ST. PAUL — Hermantown boys hockey coach Patrick Andrews sat underneath the bright lights of the Xcel Energy Center media room for the first time Wednesday, discussing his team's state tournament quarterfinal victory over Monticello.
But Andrews, metaphorically at least, has been in the white-hot spotlight all season since taking over for legendary Hawks coach Bruce Plante.
Plante won 547 career games and three Class A state titles during 28 seasons as Hermantown coach, and provided countless sound bites for Twin Cities media types during state tournament news conferences.
Despite admittedly feeling the pressure, Andrews is one win away from guiding the Hawks to a ninth consecutive championship game appearance. Hermantown (21-6-2) faces Alexandria Area (18-10-1) at approximately 1:30 p.m. today in a Class A semifinal at Xcel Energy Center.
"You don't replace Bruce. I'm just trying to do my own thing," Andrews said following the 4-2 win over the Moose. "(The pressure) is definitely there, I'm not going to lie, but part of that is probably me putting a lot of pressure on myself. The community and these guys have been unbelievable through this whole transition."
Andrews is not an outsider. The 1998 Hermantown graduate scored the winning goal as a senior in the Section 2A title game against Proctor to send the Hawks to the state tournament, where Hermantown eventually lost to Eveleth-Gilbert in the title game.
He's put in the time with the youth program and knew all the players prior to becoming head coach. That includes senior center Tyler Watkins, who played under Andrews in bantams.
"It was an honor to play under Coach Plante my first two years in high school, but I just love playing the game of hockey, so whoever is behind the bench I'm going to show up and play," Watkins said. "Playing under Coach Pat in bantams, I knew he was a great guy and a great coach."
Andrews joked that his players got the short end of the stick.
"I love Tyler to death — I coached him in bantams and I'd do anything for him — but at the same time he's probably thinking, 'I could have had Coach Plante (coach me as a senior), he's got 500-some wins and instead I've got Coach Pat.'
"It's been tremendous what these guys have done to support me and our staff. All of our staff was coached by Coach Plante, so none of us would be where we are without him, but these players have rallied around us as much as we've rallied around them."
The winner meets either Orono or Mahtomedi in Saturday's noon championship. The losers face off for third place at 9 a.m.
HERMANTOWN (21-6-2) VS. ALEXANDRIA AREA (18-10-1)
What: Class A state tournament semifinal
When: 1:30 p.m. today
Where: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul
TV: WDIO Ch. 10
Radio: WKLK-FM 96.5