Hawks prove they’ve found new winning scheme

John Gilbert

Hermantown’s junior goaltender Cold Manahan actually leaped off the ice  pads and all — in celebration after the Hawks beat Marshall 4-3 to win the Hilltopper Classic. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Hermantown’s junior goaltender Cold Manahan actually leaped off the ice pads and all — in celebration after the Hawks beat Marshall 4-3 to win the Hilltopper Classic. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Last summer, at the end of July, Marshall conducted a summer high school hockey tournament. As should have been expected, Hermantown and Marshall met in the championship game.

Hermantown had won every confrontation with Marshall for something like 16 years, but that was with Bruce Plante coaching. Plante, with a couple state Class A championships stuffed in his pocket, retired after last season. Pat Andrews undertook the job, having coaching in the Hermantown youth program, and it seemed as though Plante had left a turnkey operation. Step in, open the door to the players bench, and victories would be assured.

The stage was set in that late July final, when Marshall led 1-0, then 2-1, then 3-1, and at the end of the second period, 4-2. Hermantown came out charged up for the third period, and Jacob Herter scored a big goal to close it to 4-3 with 10 minutes still to go. But in a hectic finish, with a few penalties here and there, Marshall held on firmly and won the game 4-3.

Marshall junior defenseman Peter Hansen rifled a power-play shot from the right point that found the Hermantown net for a 3-1 lead. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Marshall junior defenseman Peter Hansen rifled a power-play shot from the right point that found the Hermantown net for a 3-1 lead. Photo credit: John Gilbert

Watching that game, it occurred to me that without Bruce Plante, Hermantown’s skilled players would have to learn a new formula to pull off all those victories that seemed so routine under Plante. So after talking to Marshall coach Brendan Flaherty for a while, I walked past the new coaching staff from Hermantown. I hadn’t met Pat Andrews, and I wasn’t sure which one he was, but my irresistable urge to make a wise crack, I let it out.

“My suggestion, guys, is that next time you play Marshall, you make a cardboard cutout of Bruce Plante, and stand it up on your bench,” I said. “Because when Bruce is on the bench, Hermantown doesn’t lose to Marshall.”

As soon as I said it, I had a wave of regret. The Hermantown coaches didn’t laugh. That was at the end of July, five full months ago. Flash forward to December 12, when Hermantown went to Marshall for a regular-season rivalry match. Back and forth, both sides had their turns with momentum, but when Blake Biondi scored his second of the game to put the Hawks up 3-2, George Grannis scored his second power-play goal of the night and the teams battled to a 3-3 tie.

Now flash forward again, to last week, and the Hilltopper Classic. Much had transpired in those two weeks, most vitally a classic game at Essentia Heritage Center, when a Grannis goal put Marshall up 2-1 against Duluth East. But Austin Jouppi scored to tie the game 2-2, and in sudden-death overtime, Logan Anderson scored to give East a 3-2 victory. That brought relief to the Greyhounds, who had outshot Marshall 46-25, but it brought despair to the Hilltoppers.

The Hilltopper Classic was exactly that, with Hermantown surprising Wayzata 3-2, while Marshall beat Brainerd by the same 3-2, creating the Marshall-Hermantown rematch and a chance to settle their 3-3 tie. I mentioned to Pat Andrews that Hermantown most needed a big victory over an excellent team, and beating Wayzata provided exactly that. He agreed, and said he could feel the difference in his players. That brought about the rematch against Marshall.

Wayzata appeared to have a goal as the puck flew under the glove of Hermantown goalie Cole Manahan... Photo credit: John Gilbert
Wayzata appeared to have a goal as the puck flew under the glove of Hermantown goalie Cole Manahan... Photo credit: John Gilbert
...But Manahan’s quick glove snatched the puck out of danger and the Hawks held on to beat Wayzata 3-2 in the Hilltopper Classic semifinals. Photo credit: John Gilbert
...But Manahan’s quick glove snatched the puck out of danger and the Hawks held on to beat Wayzata 3-2 in the Hilltopper Classic semifinals. Photo credit: John Gilbert

It was an excellent game, great rushes, great defensive plays, and a nail-biter of the first order. Marshall led 1-0 on Willy Stauber’s goal midway through the second period, but Hermantown rose up for a stirring third-period rally, scoring four times, with Tyler Watkins getting the first and fourth goals of the uprising, as the Hawks overcame deficits of 1-0, 2-1, and 3-1 after Peter Hansen rifled in a power play goal from right point. Elliott Peterson got one back for the Hawks with 5:22 left, and Darian Gotz scored shorthanded for Hermantown with 3:29 remaining to tie it 3-3. When Watkins scored again with 2:11 left, Hermantown and goaltender Cole Manahan held on to win 4-3.

As I walked down the steps at Mars-Lakeview Arena, I saw Pat Andrews talking to a fellow. As I walked up, he turned to me and said: “Who needs that cardboard cutout of Bruce Plante now?”

It cracked me up. Andrews was jovial as he said it, but I was impressed that in the glee of winning the tournament with such a great finish, a smart-mouth comment by me was still fresh in his mind -- five months after I’d said it.

The Hawks have taken flight after a shaky start, and with solid goaltending, a good-looking defense, and a crop of forwards led by Blake Bondi, Jacob Herter, Tyler Watkins, and several others, they have regained the lofty position of Section 7A favorite.

The Hawks had better be prepared for a few tests, such as Greenway of Coleraine, but their showed they can take on anybody. But watch out for that coach. He never forgets.

I did get him back, though. After I said it was remarkable the Hawks could get shut out for two periods and then rally for four goals in the third, Andrews corrected me. No, he said, we only scored three. We had one in the second. I gave in, not wanting to challenge the coach.

Then I got home and looked at my notes. Hermantown was down 1-0 after two, and did indeed score four times in the third period. So Pat thought his guys played well in the third, and they played even better than he thought!