Prep boys hockey: Hermantown seizes 7A's top seed

Thursday night's boys hockey game between Hermantown and Hibbing-Chisholm had a little something for everyone.There were gaudy state rankings, Section 7A's top seed was up for grabs and high-end talent was in abundance. So it was no surprise to s...

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Thursday night’s boys hockey game between Hermantown and Hibbing-Chisholm had a little something for everyone.
There were gaudy state rankings, Section 7A’s top seed was up for grabs and high-end talent was in abundance. So it was no surprise to see Hermantown Arena jam-packed more than 30 minutes before the puck dropped, with fans standing three- and four-deep along the boards.
What those fans didn’t get much of in the regular-season finale for both teams, however, was drama.
Cole Koepke and Peter Grytdahl each had a pair of goals, Luke Olson stopped all 22 shots he faced, and the top-ranked Hawks steamrolled No. 4 Hibbing-Chisholm 7-0 in front of a camera crew from ESPN.
Who’ll be the top seed in Section 7A? It’s Hermantown (21-2-1), of course.
“We knew they were a great team and what they’re capable of, so we had to come out and play the best we could,” said Koepke, who now has a team-high 30 goals.
Koepke wasn’t being facetious. The Bluejackets (22-3) boast the bona fides to threaten Hermantown’s throne, but they got off to a rough start, couldn’t capitalize during a decent second period and saw the wheels come off in the third.
“Hermantown wanted it more,” Hibbing-Chisholm coach Todd Versich said. “We didn’t match their intensity.”
The Bluejackets instead will be the No. 2 seed for the section playoffs, which start next week. Duluth Denfeld and Greenway are likely to be the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds. Versich said his team can learn plenty from Thursday, when a 3-0 deficit entering the third snowballed into a messy running-time defeat. Grytdahl produced the night’s final goal on a soft shot from the blue line that somehow punched the back of the net.

It was that kind of period for the visitors.
“They have to learn that they can’t come out and expect to make easy plays,” Versich said of his club. “We have to block shots, grind, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Tyler Watkins got the scoring started on a power-play tally midway through the first, a goal that came with Hibbing-Chisholm standout and Minnesota Duluth recruit Scott Perunovich in the box after wrestling Hermantown’s Wyatt Aamodt to the ice. The opening period was all Hawks, even though they managed just a single goal. Still, they passed the puck beautifully and patiently waited for plays to develop. If not for Bluejackets goalie Ryan Ullan, who was sharp early, it could have been worse.
Hermantown’s 11-2 advantage in shots on goal after the first 17 minutes was 37-22 by game’s end.
Parker Simmons found himself right on the doorstep with the puck on his stick in the second period. He tapped it in for a 2-0 lead, and Koepke made it a three-goal affair six minutes later. From there, the undersized Olson stood tall. He didn’t face a barrage of shots, but many of the attempts he turned away were good looks. The 5-foot-8 senior was especially stellar during a second-period sequence that came with the Bluejackets on the power play. Hibbing-Chisholm came boom, boom, boom from close range, and Olson stopped them all.
“They had a couple quality looks that he shut down,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “He’s been great for us all year.”
Leading 3-0 entering the third, the Hawks showed off an explosive offense that has kept them atop the Class A poll for all but one week this winter. They totaled four goals in about nine minutes, never removing their collective foot from the gas pedal.
“Going into the third, we knew we needed to keep playing,” Olson said. “We were up 3-0, but we wanted to keep playing our game and keep the momentum.”
Now, the question looms as the postseason beckons: Can anyone keep Hermantown from another trip to the state tournament?
“We don’t like to think we’re above anyone,” Koepke said.

Hibbing-Chisholm 0-0-0-0
Hermantown 1-2-4-7
First period - 1. Tyler Watkins (Logan Judnick, Matt Valure), 9:23 (pp).
Second period - 2. Parker Simmons (James Lindberg, Brendan Baker), 8:27; 3. Cole Koepke (Watkins, Judnick), 14:06.
Third period - 4. Peter Grytdahl (Judnick), 5:42; 5. Koepke, 11:40 (pp); 6. Dawson Pietrusa (Dylan Samberg), 13:20; 7. Grytdahl (Simmons, Baker), 14:10.
Saves - Luke Olson, H, 22; Ryan Ullan, HC, 30.

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