My close, personal friend Jerry Borough on a few local hockey topics:
On the Bulldogs men, who struggled through their first losing season in the last decade in 2022-23: The Bulldogs had a tough year. They lacked talent on the back end big-time, and they were just too young and inexperienced up front. When you’re used to winning like the Bulldogs are, it’s hard on everyone -- including the coaches, the players, the fans and even those of us in the media. I don’t see their defense improving much next season, either, though they should be strong at forward and in goal. So much of the college and pro games today depend on special teams play, where you must be skilled and have the ability to move the puck.
On legendary, former Duluth East coach Mike Randolph, who completed his first season at St. Thomas Academy in 2022-23: Mike’s very happy at St. Thomas, where the players, parents and administration appreciate his disciplined, old-school approach to coaching. As always has been the case, including during his illustrious tenure at Duluth East, if his players aren’t willing to take out the garbage – to commit to playing disciplined team-first-and-only hockey – they won’t play for him. Parents want their kids to play in a program that runs like that. He’s on course to set a new Minnesota prep boys hockey mark for career wins in the next year or two. I think overall it’s been a positive change for Mike, hard for him emotionally at first, and perhaps it was what he’s needed.
On Denfeld moving up to Class AA starting next season: The goal was to make Section 7AA north teams only, with Rock Ridge moving up. But then Hibbing and Proctor backed out, Cloquet moved down to 1A and the original plan backfired. The future doesn’t look bright for Denfeld, which will beef up its schedule without the aide a strong youth feeder program. The kids will continue to work hard, but it won’t be enough. I hope I’m wrong but I see northeastern Minnesota prep boys hockey — other than at Hermantown — on the decline, big-time. Many of the best young players from Eastern Duluth are headed to Duluth Marshall, from what I’m hearing.
On Stella Maris Academy’s announced plans to launch a new high school boys hockey program: The Minnesota State High School League is reportedly slowing down SMA’s startup timeline, so unless something changes it might take up to four years to begin the varsity program. They hope to start with a ninth-grade team this winter, in some fashion. SMA has the money to build it’s own rink, and the school tuition at the school might be half that of Marshall. It eventually could be a good fit for everyone, including for the existing schools and the players.
On the Stanley Cup Playoffs: They should shut down the regular season and just play the Stanley Cup games, where players give 100-percent on every shift. It’s the most amazing hockey in the world. I thought our beloved Wild had a decent chance to get through the first round this season. But the Wild have the same problem a lot of teams do, lacking defensemen who can move the puck and activate offensively. Moving forward, I think Filip Gustavsson is a solid goaltender.
On the play of former Bulldogs Neal Pionk, Dylan Samberg, Karson Kuhlman and Dominic Toninato of the Winnipeg Jets this season: Pionk’s (a defenseman) having a great career. Though not big, he’s smart and knows when to jump into the play. He can score, too. Samberg (also a top-six defenseman) had a strong season, and Kuhlman and Toninato (both forwards) are role players who played hard on every shift when they were in the lineup.
On the recent death of legendary Duluth Cathedral and Bulldogs defenseman and forward Pokey Trachsel: I grew up with the Trachsel brothers, Pokey, Larry, Billy and Jimmy. In my opinion, Pokey’s the best athlete I’ve seen come out of Duluth. He could throw a football 70 yards in the sixth-grade, even eclipsing the throwing arm of some of today’s best NFL quarterbacks. Nobody could hit or throw a baseball harder than Pokey. The reason the Duluth team didn’t advance to the finals of the 1963 Little League World Series was because he wasn’t eligible to pitch in the semifinal, after being unhittable in an opening game victory. In hockey, nobody had a better slap shot than Pokey. I’ve never seen a better hockey player in all of my years playing and watching the sport. The accidental death of him and his wife is a sad thing for the family. May they rest in peace.
On his passion for hockey: I’m 72 and I will always have a strong passion for the game. I still attend over 400 pro, college, high school and youth games each year, about the same number of games I’ve taken in for over 20 years now. I’ve been a scout, a columnist for Minnesota Prep Sports, and have been hosting the weekly Minnesota Hockey Connection show for over 12 years now. I put on over 35,000 miles on my car each year, by my estimation, and attend games across the nation throughout the year. It’s what keeps me going, keeps me alive. I did recently order a gravestone that says ‘The Puck Stops Here.’