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Prep boys hockey: Hawks take budding rivalry

t011017 --- Clint Austin --- 011117.S.DNT.BOYSPUX.C01 --- Parker Simmons (13) of Hermantown controls the puck between Micah Miller (20) and Anthony DelGreco (22) of Grand Rapids during Tuesday's game at the Hermantown Arena. Hermantown defeated Grand Rapids 4-3. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
t011017 --- Clint Austin --- 011117.S.DNT.BOYSPUX.C02 --- Goaltender Zach Stejskal (35) of Grand Rapids blocks a shot on goal from Hermantown duringTuesday's game at the Hermantown Arena. Hermantown defeated Grand Rapids 4-3. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

Trent Klatt naturally would have preferred a flip-flopped final score, but the Grand Rapids boys hockey coach couldn't complain about the entertainment value produced by his team's game Tuesday night in Hermantown.

"You always want to come out on top, but I'll tell ya what — I'd take 25 of those in a year," Klatt said following the Thunderhawks' 4-3 loss in a crisp contest befitting two of the state's top dogs.

Ryan Sandelin scored twice to power the Hawks to their 11th consecutive victory, including a rapid tally that jolted Hermantown from the start. Linemate Jesse Jacques streaked in on the right offensive side and fired at Grand Rapids goalie Zach Stejskal, whose kick save resulted in a juicy rebound out front, and an alert Sandelin was right there to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead 32 seconds after the puck dropped.

Sandelin's first goal — he now has 17 on the season — set the tone.

"Getting the first goal is good for our team, our confidence," the senior forward said. "It gets us going right away, it gets everybody engaged and we just sort of roll from there."

Both teams hardly stopped rolling.

This was classic high school hockey in northern Minnesota. Two highly ranked clubs — the tradition-rich Thunderhawks (10-3-1), third in Class AA, and No. 1 Hermantown (11-1-1), a modest villain of the state's small-school class given its ongoing dominance.

Even the weather played along for this clash of classes, thanks to an afternoon flare-up that led to snowy, wind-swept roads throughout the region, and preceded a dive in temperatures. Fans, ringing the boards, flocked to Hermantown, and the hockey was wide-open and well-played.

Chippy, too, highlighted by a postgame scrum that threatened to get out of hand.

"It had a lot of intensity to it," Hawks coach Bruce Plante said. "A lot of these guys played together on the Elite League team. And, of course, we beat them the last two times, so they were really up for this game, and so were we. It made for a good game — a lot of good players out there tonight."

Indeed, Hermantown had routed Grand Rapids by a combined 15-2 in their past two meetings. Tuesday, they went blow for blow, especially once the Thunderhawks recovered from a slow start; Hermantown amassed a 21-11 edge in shots on goal in the first period.

While Sandelin led the Hawks, Micah Miller did the same for Grand Rapids. Both are big-time players whose motors never stop. The speedy Miller finished with a goal and two assists.

At the 14-minute mark of the second period, Miller halved the Thunderhawks' deficit when, from the left faceoff circle, he ripped a wrist shot to the top shelf, far side. The power-play score made it 3-2. But Grand Rapids never could get over the hump.

Hermantown's Logan Judnick slapped in a rebound six minutes into the third to make it 4-2. Blake McLaughlin again made it a one-goal game on a backhanded tip-in of a nifty Miller feed. And the Thunderhawks buzzed late, but Hawks goalie Cade McEwen withstood the assault.

Grand Rapids opened the season by winning seven straight. Included in the Thunderhawks' wake were perennial powers Edina and Eden Prairie. They have, however, hit a road bump of late. They're now 3-2-1 over their past five.

Klatt isn't panicking. And he admitted this is the time of year for tinkering — moving Miller between the first and second lines, for example, to see what fits best. He could live with Tuesday's defeat.

"This is a quality program. Take a look at all the banners they have hanging in the rafters," he said in reference to the 34 pennants Hermantown has collected by claiming Lake Superior Conference, section and state championships. "I know it's Class A, but we know very well that they're a really, really good hockey team. We knew it was going to be like this. They're on the top of the hill, and our players knew it."

Moments after Plante noted that Hermantown and Grand Rapids are starting to build another rivalry to add to the Northland's collection, Sandelin said almost the exact same thing.

"I love playing Grand Rapids," Sandelin said. "Every year, they're a good game. It's a great rivalry. I don't know if they consider it a rivalry, but we do. We bring our 'A' game every time they come to our rink and we go to theirs."

Grand Rapids 1-1-1—3

Hermantown 1-2-1—4

First period — 1. H, Ryan Sandelin (Jesse Jacques, Dylan Samberg), 0:32; 2. GR, Jack Burnson (Micah Miller, Drake Anderson), 14:42.

Second period — 3. H, Dylan Kolquist (Jacob Herter, Sandelin), 2:18; 4. H, Sandelin (Kolquist, Jacques), 11:55; 5. GR, Miller (John Stampohar), 14:00 (pp).

Third period — 6. H, Logan Judnick (Matt Valure, Tyler Watkins), 6:18; 7. GR, Blake McLaughlin (Miller), 7:33.

Saves — Cade McEwen, H, 30; Zach Stejskal, GR, 38.

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