Hermantown breezes into Class A boys hockey semifinals
ST. PAUL -- Midway through the second period Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, Hermantown was whistled for too many skaters. Funny, it felt like the Hawks had extra skaters all night. Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero both collected hat tricks to trigger a...
ST. PAUL - Midway through the second period Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, Hermantown was whistled for too many skaters.
Funny, it felt like the Hawks had extra skaters all night.
Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero both collected hat tricks to trigger an 8-0 dismantling of Spring Lake Park in the quarterfinals of the Minnesota Class A high school boys hockey tournament. Next up is Friday’s 1 p.m. semifinal against the winner of the Breck vs. St. Cloud Apollo quarterfinal.
Moments after Pionk’s third goal late in a running-time third period, Kero matched his buddy and linemate. The result was a bunch of Hermantown fans leaving Xcel without the hats they arrived wearing. Afterward, Pionk and Kero strode into the postgame news conference toting a pink bicycle helmet. Strangely, it’s designated for the team’s player of the game.
“We decided to share it,” said Kero, who like Pionk, also had three assists.
About the only thing that shone brighter than the dynamic Pionk-Kero duo Wednesday was the Hermantown student section, which sported a sea of orange in support of classmate Cade Slattengren, who is battling leukemia. Those fans got quite a workout as the Hawks peppered Spring Lake Park goalie Aaron Furlano with 50 shots. In fact, they stayed busier than Hermantown goalie Luke Olson, who was called upon just eight times. Backup goalie Cade McEwen played the third period and stopped two shots.
Tournament newcomers, the unseeded Panthers (16-12-1) never got anything going.
“Their defense was phenomenal,” Spring Lake Park senior Jacob Nystrom said. “They shut us down.”
No. 1 seed Hermantown (26-2-1) remained perfect against Class A competition and ran its unbeaten streak to 24 games. The Hawks’ small-school dominance, paired with the program’s string of five consecutive title-game appearances - all losses - have led to a mounting outcry from high school hockey watchers who think Hermantown belongs in Class AA.
“We ain’t going up,” coach Bruce Plante said simply before discussing his program’s participation numbers and how difficult it is for a school like Hermantown, with an enrollment of 615, to cultivate the kind of depth required to compete in the state’s largest classification. “When you’re a good team like we are, everybody wants you to move up. I think we’re going to stay right here. It’s where we fit the best.”
A year after showing a bit of rust in their tournament opener vs. Luverne, the Hawks came out firing on all cylinders Wednesday. Kero started the scoring by beating a helpless Furlano to cap a 3-on-1 rush. His second goal followed a beautiful setup by Cole Koepke, who cycled behind the net before feeding Kero through the crease to make it 5-0 with 2:14 to play in the second period.
Pionk and Kero have 34 and 32 goals, respectively. And Kero now has 40 assists.
Furlano finished with 42 saves for the Panthers, who ended the regular season with six losses in eight games before skating through the Section 5A playoffs with relative ease. They received a taste of Minnesota’s iconic tournament Wednesday, and they plan to be back.
“Just being here is huge for our program,” Spring Lake Park coach Tom Benson said. “It’s a stepping stone for where we’d like to get to.”
Similarly, Hermantown knows exactly where it wants to get to - Saturday’s championship game, where the Hawks are desperate to bury talk of their five-year streak. If they win Friday, they will face either East Grand Forks or Mahtomedi at noon Saturday.
Spring Lake Park 0-0-0-0
First period - 1. Ryan Kero (Nate Pionk, Wyatt Aamodt), 3:15; 2. Pionk (Kero), 10:32; 3. Pionk (Eric Gotz, Kero), 15:54 (pp).
Second period - 4. Aamodt (Kyle Amundson), 10:36; 5. Kero (Cole Koepke, Pionk), 14:46.
Third period - 6. Ryan Sandelin (Matt Valure), 2:09; 7. Pionk (Kero), 15:28; 8. Kero (Pionk), 16:15.
Saves - Aaron Furlano, SLP, 40; Nick Robinson, SLP, 2; Luke Olson, H, 8; Cade McEwen, H, 2.