ST. PAUL — Hermantown senior center Blake Biondi sat in the Xcel Energy Center media room Wednesday wearing a children’s-sized pink bicycle helmet, adorned with Minnie Mouse on each side, exactly as he did two years ago after the Hawks’ Class A state tournament quarterfinal victory.
Biondi, as he did two years ago against Monticello, netted a hat trick to lead Hermantown to the 7-1 win over the Moose and a berth into the semifinals.
But that’s where the Hawks hope the deja vu ends.
In that 2018 tournament, Hermantown ended up losing to Alexandria Area in the semifinals and then didn’t return last season for the first time in 10 years.
This time, third-seeded Hermantown (22-3-4) will face No. 2 St. Cloud Cathedral (24-3-1) at 11 a.m. Friday at Xcel. The teams played to a 5-5 tie in January in a game the Hawks led 5-1 in the second period.
“Friday’s going to be a riot,” Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said. “I don’t know if they’ve gotten better (since the tie) but I know we’ve gotten better. I’m looking forward to it; Friday’s going to be fun.”
Apparently Monticello brings out the best in Biondi.
Then again, the Mr. Hockey finalist and Minnesota Duluth commit always seems to be at his best. His three goals gave him 46 overall this season and nine in four playoff games.
Hence, there he sat with the game MVP honor sitting atop his head after the game.
“My head’s too big, but it fits Kilen perfectly,” Biondi said of linemate Zach Kilen. “Kilen’s got a small head.”
“It’s too big for me, actually,” Kilen chimed in.
Kilen has spent his share of time with the helmet after scoring 26 goals this season, including two against Monticello.
But it was Biondi who got the Hawks off and running.
His first goal came just 2:58 into the contest as linemate Ethan Lund backhanded a pass from behind the Moose net to Biondi, who then batted in his second attempt against goaltender Nash Wilson.
Hawks senior goalie Jacob Backstrom preserved the lead a few minutes later by stopping a couple chances in front of the net. On the first attempt, Backstrom lost his stick and then stretched out a glove hand as another shot skipped off the post.
“If he hadn’t made those first couple saves, the game could have gone a different way,” Kilen said. “Getting that save helped us.”
Biondi and defenseman Joey Pierce, another UMD commit, worked a nice play in the final minute of the period to double the lead.
Pierce, from the right point, sent the puck just to the left of the goal where Biondi extended his stick and poked in the puck.
“It was important to get one right away and again at the end of the first to get us some separation going into the second,” Biondi said.
Hermantown only owned a 10-8 edge in shots on goal in the opening period.
“Our first period was a little shaky and then we got better as it went along,” Andrews said. “I was glad we got those nerves out of the way.”
Monticello coach Eric Nelson knew coming in that stopping Biondi would be a challenge. He even altered his defense in an effort to prevent the inevitable.
“We were predominantly running a 1-2-2 most of the game, but he’s such a dynamic player that he’s hard to stop no matter what (defense) you run against him,” Nelson said. “He’s a man amongst boys and is hard to stop. He had a great game and is a great player.”
Monticello (20-8-1) went on a power play early in the second period, though it was the Hawks who controlled the two-minute session and eventually upped their lead while shorthanded. Aaron Pionk drew defensemen his way and then found fellow junior forward Aydyn Dowd in the slot for a 3-0 lead 6:42 into the second. It was the Hawks’ 11th short-handed goal of the season.
Biondi then struck for the third time — again in the final moments of a period — when he took a nice feed from Kilen and ripped a shot into the back of the twine for a four-goal lead through two periods.
Kilen then added back-to-back goals in the third. At 3:51, again shorthanded, Kilen’s first shot from the right circle was blocked and he picked up the rebound and beat Wilson from an odd angle along the end line. Minutes later, Kilen blasted in Hermantown’s sixth goal.
“I know the score ended up lopsided but it never felt lopsided on the bench,” Andrews said. “I thought they pushed us from the start until the end. We pulled away at the end with our depth.”
Backstrom then saw his 182-minute, 49-second shutout streak end when Monticello’s Riley Ronayne flipped the puck in from near the red line and it popped out of Backstrom’s glove and into the net at 6:49.
“That was pure luck to be honest,” Nelson said.
It was the first goal Backstrom had allowed since early in the first period of a Section 7A quarterfinal against North Shore. He later blanked Eveleth-Gilbert and Duluth Denfeld.
Aaron Pionk responded at 11:04 with a goal, and both teams then changed goalies till the end.