped in a great backhand pass. I saw it hit the crossbar, and then the ref’s hand go up so I knew it went in. The second one was an end-of-shift goal. We threw the puck at the net, the goalie bobbled it, and I was able to take it to the side and tuck it in.
HH: Especially fun win tonight, personally?
Lyle: Yeah, mostly because it’s my senior season and have taken on a new leadership role on the team.
HH: Finally, what can we expect from the ‘Hounds at state?
Lyle: We’ll get back to work for three days to prepare for state. We will play physical, get bodies to the third circle and pop a few in.