Even on a play that caused the Hermantown boys hockey faithful to take a collective breath in fear of an injury, Hawks center Zam Plante allowed his team to breathe easier.
Plante assisted on Ethan Lund’s game-winning goal in Hermantown’s 4-1 victory over Duluth East on Monday night at the exact same time that a boarding penalty left him writhing in agony on the Hermantown Ice Arena surface.
Plante, who assisted on the Hawks’ first goal as well to give him the state lead with 58 points, did not return to the game.
“I thought it was a dirty hit,” said Hawks coach Pat Andrews, who expressed his frustration to the officials about their application of rules regarding potential game misconduct penalties. “What I worry about is that he’s all right. If it’s one game, we’ll deal with it. The fact that he wasn’t able to come back, you obviously worry that it’s more than that.”
Already minus All-State defenseman Joey Pierce the past three games with a foot injury that has left him in a walking boot, losing Plante could hinder the No. 1-ranked Hawks (15-1) as they head into next week’s playoffs.
But with Lund and sophomore defenseman Ty Hanson each scoring two goals, others came through in the clutch.
“When Joey went down, we had the same conversation,” Andrews said. “We have a great team, and the guys have been playing together for a long time. They are very capable, and they showed that the rest of the game tonight.
“No one quit, we came back and got the power play rearranged and the power play came through when we needed it to. Zam’s a big part of the team, as is Joey, but we have guys who step up. We’ve rallied around Joey’s injury, and we’ll do the same thing here.”
Lund scored the opening goal on a power play 4:24 into the first period. It was one of three Hawks goals with a man advantage.
East (6-8-2) evened the game 2:59 into the second period with its own power-play goal on defenseman Garrett Johnson’s wrist shot from the left point.
Minutes later came the key sequence when Plante fed Lund a pass from the right wing, and the senior knocked it in as Plante was plastered by East’s Kaden Nelson.
“He made a great play, driving wide and then made a great pass,” Lund said. “It was a dirty play when he got hit, and we’re focused on him getting better.”
Midway through the ensuing five-minute penalty, Hanson did his best Plante impersonation by skating up the middle through an opening and backhanding the puck high into the net.
“Ty’s been stepping up since Joey got hurt,” Lund said. “He’s been playing a bigger role since Joey’s been out, and it’s huge for him to get two goals.”
Hanson said teammates weren’t calling him Zam after the play, but the goal was vital.
“I saw an open space and went,” said Hanson, who was paired on defense with Pierce most of the season before his injury. “It’s tough seeing your captain go down, but it gives other guys an opportunity to step up, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Hanson scored another power-play goal at 11:06 of the third period when he skated in unmolested from the left circle and placed the wrist shot into the upper-right corner.
The win comes after Grand Rapids spoiled the Hawks’ attempt at an undefeated season last week with a 6-3 win.
That may have an unintended consequence in eliminating the pressure of being unbeaten.
“I feel like we learned something from it,” Lund said. “It’s better to lose now than in the playoffs. We’re working harder now that we have a loss under our belt. If anything, I think it’s helped us and we can just focus on getting better.”
And getting healthier.
Duluth East 0-1-0—1
First period — 1. H, Ethan Lund (Zam Plante, Aaron Pionk), 4:24 (pp).
Second period — 2. DE, Garrett Johnson (Dylan Gray, Brady Gray), 2:59 (pp); 3. H, Lund (Plante), 7:17; 4. H, Ty Hanson, 10:00 (pp)
Third period — 5. H, Hanson (Pionk, Cole Antcliff), 11:06 (pp).
Saves — Dane Callaway, DE, 34; Garron Opsahl, H, 16.