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Top-line chemistry is key for Omaha’s Jake Randolph

02/13/2014, 5:00am EST
By Tom Robinson - Special to USAHockey.com

Jake Randolph was part of a dream line combination in the last two years of his high school career at Minnesota powerhouse Duluth East.

In his second season with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League, Randolph has found an ideal combination again. And, he is making it pay off.

Randolph is leading the USHL in scoring and his two linemates, Tyler Vesel and Gage Hough, rank second and fourth.

“The reason they’re having so much success is they mesh together so well,” Lancers coach and general manager Brian Kaufman said.

Randolph leads the league in assists (43) and points (60) in 39 games. Vesel leads in goals (28) and plus-minus (plus-33) while ranking second in points with 56. Hough has 16 goals and 26 assists to rank fourth in points (42) and is tied for third in the league with Vesel with eight power-play goals. That combined output has helped Omaha to the league’s second-best record at 27-8-4.

“It’s just the chemistry we have,” Randolph said. “We’re all offensive players. We kind of bring different little parts to the line that help us get success.”

There are also similarities.

“They all think the game at a high level,” Kaufman said. “None of them necessarily skate very fast, but they all think the game on a different level than everyone else.”

However, all three play different games. Vesel is the goal scorer from his center position. Randolph is the playmaker on the left wing and Hough, a sturdy, 5-foot-11, 187-pound right wing, wins the battles in front of the net.

“Gage plays in front of the net and creates extra space for them,” Kaufman said.

Hough, 20, is in his third USHL season and his second with his hometown team. Randolph and Vesel, both 19-year-olds from Minnesota, are just beginning to spend a lengthy stretch in Omaha. They each committed to the University of Nebraska Omaha and, coincidentally, wound up being selected by Omaha in the USHL Draft. The potential is there for Randolph and Vesel to play together for years.

Randolph knows the value of a familiar linemate. While playing for his father, Mike Randolph, at Duluth East, Jake was linemates with Trevor Olson and Dominic Toninato as a junior and senior. They led Duluth East to the state championship game and a heartbreaking, triple-overtime loss to Eden Prairie as juniors. As seniors they made their third straight trip to the state quarterfinals when the St. Paul Pioneer Press selected Randolph as its state high school player of the year.

All three were drafted into the USHL out of Duluth East. Olson began with the Green Bay Gamblers and is still in the top-level U.S. junior league with the Sioux City Musketeers. However, the team captain and University of North Dakota recruit might be lost for the year after undergoing hip surgery. Toninato was among the USHL scoring leaders last season with the Fargo Force and is now a freshman at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Randolph is making the most of the opportunities opened up by his high school career and the longtime dedication to the sport under the guidance of his father, who has won more than 500 games and two state titles as a high school coach. In a 2012 story, Mike Randolph told the Pioneer Press that rides home from the rink talking hockey with Tyler are something that he will treasure forever.

Those talks helped Tyler arrive in Omaha with a deep understanding of the game. That understanding includes the knowledge that he must constantly work on the physical aspects of hockey to get the most out of his ability.

“I think his foot speed and overall strength have improved,” Kaufman said. “Bigger, faster, stronger is what every hockey player wants to be.

“He’s improved in terms of moving his feet. He’s still a pass-first player. There’s no question he sees the game on a different level than most people.”

That vision led to more than 100 assists at Duluth East. But Randolph said he knows he cannot spend much time thinking about his current statistics and what they mean.

“I don’t want to look too deep into the stats,” he said. “I’m always concentrating on working on my game first and my skating.

“I’m getting faster and I’m getting strong. The last two years, I’ve been winning a lot more battles down low. I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”

That has helped, along with a coach’s son’s feel for knowing how to make the most of the chance to work with skilled teammates.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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