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A funny thing happened to the Hermantown Hawks on their way to winning what seemed like a routine Hilltopper Classic high school hockey tournament. The Hawks, who started accepting Marshall’s invitations to enter the annual holiday tournament in 2014, had won every single Hilltopper Classic since then - four consecutive, naturally without ever losing a game.
So when the Hawks opened this year’s tournament by hitting full stride to whip Brainerd, and then to pull away from a very impressive Blake team, it appeared that nothing could prevent a fifth straight tournament trophy. In the way, however, were the Rosemount Irish, who also had won their way into the Saturday final game, and had lost only once all season.
It might be surmised that Rosemount coach Rick Saintey and his Irish had more respect for Hermantown than the Hawks had for the Irish. Whatever the case, the Hawks were flying, but not all in the same direction, as they totally dominated the shot chart and the puck possession time, but fell 3-2 to Rosemount, which is now 14-1.
“It’s our first year in a tournament like this, where we can play teams of Hermantown’s caliber,” said Saintey. “Playing a team like this, so high-end, has more value than winning some other tournament. We’re trying to establish a winning culture, and we told our players that we had to be ready.
“We knew Hermantown would play a tough, Northern style hockey, so we would have to play a very structured style - clog the middle, and don’t let guys like 27, and 14...their whole team, actually, get loose.”
No. 27 is Blake Biondi, the swift junior centerman who has long committed to follow his dad to UMD, and he leads the Hawks in scoring as center on the high-scoring top line, which had tallied 25 goals in Hermantown’s first nine games, and had lit things up against Brainerd and Blake at the tournament. No. 14 is defenseman Sarian Gotz, another UMD commit.
The Irish got the jump on Hermantown when Luke Lawendowski knocked in a rebound in front on a power play at 6:51. Lewandowski is a sophomore, but he has a polished scoring touch, which he showed later.
Hermantown had a slight edge in shots in the first period, and took over ownership of the game with a 14-4 shot dominance in the second period. The Hawks tied the game 1-1 when Ethian Lund scored on a rebound, and the Hawks owned the puck and rained shots at Rosemount goaltender Will Tollefson the rest of the period.
Rosemount, meanwhile, seemed only mildly interested in scoring any more, because their focus on defensive play was so thorough. But at 11:36 of the middle period, the Irish got loose on a flashy 2-on-1 rush with Lewandowski crashing the net to convert a perfect feed past goaltender Colin Monahan for a 2-1 lead.
Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews wasn’t complaining, but he said his Hawks fired a lot of shots, but weren’t coordinated in their attacks. “I would call it complacency,” he said. “There was no real urgency in the first period. Rosemount played the perfect way to give us trouble, by clogging the middle and not letting us get to the net or make plays to the net.”
Down 2-1, the Hawks kept firing, and Tolefson kept making saves, and then came the play of the game for the Irish. Facing Hermantown’s impressive power play, the Hawks had their big first line on the ice, and Joey Pierce, a star defenseman on the Hermantown Bantam team a year ago, and an impressive addition on the first unit playing wing with Biondi and Justin Thomas, had the puck near the boards when Connor Kennefick lifted his stick and swiped the puck, taking off on a shorthanded breakaway and beating Monahan with 14 seconds left in the second period.
“I looked up at the clock and I think we had gone about 10 minutes without a shot,” said Saintey, who spent two seasons coaching the Rosemount Junior Varsity before taking over the varsity for a 21-5-1 season last year. He was obviously unconcerned with the lack of offense, as long as his Irish stuck with their dedicated defensive style. They also spent most of the third period without a shot, and were out shot 28-12 for the game.
“They’re the first team that completely shut down our top line,” said Andrews.
“They played us the way I’d play us if I was coaching against all our talent. If they can bottle it up and keep our big guns from making plays - the kind of plays we made the day before against Blake - they’ve got a good chance to give us trouble. As the season goes along, I think we might see more and more of that.”
The Hawks finally punctured Tollefson again in the third period when Brady Baker curled out from the left corner and carried to the slot before firing a shot through traffic that cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Hawks are now 7-3, and Andrews said the game will be a good learning point to convince his guys that to win a state tournament, it will be a requirement to win three games in three days, which is another reason he likes to play in the Hilltopper Classic.
The fact that he could tolerate this loss makes sense, too. After all, the Hawks are now 14-1 in five tournaments at Mars-Lakeview Arena.
The first test of how much the Hawks gained in their dominant but frustrating setback will come Friday, when a potent St. Cloud Cathedral comes to town to face the Hawks.
In a Hermantown note, the throwback uniforms the Hawks wore in their 6-2 victory over Brainerd in Friday’s semifinals were a welcome diversion from the norm. Hermantown is celebrating its 70th year of hockey, and the uniforms featured horizontal stripes up the legs and on the jersey sleeves. It was actually disappointing to see them go back to their very nice but normal uniforms Saturday, when they were the visiting team against the Irish.
UMD falls in Arizona Tournament final
The UMD Bulldogs came up with a big performance to trip Minnesota State-Mankato in overtime when Nick Swaney scored for a 4-3 victory. With both teams ranked among the top five all season, the showdown was particularly important to UMD for post-season rankings, as the Mavericks were No. 3 in the country.
But the Bulldogs were themselves frustrated in the final when Clarkson posted a 3-1 victory to win the first Desert Hockey Classic title at Gila River Arena in Glendale, where the NHL Coyotes play.
UMD’s Mikey Anderson got Team USA started in a dramatic comeback at the World Junior Tournament in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Facing an impressive team fro Sweden, the U.S fell behind 1-0, then 2-0, and it was 4-0 after two periods.
Mikey Anderson’s goal got the U.S. on the board, and Ryan Poehling, the third Poehling brother from Eden Prairie to play at St. Cloud State, scored to cut the deficit to 4-2. The game entered the final minute that way, and with the goalie pulled for a sixth attacker, Poehling scored his second goal to cut the deficit to 4-3. Amazingly, 13 seconds later, Poehling scored again - completing a pure hat trick with his second goal in the final minute to tie the game 4-4.
Sweden recovered its poise and scored a neat 2-on-1 goal during the 3-on-3 overtime to win 5-4. But the point earned for gaining overtime, and the inspiration from their great comeback, could serve the U.S. well in the medal round.