Say the words “Hermantown” and “hockey” and you’re likely to get a passionate response that could go one of two ways. The first is definitive: “Boy, they sure play some good hockey up there.” The second is definitively sillier: “Boy, they need to be forced to move up to Class 2A.”
That second theme is being heard once more as we await Saturday’s Class 1A boys hockey state championship game. Hermantown, which has lost that game for the last six years in a row, will meet Breck at noon at Xcel Energy Center. The Hawks (26-2-1) are seeded No. 1 and Breck (26-3-1) is No. 2.
So here we are, all eyes again on Hermantown and coach Bruce Plante (pictured). He joined the 500-victory club this season and is one of the seasoned greats of his profession. In 27 years he has a record of 513-196-22. He has seen a lot, and he sure would like to see his boys win their school’s first state hockey title since 2007.
One year ago, after Hermantown lost to East Grand Forks 5-4 in overtime in the title game, Plante said, “It’s not fun. I just don’t get it. It’s weird to me. The hockey gods didn’t work in our favor again. We had all kinds of chances to win this game.”
There were no surprises when Plante met with the media after Friday’s 7-1 semifinal victory over St. Paul Academy. It took about three preliminary questions before the Big One was broached: “How do you feel about this streak?”
“It’s pretty hard to block that out,” Plante said. “It’s on our resume, our legacy at Hermantown.”
Last year, Plante talked about “guys in the locker room bawling their eyes out.” He adjusted his strategy this time and has openly talked with the players about ending the streak.
“We’re trying something different and we hope we get some luck,” he said. “The message is, ‘We’ve got to get this thing off our back. We’ve got to get rid of it, it’s getting heavy.”
Plante said he hears about the championship-game streak everywhere he goes, all year round.
“I’ll go to Walmart and some guy 80 years old says, ‘When are you gonna win that thing?’ I go fishing or go to my duck blind and get away from it.”
The Hermantown players certainly know the story. And their goal is to rewrite the ending this time.
“We’re all excited to play tomorrow and hopefully get that off our backs,” said Cole Koepke. Ryan Sandelin added, “We wanted to get back to that game and break our streak. Now we’re here. We’ve just got to go out and play hard.”
Plante addressed the plea by some – especially hockey experts on Twitter, judging by what I see – that the Hawks have dominated 1A and should opt up to 2A. He turned that equation upside down, saying that some teams that have made the decision to opt up to 2A would be better served in 1A.
“I’ve been saying that for years,” Plante said. “Some of the teams that are in Double A and are A size, they’re just average. Maybe some of them should come down. It would be good for us.
“We get a lot of pressure to move up. It’s the same old thing.”
He didn’t rule it out, either, on the condition that his program someday has the kind of depth that teams from much larger schools often have.
“That could happen. I guess we’ve gotta win one of these to maybe take a look at it. Are we ready? Should we go? I guess we’ll just see.”
Yes, let’s see what happens.
A total of 22, 244 tickets were sold for Friday evening’s Class 2A state semifinal doubleheader. That set a new record for any session of the state hockey tournament. The previous record was 19,547 for the Friday night session in 2008.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Thief River Falls coach Tim Bergland after the Prowlers’ 4-0 loss to Breck: “We needed that first goal and we never did get it.”
MY FAVORITE NICKNAMES OF THE HOCKEY TOURNAMENT
1. Thief River Falls Prowlers
2. Bemidji Lumberjacks
3. Stillwater Ponies
4. Litchfield Dragons
5. Burnsville Blaze
CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
BRECK 4, THIEF RIVER FALLS 0
Tyler Scott’s two goals helped propel the second-seeded Mustangs (26-3-1) into the championship game for the first time since they won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Breck held a 43-18 advantage in shots on goal over the Prowlers (23-7)
HERMANTOWN 7, ST. PAUL ACADEMY 1
The top-seeded Hawks (26-2-1) advanced to the title game for the sixth year in a row. They will meet Breck on Saturday; Hermantown’s title-game streak began with a 2-1 loss to the Mustangs in 2010. Ryan Sandelin scored two goals as the Hawks held a shots-on-goal edge of 35-20 over the Spartans (24-6).
CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
WAYZATA 2, STILLWATER 1
In one of the most evenly matched games of the tournament, the third-seeded Trojans held off the second-seeded Ponies to advance to the title game. Wayzata (21-8-1) scored first on a goal by Logan Lindstrand in the first period and the score remained 1-0 until Griffin Ness scored in the final minutes of the second period for a 2-0 lead. Jackson Cates got Stillwater (27-2-1) on the board with one minute left in regulation and the game ended with Wayzata goaltender Alex Schilling covering the puck in the crease.
EDEN PRAIRIE 6, GRAND RAPIDS 2
Casey Mittelstadt had a hat trick and Cole Lawrence scored twice as the Eagles moved into the title game..
CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY SCHEDULE
Class 1A: Breck vs. Hermantown, noon
Class 2A: Wayzata vs. Eden Prairie, 7 p.m.
BOYS BASKETBALL UPDATE
All but one of the section tournaments wrapped up Friday and the teams have been nearly finalized for next week’s boys state basketball action. Here are the teams…
CLASS 1A: Goodhue, Central Minnesota Christian, St. Clair, Red Lake, Lake Park-Audubon, Browerville/Eagle Valley, Minneapolis North, Mountain Iron-Buhl or North Woods (they play Saturday),
CLASS 2A: Caledonia, Braham, Esko, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Jackson County Central, Annandale, St. Croix Lutheran, Maple River.
CLASS 3A: Waseca, Simley, Fridley, Monticello, DeLaSalle, Chisago Lakes, Fergus Falls, Red Wing.
CLASS 4A: Apple Valley, North St. Paul, Hopkins, Blaine, Maple Grove, Lakeville North, Osseo, Eden Prairie.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 546
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,658
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn