Given all that upstart Duluth Denfeld had accomplished through the first half of the boys hockey season, Hermantown had no problem taking the Hunters seriously Thursday night at Heritage Center.

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That was especially true following Denfeld's near-shocker against Duluth East on Monday night. Losing 2-1 in overtime to the fifth-ranked team in Class AA raised some eyebrows.

"We've been hearing all about how Denfeld's hot this year, that they're going to give us a shot in the section," Hawks senior forward Elliott Peterson said. "So we came in with the mindset of showing them who the king of the section is."

A 9-1 victory was sure to drive the point home.

Blake Biondi recorded a hat trick, Joey Pierce scored two goals and assisted on four others, and Class A No. 1 Hermantown (10-3) throttled the Hunters in a pivotal Section 7A tilt that puts the Hawks in the driver's seat with challenger Greenway coming to town next week. In between, Hermantown hosts Minnetonka in a 1 vs. 1 showdown on Saturday.

For Denfeld, Thursday marked a rare lowlight in this feel-good season. The Hunters opened the year on a four-game winning streak, which included an early salvo of their own - a 4-3 overtime win at then-No. 4 Greenway. Denfeld (8-5-1) is ranked 13th and improbably has been as high as sixth.

Monday's toe-to-toe tussle with the Greyhounds, a team that embarrassed the Hunters 13-0 last winter, was another resume padder.

And yet, if there was one person uninterested in all those warm fuzzies Thursday night, it was Denfeld coach Dale Jago. In a word, Jago was fuming.

"I knew we were flat, but there was no compete level at all. There was no taking the body, there was no puck movement, no poise with the puck," he said. "If you can't get ready to play against them ... I mean, they're in our section. It doesn't derail our whole season, but the disappointment is beyond belief."

The coach was asked whether the close call against the Greyhounds had a hangover effect on his club. Jago wasn't buying it.

"I'd love to use that as an excuse, but in retrospect why wouldn't you use that as a springboard to compete against everybody?" he asked.

The Hunters were getting outshot 19-2 late in the first period when they mustered a flurry at Hermantown goalie Cole Manahan, who was up to the task. Despite the Hawks' dominance, Denfeld trailed just 1-0 entering the second.

"If they pop one at the end of the first, it's a totally different game," Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews said. "He (Manahan) gave us a chance there to take the game over in the second."

Which the Hawks did emphatically.

Starting with Jack Glockle's goal 50 seconds in, Hermantown erupted for six scores in the period to blow this one open. Hunters sophomore goalie Jacob Snyder actually gloved Glockle's initial attempt with ease, but the puck squirted free before the whistle sounded. Glockle, alertly following his own shot, whacked in the rebound, and Hermantown's fist-bump parade was on.

Snyder was between the pipes despite fellow netminder Shawn Easty coming off a 57-save performance vs. the Greyhounds. The two have rotated all season, and they're fine with that. Both are terrific goalies and friends. Snyder, in fact, stopped 50 shots during the upset of Greenway in December.

Thursday's hiccup notwithstanding, Easty, a junior, said Denfeld has had plenty to be proud of. The Hunters, who won 15 games combined the past two years, expected to be competitive.

"We've put in the work since the end of last season, doing morning workouts in the summer every day," Easty said as he prepared to take the ice for a period of work in the junior varsity game. "I'm not surprised at the results we've been getting. We've been working hard every day."

While admitting the loss to Hermantown was a letdown, Easty added: "There's always tomorrow."

Hermantown 1-6-2-9

Dul. Denfeld 0-0-1-1

First period - 1. H, Aaron Pionk (Jack Glockle, Aydyn Dowd), 4:06.

Second period - 2. H, Glockle (Blake Biondi, Joey Pierce), 0:50; 3. H, Biondi (Brady Baker, Pierce), 3:29 (pp); 4. H, Pierce (Indio Dowd, Justin Thomas), 7:24; 5. H, Biondi (Pierce, Thomas), 7:48; 6. H, Cole Antcliff (A. Dowd, Glockle), 9:45; 7. H, Baker (Elliott Peterson, I. Dowd), 15:59.

Third period - 8. H, Biondi (Thomas, Pierce), 1:42; 9. H, Pierce (Peterson, Darian Gotz), 7:05; 10. DD, Cole Olson (Caleb Perrault, Jace Anderson), 16:28 (pp).

Saves - Cole Manahan, H, 23; Jacob Snyder, DD, 28; Shawn Easty, DD, 8.

Duluth East 6,

Grand Rapids 3

The Thunderhawks (4-13-1) twice led by two goals, including 3-1 deep into the second period, but the Greyhounds (10-3-2) ended the night by scoring five unanswered to win at Heritage Center.

East’s Ryder Donovan tied it with 2:25 remaining in the second, and Jacob Jeannette produced the go-ahead tally in the third.

East outshot Grand Rapids 56-22.