Every kid that grows up playing hockey in Minnesota dreams of playing in the high school state championship game. Thanks to three straight overtime victories, Duluth East and junior forward Dominic Toninato made it to the big game. They lost in a multi-overtime thriller to Eden Prairie in the finals, but not all was lost.
Toninato, like many other Duluth East players, caught the attention of several scouts and several teams. The Fargo Force was one organization that showed interest in Toninato, who scored 24 goals and 51 points in 23 regular season games last year. He went on to score four goals and 10 points in six postseason games.
The Force liked what they saw and made Toninato their 14th round pick (204th overall) in the United States Hockey League Entry Draft.
He did have the luxury of playing with some incredibly talented forwards on the top line for the Greyhounds. Linemate Trevor Olson was drafted 194th overall in the USHL Entry Draft by Green Bay after leading Duluth East with 55 regular season points. Toninato’s other linemate, Jake Randolph, scored 52 points last season and was selected 206th in the USHL Entry Draft by Omaha. Both Randolph and Olson had 14 points in six playoff games.
“We’ll separate him from that [line] and see, for each one of those kids really,” Fargo Force Assistant Coach/Director of Player Personnel Jesse Davis said.
Toninato also knows that he will eventually have to move on and find new linemates, even though that won’t be right now.
“It’s obviously going to be a challenge at first playing and being with new linemates and teammates, but like any team, if you play together for a bit that chemistry will come,” Toninato said.
All three players were juniors for Duluth East last season and plan to come back and attempt to defend their section 7AA title and possibly even win the state championship. According to high school hockey experts, they are the early favorites for the upcoming season.
“My plan is to finish out my senior year of high school and play for Duluth East,” Toninato said. “Hopefully we can get that championship we were so close to getting last season.”
Duluth East has had a lot of players move on from its program and have a lot of success in the USHL. Some leave early, some stay and play through their senior year, but it seems like they all have solid USHL campaigns and eventually play college hockey.
Keegan Flaherty was a Duluth East product that played a big part in Fargo’s success in its first season in the USHL. Flaherty went on to win a national championship with Minnesota-Duluth last season. Max Tardy is another former Duluth East player that has had recent USHL success. Tardy played with Tri-City in the USHL and also won a national championship with Minnesota-Duluth.
Fargo has done its job scouting Toninato. They watched him have success at Duluth East and they have seen him produce in the Upper Midwest Elite League. He likely won’t help the Force until the 2012-2013 season at the earliest, but it still appears to be a great selection.
“We had him on our list…We’ve seen him play,” Davis said. “We like that he is a tenacious, hard-nosed forward with a little bit of skill.”
For Toninato, being drafted in the USHL was a big highlight. He said seeing other players succeed in the USHL makes him want to play in the league. He also acknowledged that just being drafted doesn’t mean that he will be on the team. There is a lot of hard work ahead.
For now, however, Toninato is savoring the excitement while he prepares for his senior year at Duluth East.
“The draft was during a school day, so a couple of my friends had the draft going on their iPhones, and when I got drafted they sent me a text saying I got drafted,” Toninato said. “My mom also texted me. I was really excited reading those texts saying I got drafted.”
By: Tim How
Photo: Helen Nelson/MN Hockey Hub (top left), Jordan Doffing/MN Hockey News (mid right, bottom left)