State Class A quarterfinal: Biondi does the trick for Hermantown to beat Monticello
ST. PAUL — At a postgame news conference Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center, Hermantown forward Blake Biondi proudly wore the pink children's-sized bicycle helmet handed down from the Hawks' top player from its previous game to the star from the latest game.
But when asked if he would give himself the helmet Friday if he netted another hat trick in the Class A semifinals — as he did in a 4-2 quarterfinal win over Monticello on Wednesday — it appeared to be the only time Biondi was stumped all night.
After a moment, the sophomore decided: "No, no I wouldn't do that."
First-year Hawks coach Pat Andrews then chimed in: "If Blake gets another hat trick (Friday), I will buy another helmet."
Biondi's three goals carried the top-ranked Hawks (21-6-2) to the win at the Minnesota Class A boys hockey state tournament before 6,036 fans in a rematch of last year's small-school title game won 4-3 by Hermantown on Dylan Samberg's double-overtime goal.
The two-time defending champion Hawks face Alexandria Area (18-10-1) next in a semifinal at approximately 1:30 p.m. Friday. Alexandria beat Thief River Falls 1-0 in the late quarterfinal.
Wednesday's game between Hermantown and Monticello wasn't quite the instant classic as the last time these teams stepped on the Xcel Energy Center ice together, but it had its moments.
Biondi, who committed to play hockey at Minnesota Duluth before the season, flipped linemate Jacob Herter's behind-the-net pass underneath Monticello goaltender Tyler Klatt's arm just 2:47 into the game.
Herter, a senior, knocked the next one in from the right doorstep on a power play at 6:44.
The top line of senior center Tyler Watkins and wings Biondi and Herter caused problems from the opening shift and were primarily behind the 38-26 shots-on-goal edge the Hawks owned.
"The first period we were a little intimidated and a little bit asleep," Moose coach Eric Nelson said.
But the Hawks knew a two-goal wasn't a sure thing as they proved against the Moose last year when they trailed 2-0 and 3-1 before rallying to win.
"We knew going into the first intermission that they were going to push back," Watkins said. "We are going for the three-peat so we know we're going get every team's best game. So we expected that, and the mood on the bench was to stay calm and keep our heads and play the way we know how to play."
Shortly after killing off a penalty early in the second period, the top-ranked Hawks made it 3-0. Biondi plucked a rebound from an Indio Dowd shot to the right of Klatt and sent it over the netminder's right shoulder at 1:54 to seemingly put the top seed in command.
The three-goal margin didn't last long, however, as Monticello's Matt Miller, a sophomore forward, put a wrist shot from just inside the blue line past an unscreened Cole Manahan at 3:22.
"We knew Hermantown was a good team but if we got in their head and put a couple away, then we'd have a good chance," Miller said.
Miller scored again 2:17 later when he poked the puck away from Sam High at the top of the blue line, skated in on a breakaway and put his shot between Manahan's legs.
"It would have been easy to fold the tents and get out of Dodge but they didn't," Nelson said of his players. "They kept going, kept battling and it's a testament to Matt, he's got a great shot and a great heart and put some pucks on net."
The game was somewhat opposite of the state final a year ago when Monticello formed a cooperative with Annandale and Maple Lake and was called MAML for short.
"Last year it was us battling uphill and this year it was them," Watkins said. "We knew after they had a strong push back in the second, we went into the locker room still winning. I was confident in the guys that we were going to come out with a strong third period."
The Moose continued to push the tempo in the third, however, and Klatt, who struggled in the early going, stopped a point-blank shot from Brady Baker to keep the game a one-goal margin midway through the period.
"Once we won the section final, I wanted to get another shot at them and I knew we had a shot at beating them this year," said Klatt, who totaled 34 saves.
But the Hawks, who advanced to their ninth straight state tournament by beating Greenway in overtime in the Section 7A final, showed they know how to play in tight games. Junior defenseman Darian Gotz rifled a shot from the right point that Biondi tipped in midair for his third goal of the night and team-high 29th of the season, sealing the victory and keeping Andrews' quest to do in his first season what longtime coach Bruce Plante did in his final two seasons.
The only difference is Plante accomplished it without Biondi's services.
"I was talking with Coach Plante about that the other day," Andrews said. "We don't ever remember a sophomore with the points that he has had. And it's more than just the points. I don't know if we've ever had a sophomore with the hockey IQ and is a total package.
"Blake has attributes to his game that most seniors would love to have."
First period — 1. H, Blake Biondi (Tyler Watkins, Jacob Herter), 2:47; 2. H, Herter (Biondi, Watkins), 6:44 (pp).
Second period — 3. H, Biondi (Indio Dowd), 1:54; 4. M, Matt Miller (Jeffrey Henrikson, Jake Friede), 3:22; 5. M, Miller, 5:39.
Third period — 6. H, Blake Biondi (Darian Gotz), 14:29.
Saves — Tyler Klatt, M, 34; Cole Manahan, H, 24.