Mike Randolph hadn't seen his players in almost a week before Monday's practice because of a flu-like illness sweeping through the team. Photo by Helen Nelson, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com
Duluth East returned home from a Jan. 21 game at Forest Lake a battered and dejected bunch. The Greyhounds had lost 4-1 to the Rangers, their fourth consecutive game without a victory and ninth setback of the season — an unheard of total for one of the state’s most consistently successful programs.
Mike Randolph, in his 31st season as a head coach, didn’t know just how low his Greyhounds were feeling until the next day, when text messages started streaming in from his players.
Sick, coach. Not at school. Can’t be at practice.
“The next day it was the same thing,” Randolph said. “When this happens it’s usually one or two kids. Maybe three. But this is crazy. All four of my forward lines are sick, and at least four of my defensemen. And my goalie.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
With flu-like symptoms sweeping through pretty much the entire team, Randolph was forced to postpone three games — Jan. 23 against Brainerd, Jan. 25 against Moorhead and Jan. 28 against Eagan. There’s no telling for sure when the Greyhounds will be back action, although Randolph was feeling confident enough to schedule a practice for Monday afternoon, his first face-to-face interaction with his players in almost a week.
“I’m going to have to re-introduce myself to everyone,” Randolph said with a laugh. “The first thing we’ll do is tape their names to the front of their helmets, so I can remember who is who. Although I have no idea how many kids are going to show up.”
Players were instructed to remove their gear from the Heritage Center by 1 p.m. on Saturday so the Greyhounds' locker room could be disinfected from floor to ceiling by arena staff. Parents came and gathered all of the players’ jerseys so they could be washed.
Duluth East shares the Heritage Center with Duluth Denfeld, which also had its locker room emptied and disinfected — as a precautionary measure. The Hunters played a pair of games over the weekend and appear, for now at least, to have dodged the virus that hit Duluth East.
The Brainerd game has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. on Feb. 5. The Moorhead game was cancelled, as there was no available date that worked for both teams. Randolph said there’s hope the Eagan game will be rescheduled, even though only about three weeks left in the regular season.
“Once we do start playing again we’re going to have about eight games in 10 days,” Randolph said, not exaggerating by much. “They say if you are around long enough you will have seen everything. But I don’t want to see this twice.”