Biondi’s sizzling touch leads Hawks to 9-1-1 start

John Gilbert

Blake Biondi rushed up ice in the Hilltopper Classic final, and his 2 goals and 4 assists helped Hermantown whip Buffalo 7-1. Biondi has 19-17--36 this season and the Hawks are 9-1-1. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Blake Biondi rushed up ice in the Hilltopper Classic final, and his 2 goals and 4 assists helped Hermantown whip Buffalo 7-1. Biondi has 19-17--36 this season and the Hawks are 9-1-1. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Hermantown junior Joey Pierce has scored 11 goals in 11 games after switching back to defense, and prevented Buffalo's Jake Braccini from threatening goaltender Jacob Backstrom. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Hermantown junior Joey Pierce has scored 11 goals in 11 games after switching back to defense, and prevented Buffalo's Jake Braccini from threatening goaltender Jacob Backstrom. Photo credit: John Gilbert

A National Hockey League scout was spotted at Essential Heritage Sports Center, watching a high school hockey game last week. A couple of nights earlier, he had been at the Hermantown arena watching the Hawks beat a strong Totino Grace team 3-2.

As we discussed that game, I mentioned how Blake Biondi, Hermantown’s classic senior canter, had missed a couple of excellent scoring chances and was actually blanked for goals that game, although he had one assist.

“I don’t care whether he scores five goals or none,” the scout said. “He’s just fun to watch because he’s the best player on the rink. He does all the little things, and that’s what I enjoy watching.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to declare one Hawks player as the best in a given game, because their whole roster is bristling with skill, and different players come up with big plays all the time. But Biondi is almost always the offensive ring-leader for Hermantown, which went into the Christmas break 9-1-1 for the season.

Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews agrees with the scout’s assessment. “He’s got it all. He’s the complete package,” said Andrews. “And on top of that, he’s a great kid, very classy and articulate. For him to give up the offers he had to come back and try to win a state championship with his buddies tells you how much he values what’s going on here.”

Hermantown’s next game after edging Grace was against Denfeld, and the Hawks were at full flight. They romped, as Blake Biondi scored four goals and one assist.

Biondi didn’t proclaim any major objectives coming out of that Grace game, he just turned up the wick against Denfeld, a key Section 7A rival, and then he neglected to turn it back down afterward. It showed through at Marshall’s Hilltopper Classic, which the Hawks won. Again. The big question was whether anybody could keep their game against Hermantown from going to running time, which occurs with a score differential of six goals.

Biondi scored twice and assisted on another in the tournament opening 9-2 victory over highly regarded Mahtomedi, then he notched a hat trick against Brainerd, then two goals and six assists against Fort Frances, before finishing the tournament with two goals and four assists in the 7-1 championship victory over Buffalo. For those without a calculator, that’s 13 goals and 12 assists in the five games since his “off night” Grace.

It was suggested to Biondi that with 13-12—25 in the last five games, he’s had what amounts to a good season of scoring for most players.

“Our whole line has really been playing well,” he said. “Zack Kilen has really been scoring on one wing, and Ethan Lund has been scoring on the other. I think Kilen’s got something like 12 goals and 27 points, and Lund has about 22 points. And it’s not just our line. Every line has really been scoring well, and our defense and goaltending has been solid, too.

“We’re fast, and we’ve got a lot of skilled guys, which works out best for me. When I’m not playing my best, there are a lot of other guys who go out and score big goals. Joey Pierce was on my wing last year, but he’s moved back to defense this year and he’s a rock back there. Our line is much better when he’s out there with us, because he rushes the puck so well and helps the offense. He played really well at forward, but we’ve got enough firepower up front and having him back on defense helps all the lines.”

Pierce, a junior, is also a special player. Coach Andrews said Pierce played well filling in on defense at a U.S. summer development camp and came back and asked if he might drop back to D. for the Hawks. “I wanted him to make the decision,” said Andrews, “because he is outstanding at either position. Back on defense, he has 11 goals for us in 11 games.”

With a stockpile of home-grown and home-developed players, Biondi still stands out and is among the front-runners for Mr. Hockey consideration, and Biondi’s hot hand and Hermantown’s balanced power could be key factors in determining who wins the vote as the state’s best senior player. “It’s one thing to be considered the best player,” said Andrews, “and another thing to live up to it.”

Biondi’s future is already secured, having accepted a scholarship to UMD — where his dad, Joe Biondi, was an outstanding center. There is some question about whether Biondi might go to Sioux City to spend a year playing junior in the USHL, and he’s not rushing any decision.

“My goal is to play at UMD, and I know they brought in a few extra forwards because they’re not sure if some of their players might sign pro contracts after this season,” Biondi said. “If some of them sign, I might get the chance to go right in and play. I talked to the people at Sioux City and they said it was up to me whether I wanted to go there and play this season or stay in high school and play with the guys who have been my teammates. They say they totally respected whatever I decided.”

Last year’s Hermantown team was upset in the Section 7A championship game by a Cinderella Greenway of Coleraine team. It was a triumph that captivated the entire state, especially when the Raiders made it all the way to the championship game. “It was great, what Greenway accomplished last season, and it was great for a lot of other Class A teams to see that somebody could knock us off,” Biondi said. “It had to happen sometime. We can’t win every year. But let me tell you, losing sucks.

“We don’t want to dwell on losing that last game, but I guarantee 100 percent that it’s going to help motivate us this year. You can already feel it. Our team last year was good, but this team is different — we’re extremely close, and we’ve all got a hunger to win for the program.”

Biondi, who is 6-foot tall and 190 pounds with room to grow and fill out, already has the skating ability, plus the head and the hands to make it as far as he wants to go in hockey. Without looking ahead, he remains rooted in the Hermantown program’s rich hockey program roots. He recalls skating on the coordinated half-dozen outdoor rinks that former coach Bruce Plante coordinated to be build right near the Hermantown Arena, which leads to younger players coming to the high school games and skating outside on their own before and during games.

“After school until 7 or 8 every night, I’d be out there with my buddies, playing shinny,” he said. “They’ve got six rinks out there, with one of them a pleasure-skating rink, although there are a couple of nets on it. That’s where we’re constantly playing 2-on-2 and working on stick skills. We all skate outside as much as we can, and in the summer, we get onto the arena ice whenever we can, too.”

Once the season reaches into the New Year, the games get more intense, and Biondi and his teammates realize it.

“We’ve got some of our toughest games coming up right in a row,” he said. “We play [St. Cloud] Cathedral Friday, then Grand Rapids next Tuesday, and then Cretin, and then Greenway — one after the other, at our rink.

“We’ve got the fire burning. All of our lines are clicking, and we’ve got to try to keep the focus on every game now.”