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Biondi’s choice is no surprise: Sophomore becomes latest Hermantown player to commit to UMD

Blake Biondi of the Hermantown Hockey team controls the puck during a practice at Hermantown Arena Tuesday evening. Biondi has committed to play at Minnesota Duluth. (Clint Austin / / 2
Hermantown boys hockey head coach Patrick Andrews watches his team during a practice at Hermantown Arena Tuesday evening. (Clint Austin / / 2

The photo of a 3-year-old Blake Biondi wearing a Minnesota Duluth hockey jersey, his smile visible through the bars of an oversized Bauer helmet, ensured a tough sell for college hockey recruiters.

Biondi’s commitment to UMD wasn’t preordained simply because that’s where his father, Joe Biondi, played from 1989-93. But, man, it sure stacked the cards in Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin’s favor. So it didn’t come as a huge surprise when the 15-year-old Hermantown sophomore verbally committed to UMD on Nov. 7.

“When I was really young — and, obviously, you never know if you’re going to have a chance to go play college — I thought that was the school for sure that I was going to go to,” Blake Biondi said.

A 3-year-old Blake Biondi is shown here wearing a Minnesota Duluth hockey jersey. Submitted photo

It wasn’t a foregone conclusion, not with a bevy of interest in the 5-foot-11 forward. Biondi also had offers from Minnesota and Notre Dame. He did his due diligence.

“I looked at other schools. I wanted to make sure that UMD was the best choice,” Biondi said. “And now I know that it was.”

Biondi will get his first taste of high school hockey — the fall Elite League notwithstanding — Friday when Hermantown hosts Wayzata to commence the LAB era (Life After Bruce). He started garnering attention as a bantam standout, which intensified throughout the offseason.

First-year Hawks coach Patrick Andrews says college teams already were drawn to Biondi’s high hockey IQ, soft hands and excellent vision, but then he turned himself into a player that “flies around the rink,” according to Andrews.

“He’s got all those ‘X’ factors that you can’t teach, and now he’s got the speed to go with it,” Andrews said.

Biondi might be a varsity rookie, but he’ll be counted on to replace some of the offensive production that graduated with players like Ryan Sandelin, Jesse Jacques and Matt Valure.

Both of Biondi’s parents —Joe and his wife, Kelly — are from Warroad. Both went to UMD. But they steered clear of their son’s college decision. That was his deal. Their primary role during the recruiting process: support system.

That doesn’t mean they weren’t pulling for their alma mater to win out.

“It’s a tough situation to be in,” Joe said. “Of course I wanted him to go to UMD, but you don’t want to put any pressure on him thinking he has to go there. Am I really happy now after it’s all done? Certainly.”

The younger Biondi said he used to attend most Bulldogs home games. But that changed in recent years as his own hockey slate became busier. He did, however, make it to Chicago last April for the Frozen Four.

In Biondi, UMD continued to mine its Hermantown pipeline, which has produced the likes of Neal Pionk, Jared Thomas, Dylan Samberg, Adam Krause and, soon, Cole Koepke.

Blake Biondi of the Hermantown Hockey team. (Clint Austin / and staying the same

Speaking of Andrews, don’t expect Bruce Plante’s successor to lower the bar just because a handful of key cogs are gone. When offensive leaders Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero, who combined to produce 145 points as seniors, graduated in 2015, the Hawks came back the next season and stopped a six-year streak of state championship-game losses, with stars Koepke, Wyatt Aamodt and Luke Olson leading the way. Those three graduated, Hermantown reloaded and the result was a successful title defense last March.

Why can’t the Hawks do it again?

“Don’t get me wrong — I get it. We lost an NHL draft pick defenseman (Samberg). You don’t replace Ryan Sandelin, you don’t replace Jesse Jacques or Samberg,” Andrews said. “I get that, but I think we’ve also proven over the last six, eight years that the expectation is there and our guys match it.”

Hermantown has reached the past eight Class A finals.

Through ’em all, Plante was a constant. But he decided last spring to retire, and Andrews, a former assistant and 1998 Hermantown graduate who played for Plante, was picked to take over. Andrews says he won’t ever try to be his mentor, but he will adhere to many of the principles that formed Plante’s blueprint for the program.

Those include hard work, doing things the right way and, of course, winning.

“I don’t expect a lot to change. You’re not going to see a dramatically different Hermantown team,” Andrews said. “Hopefully when people come and watch, they’re going to say, ‘Yeah, this is Hermantown hockey. It’s the way it’s always been and the way it always will be.’ That would be my goal.”