State championships are a tricky thing to predict, since they are won and lost in single-game elimination fashion over three days in March, where anything can happen. But it's usually not so difficult to pick out which team is the state's strongest team, so I make these two statements with a pretty good amount of confidence: Duluth East is not the best high school team in the state this year. If they can keep the kids they have in their program, they will be the best high school team in the state for the next two years.
On Tuesday, Duluth East got a pretty decent test from Centennial despite a convincing final score of 5-1. Centennial took an early 1-0 lead after being gifted a two-man advantage, but allowed goals in the final ten seconds of the first period, and first eight seconds of the third period to make the score 1-1 and 3-1 respectively that really changed the tone of the game.
Despite only having four senior skaters that see regular playing time, Duluth East's big advantage is their incredible depth. Comparing them to what I saw from Wayzata earlier this year, I don't think Duluth East's top line of Jake Randolph, Dom Toninato, and Trevor Olson quite matches up with Wayzata, but the Greyhounds are capable of rolling three lines with no real significant drop-off, whereas I felt like Wayzata was more of a two-line team. The top line for East all had multi-point nights, but overall, I felt like the third line was the line applying more pressure in the offensive zone, and could have scored more than the one goal they ended up with.
I mentioned the young talent on Duluth East and it's pretty incredible. The entire top line, along with top defenseman Nate Repensky are all juniors. The sophomore class is almost more impressive, led by Ryan Lundgren, who was the catalyst for the third line all night, linemate Conner Valesano, and defenseman Meirs Moore, who played on the top D pairing and first powerplay unit. Add in defenseman Andrew Kerr, who was a solid contributor, and Alex Toscano, who was impressive at the Minnesota Advanced 15s last summer, and it's the makings of a great class. It will be interesting to see what happens with that group. I put Lundgren and Valesano among the best '95s in the state, which should draw them at least some consideration for the NTDP, but neither are very big kids, at least at this point, which could hurt their chances. Duluth East also has a pretty impressive freshman taking a regular shift on defense in Phil Beaulieu. That's a pretty scary amount of talent on that team over the next couple of years.
For Centennial, it was pretty much more of the same. The offense really struggled putting goals in the net. They generated a couple great chances late in the first period and in the second period and if they had converted on even one of those, it probably would have made this a much more interesting game, but weren't able to do so. Senior Blayne Ellson continued to play extremely well on the blueline, and scored Centennial's only goal. He's a kid that played football in the fall and has really come out of nowhere this year.