DULUTH, Minn. — The boys hockey regular season wasn’t particularly kind to Duluth Denfeld’s Cooper McClure.
The sophomore center missed nine games — about five weeks in total — due to a strained groin and a concussion before returning for the final two games of the regular season.
“I was sick of watching,” Cooper said. “It felt great to get back out there. I missed making fun plays and having fun with everyone.”
McClure was reunited on the second line with his twin brother, Connor, as the Hunters closed the season 19-5-1 and earned the No. 2 seed in the Section 7A playoffs. Denfeld will play seventh-seeded Proctor in a quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Heritage Center.
“We’re very confident; our team is hungry and ready to go,” Cooper said.
Hermantown (18-3-4), which defeated Denfeld 6-1 in December, is the top seed and is seeking to return to the Class A state tournament after its nine-year run as section champs was halted by Greenway last season.
Denfeld last reached the state tournament in 1989, one of three times in a four-year span that the Hunters qualified.
“I feel good about where we’re seeded,” Connor said. “We have to get past Greenway first. Hermantown and Greenway were in the section final last year, they’re two good teams.
“But our group of guys is hungry to go to state; we want to be there at (Xcel Energy Center).”
Connor is third on the team with 18 goals and tied for second with 47 points. He played on the top line with Kade Shea (21-27—48) and Griffin Lehet (22-25—47) until his brother returned to center the second line with Connor on his left and Simon Davidson on his right.
“It’s awesome (having Cooper back),” Connor said. “Playing with Griffin Lehet and Kade Shea on the first line was fun — it was a good run — but I’m happy to have my brother back because we have a good connection. I know where he is on the ice and we do well together.”
Cooper enters the playoffs with 11 goals and 14 assists, but his return was questionable after suffering his second concussion when checked by an Eveleth-Gilbert player.
“I barely saw him coming,” Cooper recalled. “All I remember is looking up and there he was, and then everything went black. A couple minutes later I woke up.”
Cooper missed three weeks — mainly for precaution, he said — before returning against Pine City Area.
“I’m 100 percent; I’m ready to get out there again,” he said.
Both brothers would like nothing more than a rematch against Hermantown in the section final.
“I definitely want to get them again,” Cooper said. “We’ve gotten a lot better (since the 6-1 loss) and learned a lot from that.”
The Hawks put together a 20-game unbeaten streak before losing their final two regular-season games to Lakeville South and Grand Rapids. Hermantown is averaging 5.6 goals per game, led by senior center and Minnesota Duluth commit Blake Biondi (37-39—76) and linemate Zach Kilen (18-37—55). Junior Joey Pierce (15-32—47) heads up the defense. The Hawks tangle with visiting North Shore in tonight’s quarterfinals.
Greenway (12-12-1) stunned Hermantown in a thrilling, double-overtime section final a year ago en route to capturing the hearts of fans in St. Paul during its march to the Class A final. This year hasn’t been nearly as memorable, but the Raiders are on a six-game unbeaten streak that includes a pair of one-goal victories. St. Cloud State commits Ben Troumbly (16-28—44) and Christian Miller (9-20—29) lead the team in scoring.