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Prep girls hockey playoff preview: Proctor-Hermantown puts egos on ice

Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey player Jillayne Gilbert said she would much rather set up a teammate for an easy goal than score herself. That's not just lip service. Gilbert has the stats to back it up. Gilbert, a senior right wing, has a career...

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Proctor-Hermantown’s Jillayne Gilbert (20) passes the puck past Madison Illikainen (22) of Grand Rapids-Greenway during a high school girls hockey game at Proctor Arena earlier this season. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Proctor-Hermantown girls hockey player Jillayne Gilbert said she would much rather set up a teammate for an easy goal than score herself.
That’s not just lip service. Gilbert has the stats to back it up.
Gilbert, a senior right wing, has a career-high 60 points to lead the top-seeded and defending section champion Mirage (22-3) into the Section 7A playoffs, which begin Thursday. Those 60 points are the result of 21 goals and 39 assists, with the assists ranking fourth-best in the state, one spot behind Moose Lake Area sophomore Jessica Bird.
“I’ve never been one to be the goal scorer,” Gilbert said. “I feel better when my teammates score and I set them up. I’d rather be the playmaker.”
Gilbert is on a line that includes junior left wing Sophie McGovern (29-23-52) and sophomore center Callie Hoff (21-28-49), who transferred to Hermantown from Duluth East before the school year.
“That’s a line that gives other people problems,” said Mirage coach Glen Gilderman, whose team opens the 7A playoffs next Tuesday in a semifinal against either Moose Lake Area or Eveleth-Gilbert Area. “I know I wouldn’t want to coach against them.”
Gilbert said the key is their attitude.
“The line I’m on is for the team and is pretty selfless,” Gilbert said. “It’s easy to share the puck when all you want is success for the team. It’s just been fun. I don’t think people expected us to be quite this successful.”
The 22 wins are a program best and the Mirage are ranked ninth in Class A. Gilderman, the only head coach the program has known in its 17 seasons, said this is the deepest team he has ever had, consistently using three lines.
“You look all the way down to our youth numbers, and we’re in good shape,” he said. “We want to keep it that way.”
Hoff helped ease the loss of 2014 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year Reilly Fawcett, now playing for Bemidji State.
Junior Amy Lemenager has emerged in goal, with a 1.34 goals-against average, .943 save percentage and five shutouts.
Sophomore Mikayla Kero and senior Hannah Johnson are the top defensemen, with Kero (6 goals, 12 assists, 18 points) assuming a more offensive role. Kero and Hibbing-Chisholm’s Mallorie Iozzo were selected for the U.S. Select 15 National Player Development Camp this summer.
“We’ve got a nice mix,” Gilderman said. “We have ninth-graders who played in the state tournament last year, so they’re already experienced.”
Proctor-Hermantown went 20-10 last season and advanced to the program’s second state tournament. After losing the opener, they bounced back to take fifth place.
Gilbert is one of just three seniors on the team. She was an All-Lake Superior Conference performer in volleyball, where she was an outside hitter, and in softball, where she is a shortstop. Multisport athletes often say their favorite sport is the one they are playing at the time, but not Gilbert. She didn’t hesitate when asked her favorite.
“Hockey,” she said. “I played it since I was little, and fell in love with it at a young age.”
Gilbert will attend Wisconsin-River Falls next year and play hockey. The Falcons’ roster includes her former Mirage teammate, goalie Kylie Hommerding.
Gilbert, however, isn’t thinking too much about college just yet.
“The goal is always to get to the state tournament,” Gilbert said. “It’s great just to get down there. It’s quite an experience, but if we can make it this year, it’d be great to win that first game and go from there. But the first goal is to win these next two games.”
A LONG LAYOFF
With Section 7A only having six teams, the section’s top seeds, Proctor-Hermantown and No. 2 Hibbing-Chisholm (10-12-2), have first-round byes this week and will not play until Tuesday.
For the Mirage, that’s a layoff of 14 days after closing the regular season Jan. 27 with a 5-0 victory over Eveleth-Gilbert Area. They plan to play a scrimmage today at Centennial, a Class AA team that is 18-6-1.
“We had to have something in there,” Gilderman said.
The section used Minnesota-scores.net’s QRF ranking system to seed the section, with Moose Lake Area sliding to No. 4 despite a 15-8-1 record. International Falls (12-12) is No. 3.
“All of us are in the hunt,” Gilderman said.
The same could be said of Section 7AA, which also begins Thursday. No. 7 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton (6-16-3) is at No. 2 Andover (11-12-2), but the Lumberjacks have been playing better as of late.
No. 3 Grand Rapids-Greenway (15-9-1) hosts No. 6 St. Francis-North Branch (9-13-2) and hasn’t lost to a team from Northeastern Minnesota this season.
No. 5 Duluth (10-12-3) opens at No. 4 Forest Lake (12-12-1) and is coming off a 4-3 victory on Friday at Elk River-Zimmerman (18-6-1), the section’s top seed.

Final News Tribune girls hockey rankings
1. Grand Rapids-Greenway     15-9-1
2. Proctor-Hermantown     22-3-0
3. Duluth    10-12-3
4. Hayward-Ashland    19-3-0

Related Topics: HOCKEY
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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