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Prep boys hockey: Hawks skate into tourney final

Earlier this week, Hermantown graciously lent its outdoor rink to the Brainerd boys hockey team, in town for the Hilltopper Holiday Classic. And the way the Warriors played Thursday afternoon in a methodical 5-1 win over Section 8AA rival Bemidji...

Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.comHermantown goaltender Cole Manahan deflects a shot Friday night at Mars Lakeview Arena, where the Hawks defeated Brainerd 6-2 in the semifinals of the Hilltopper Holiday Classic.
Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com Hermantown goaltender Cole Manahan deflects a shot Friday night at Mars Lakeview Arena, where the Hawks defeated Brainerd 6-2 in the semifinals of the Hilltopper Holiday Classic.

Earlier this week, Hermantown graciously lent its outdoor rink to the Brainerd boys hockey team, in town for the Hilltopper Holiday Classic.

And the way the Warriors played Thursday afternoon in a methodical 5-1 win over Section 8AA rival Bemidji, Hermantown might have been second-guessing its hospitality with the two clubs set to hook up Friday.

Alas, two quick goals from Justin Thomas sparked another lopsided tournament win for the Hawks, who rolled 6-2 at Mars Lakeview Arena and will oppose Rosemount in today's title game at 3:30 p.m.

The four-time defending champs have yet to lose at this event since joining the field in 2014, outscoring 14 opponents by a combined 64-24.

Keep it up and the Hawks might be looking for a new holiday tournament in 2019.

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"I think they like it because all the Hermantown people show up - it's good for the gate," Hawks coach Patrick Andrews joked.

Those fans witnessed more meshing from Hermantown's Thomas, Blake Biondi and Joey Pierce. Despite having never played on the same line together up until about a month ago, the trio moves the puck almost artistically, finding gaps in the defense and generating consistent quality scoring chances.

Thomas' second goal of the night, which came seven minutes in, was a beauty. He took a long pass from Biondi, split the defense while jockeying for control of the puck and, while sliding on his stomach, beat Brainerd goalie Luke Saiko.

Aside from Thomas' two scores, Biondi finished with a goal and two assists and Pierce added one of each. Through nine games, the line has accounted for 50 points.

"We've never played together, but I feel like we've just jelled," Thomas, a senior wing, said. "It's coming together well."

Said Biondi, a junior center and Minnesota Duluth commit: "It was a struggle the first couple games, but obviously we're clicking now."

The same could be said of the second-ranked Hawks (7-2) in general, who have rang up a 32-7 goal differential during their current five-game winning streak.

The Warriors (5-5) halved their deficit on Will Lundstrom's tally at the 9:30 mark of the first period, but Hermantown, wearing retro jerseys in conjunction with its 70th season of high school hockey, responded with a dominant second when seemingly every pass was on the tape. Elliott Peterson restored the Hawks' two-goal cushion on a power play. Biondi then made it a 4-1 game and, a minute later, teammate Brady Baker tapped in a gimme.

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This is a team that can score in bunches and turn a competitive affair into a rout.

"When we're on and we're clicking, that's how we can play," Thomas said.

Hawks goalie Cole Manahan turned away 22 of 24 shots.

Early in the season, Andrews tried different line combinations, as most coaches do. With a deep roster, he had options. He simply liked how Biondi, Thomas and Pierce worked together. All three are similar in size and hockey smarts, Andrews said.

The sophomore Pierce was, perhaps, the unknown, if only because he'd always been on the blue line. But even in the back, he often played like a forward, with a knack for finding the puck and burying it. His eight goals are tied with Thomas for second-most on the Hawks, one behind Biondi.

"He's a natural goal-scorer," Thomas said. "If you find him in open space, nine out of 10 times he's going to score."

A month into his first season with the Hawks, Pierce said he's just trying to keep it simple. Make the plays that are there to be made and enjoy playing alongside Biondi and Thomas.

"Playing with Blake is unbelievable, and Justin just scores a ton of goals," Pierce said.

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Brainerd had its winning streak snapped at three games. The Warriors play for third place at 1:15 p.m. today.

Brainerd 1-0-1-2
Hermantown 2-3-1-6

First period - 1. H, Justin Thomas, 3:20; 2. H, Thomas (Blake Biondi), 7:00; 3. B, Will Lundstrom (Jack Olson), 9:30.

Second period - 4. H, Elliott Peterson (Biondi, Joey Pierce), 5:57 (pp); 5. H, Biondi, 9:02; 6. H, Brady Baker, 10:12.

Third period - 7. B, Mason Kruse, 9:24 (sh); 8. H, Pierce, 15:44 (pp).

Saves - Luke Saiko, B, n/a; Jacob Mitchell, B, n/a; Cole Manahan, H, 22.

Related Topics: HERMANTOWNBOYS HOCKEY
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