Prep boys hockey: Hermantown wins matchup of unbeatens
Plante stars again as top-ranked Hawks beat No. 6 Grand Rapids.
In a game with nearly as many subplots as team victories, the Hermantown-Grand Rapids high school boys hockey game Thursday night was as good as it gets.
The matchup checked all the boxes:
Two undefeated and untied teams
Two of the state’s top defensemen squaring off
Lake Superior Conference superiority on the line
Oh yeah, Hermantown has one of the most dynamic young players in the state, too.
Sophomore Zam Plante scored two goals and assisted on two others, including the game-winner, as the Class A top-ranked Hawks beat the Thunderhawks 5-3 at Hermantown Ice Arena.
“It was a great game, just two really good teams going at it like we knew it would be,” Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said. “You have the two best defensemen in the state going at it, you have two of the best offensive corps groups. I don’t know if either of our teams have a weakness, it was just back and forth. (Plante) made a couple special plays and that proved to be the difference.”
Hermantown (10-0 overall, 4-0 LSC) hadn’t trailed all season nor allowed more than one goal in any game, but the Class AA sixth-ranked Thunderhawks (7-1, 2-1) scored first, led twice and played even with the Hawks until the final two minutes.
Tied at 3-3 in the third period, Andrews paired his top two centers on the same line. Plante worked the puck to senior Aaron Pionk in front of the net for the go-ahead goal with 1 minute, 45 seconds left.
“I just threw it in front and Aaron was able to bang it home,” said Plante, who leads the state with 21 goals and 38 points in his first season on varsity.
Pionk said he crashed the net hard when he saw what Plante was poised to do with the puck.
“I think we know what we are both going to do with the puck all the time, so it’s great to know that we have that knowledge of each other,” Pionk said.
Senior wing Aydyn Dowd added an empty-net goal with 18 seconds to play to conclude what was likely the biggest regular-season week in Hermantown program history. The Hawks defeated Duluth East 5-3 on Tuesday in the teams’ first meeting since 1999.
“It’s the week we marked on our calendar,” Plante said. “We prepared for this week, the two best games of the year so far. It’s pretty fun.”
After winning the rivalry that’s never played and then topping its main LSC competition, Hermantown turns to Section 7A contender Duluth Denfeld next Tuesday.
“It’s like a playoff week, three games in a week,” Andrews said. “They get bigger, bigger, bigger.”
Garett Drotts put Grand Rapids ahead 4:38 into the game when he scored on a rebound, a lead that lasted until Cole Antcliff took a pass from Plante and batted it past Pilkenton’s left side.
Grand Rapids senior Jack Peart, who along with Hermantown’s Joey Pierce comprise the state’s top blueliners, put his team back on top early in the second period. The St. Cloud State commit stole a pass at center ice, deked past an opponent at the blueline and passed the puck to Justin Kerr for the goal.
Midway through the second, Dowd passed off the boards to a streaking Plante for the tying goal.
It was Plante’s next goal, however, that showed why his future appears limitless.
After failing to keep the puck in the Grand Rapids zone during a power play, Plante retrieved it and caught the Thunderhawks trying to sneak in a line change. Upon quick coaching advice from assistant Chad Huttel, Plante zipped up the slot unchallenged and scored on a wrist shot at the 12:18 mark.
“I caught them off-guard and had a bunch of speed, so I just came into (the zone) and shot it,” Plante said. “I caught the goalie off guard, too. Coach Huttel was screaming, ‘Up the ice! Up the ice! Up the ice!’ So I just turned around and went.”
Andrews has seen his young phenom make plenty of special plays already this season, but that certainly added to the list.
“They thought they could sneak off for a change and Zam was like, ‘Thank you!’ ” Andrews said. “He’s so deceptive. Chad yelled ‘Go!’ and he went. I think Zam would have gone anyway because he just senses it.”
Andrews sensed needing to put his top playmakers together in the final period.
“We switched up those lines in the third to give us some offensive jump, and it worked,” he said. “Having (Pionk) and Zam together is phenomenal. We like breaking them up because I love having Zam in the middle of the rink, but putting them together the last half of the third period kind of turned the tables."
Grand Rapids 1-2-0—3
First period — 1. GR, Garett Drotts (Samuel Sterle, Justin Kerr), 4:38; 2. H, Cole Antcliff (Zam Plante, Wyatt Carlson), 9:54.
Second period — 3. GR, Henry Sterle (Jack Peart), 2:57; 4. H, Plante (Aydyn Dowd, Antcliff), 7:01; 5. H, Plante, 12:18 (pp); 6. GR, Hunter Bischoff (Peart), 14:15.
Third period — 7. H, Aaron Pionk (Plante, Ty Hanson), 15:15; 8. H, Dowd, 16:42 (en).
Saves — Wyatt Pilkenton, GR, 38; Garron Opsahl, H, 23.