Junior Connor McClure finished third in scoring for Duluth Denfeld last season with 50 points (20 goals, 30 assists). Photo by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media
Our look at Class 1A continues as we count down the top 20 small-school teams for the 2020-21 season.
2019-20 Record: 21-6-1
Playoffs: Lost 6-0 to Hermantown in Section 7A championship
Seniors lost: 7
Goals for: 117
Goals lost: 28 | Goals returning: 89
Goals against: 63
Goalie minutes lost: 739:39 | Goalie minutes returning: 698:43
Power-play percentage: 22.7
Penalty-kill percentage: 83.3
Duluth Denfeld’s McClure twins grind down and chew up defensemen like rabid dogs devouring raw meat. They are relentless. They are ruthless. They are remorseless.
Tough to play against? Squaring off against Duluth Denfeld is torture on ice. If the McClures — junior forwards Connor and Cooper — don’t harass teams to death, then ultra-smooth senior forward Kade Shea will most certainly finish them off with a well-timed dangle or snipe.
Frustrating? Teams that find the occasional crack in the Hunters’ defense rarely are rewarded. That’s because senior Jacob Snyder ranks among the state’s elite goaltenders, a well-padded wall of disappointment to opposing sharpshooters.
Duluth Denfeld returns 17 players from last season’s team that reached the Section 7A championship. The McClures, Shea and Snyder all played in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall, helping Velocity Hockey Center win the league’s playoff championship. They are joined by top defenseman Joe Udd, a senior, as the core of a Hunters team that figures to be the No. 1 section challenger to longtime Class 1A heavyweight Hermantown (nine state tournament title-game appearances in the last 11 years).
The Hunters lost 6-0 to Hermantown in the section title game last season, and top scorer Griffin Lehet (24 goals, 53 points), standout defenseman Dylan Jouppi (30 points) and goaltender Shawn Easty (10-4-0 record, 2.67 goals-against average) are the biggest graduation losses. The return of Shea (23 goals, 29 assists), Connor McClure (20 goals, 30 assists; No. 14 in Legacy Hockey's Class of 2022 rankings), junior Simon Davidson (15 goals, 18 assists) and Cooper McClure (26 points despite missing nine games to injury) provides Denfeld with a well-stocked arsenal of forwards.
Udd (7 goals, 9 assists) and juniors Nate Larson (8 points) and John Bloomquist (7 points) anchor the defense. Snyder went 10-2-1 (1.75 goals-against average, .933 save percentage) while splitting time with Easty.
The Hunters’ 21 victories last season were their most since the 1987-88 season, when Denfeld went 22-7-0 and won the single-class state tournament consolation championship. The Hunters haven’t reached the state tourney since 1988-89 when they finished third with stars such as Jon Michelizzi tending goal and burly defenseman Tony Burns firing howitzers from the blue line.
That team was talented, fierce, gritty. Brutal to play against.