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After Hermantown opened the Hilltopper Holiday Classic hockey tournament with a 5-2 victory over Delano, and got the jump on Roseville in the semifinals, the Raiders stormed back to make a game of it, before the Hawks got away with a 6-3 victory.
Good thing, too, it was suggested to Plante, because it allowed him to celebrate his 500th coaching victory at Hermantown in style. Style means different things in different areas. In Hermantown, every time a hockey coach wins his 500th game, he must wear this weird, pink bicycle helmet – emblematic of the player of the game in normal circumstances. So there was Plante, usually stoic, looking ridiculous as he confronted the media in his stylish headgear.
“It’s been an emotional week,” said Plante. “I started thinking about all the kids I’ve had, and how nice the program has been to me. We’ve had great kids...man, they’re the best.”
Had Hermantown lost that semifinal game, Plante would have remained at 499 victories, and the accolades of No. 500 might have seemed a bit hollow waiting until a possible third-place game victory. Not necessary, it turned out.
After subduing Roseville to reach the final, the Hawks might have been surprised to see their foe be the familiar purple of Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. The Lumberjacks of coach Dave Espe pulled of a major upset in the first round, beating previously undefeated Bemidji 4-3 in overtime after a couple of verbal infractions cost Bemidji’s Lumberjacks two penalties in the closing minutes, setting up Cloquet’s Lumberjacks to complete a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game, then win it in overtime.
That sent Cloquet into the semifinals against Notre Dame, the private school power from the Green Bay region of Wisconsin. While perhaps not the super-team of recent years, Notre Dame was still favored to make the final, but Cloquet boosted a 1-0 second-period lead to 3-0 on third-period goals when Dylan Johnson scored his second of the game and Jon Backus followed to make it 3-0. Notre Dame came back with a power-play goal, and scored again in the closing seconds, but Cloquet held on 3-2.
But Hermantown, knocked off the No. 1 perch after a loss to Class AA Minnetonka and displaced by Breck, seized the opportunity with Breck having lost, by spanking Cloquet 8-3 and regaining the state’s No. 1 rank among Class A teams.
“I haven’t seen anyone with a better first line than we’ve got,” said Plante, after No. 500 but before embarking on No. 501. “But really, I think our defense is the strength of our team.”
By that he means team defense, which the Hawks (10-1-1) play with a certain abandon and focus, and defensemen like Wyatt Aamodt and Eric Gotz not only defend well and move the puck out of the defensive zone smoothly, but they also might be spotted sneaking into the offensive zone as fourth attacker from time to time. The top line of Cole Koepke, Ryan Sandelin and Jesse Jacques is capable of scoring at will, as they proved in the tournament. Jacques compiled four goals in the first two games, and Koepke, who scored on a penalty shot in the first period against Delano, put together a hat trick against Cloquet.
TCU-Oregon A Classic
The NCAA’s bowl playoff semifinals were anticlimactic, with Clemson putting away Oklahoma 37-17 by outscoring the Sooners 21-0 in the second half, and Alabama thrashed Michigan State 38-0 after a scoreless first quarter. Should be an interesting game when they play next Monday.
But by far the most exciting bowl game was in the crazy Alamo Bowl, where Oregon proved to be as good as I’ve been claiming by jumping to a 31-0 lead over Texas Christian behind the inspiration and skill of quarterback Vernon Adams, who was 13-19 for 197 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. But Adams put his head down to try to barrel for extra yardage and hit a defender square, head-to-shoulder. Down and stunned, he went to the sideline and then the dressing room, and concussion symptoms knocked him out of the game.
Bad break for Oregon, which could only gain 18 total yards in the second half without the star QB. That set the stage for TCU to attack with ever-increasing confidence and momentum, finally tying the game. TCU scored a touchdown in overtime, and the Ducks matched it. The Ducks had to settle for a field goal in the second overtime, then held the Horned Frogs to a matching field goal. But TCU got another touchdown in the third overtime and stopped the Ducks to claim a 47-41 victory and set a record for the largest comeback to victory ever in a bowl game.
Later on that same Saturday night, in the Cactus Bowl, West Virginia came from behind to beat Arizona State 43-42 with a dramatic finish. With five minutes to go, ASU’s Mike Bercovici connected with Gary Chambers for a 58-yard touchdown pass, to boost the Sun Devils to a 41-36 lead. But they inexplicably went for a point-after kick, to increase the lead to only 42-36 and leaving the door open for West Virginia. Sure enough, Skyler Howard threw a 15-yard touchdown pass for TCU to tie the game 42-all, and Josh Lambert’s easy point-after kick won the game 43-42.
Among other interesting bowl games, Stanford blasted a very good Iowa team 45-16 in the Rose Bowl, perhaps best describing the difference between the Pac-12 and the Big 10, but Michigan, pretty much forgotten after Michigan State stole a victory from the Wolverines to claim the divisional title in the Big Ten, crushed Florida – a division winner in the SEC – 41-7 to finish an impressive bowl tour by Big Ten teams.
The game didn’t have the pregame panache of Marshall’s upset over Duluth East, but when the struggling Greyhounds faced Denfeld Monday night at Heritage Center it showed the strength of the Greyhound-Hunter rivalry.
The Marshall-East game had been moved to AMSOIL Arena, but drew a sparse crowd, maybe 1,200-1,400 by some estimates. When East played Denfeld back at Heritage Center, the place was nearly jammed, easily matching or beating the Marshall-East crowd.
The Greyhounds won, 4-1, but had to work to solve River Alander, the Hunters ace goaltender. Outshot 16-3 in the first period, Denfeld struck first for a goal by Kedin Ferguson, 10:41 into the game. East broke through Alander when Luke LeMaster scored at 15:11, and Garret Worth followed with a goal at 16:23 for a 2-1 East lead. Both LeMaster and Worth are sophomores.
In the second period, the plucky Hunters contained East’s offense, but at the expense of their own – failing to register a single shot in the period. It wasn’t too bad, until the closing seconds, when Ash Altmann snapped in a wide-angle shot from deep on the right with 9.9 seconds left.
That made it 3-1, and the Greyhounds finished it when Worth got his second goal of the night at 13:05. Denfeld got a late flurry of shots at Kirk Meierhoff, but didn’t reach double figures in shots until 3 minutes remained, and were outshot 38-12. Alander’s 34 saves were evidence of how intense East’s attack was.