Prep boys hockey: Hermantown’s George Peterson is ‘beautiful to watch’
The Hawks will play Luverne in the Class A quarterfinal at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center.
HERMANTOWN — The 2022-23 Hermantown boys hockey season started with a lot more question marks than the region’s premier hockey power was used to.
The 2022 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year, Zam Plante, chose to play junior hockey rather than the Hawks and little brother Max left for the U.S. National Development Team Program.
With those departures and graduating seniors, Hermantown was missing more than 80% of its scoring from the last season’s Class A championship team.
Section and state championships aren’t just a goal at Hermantown, they’re an expectation. The Hawks had won 13 of the last 14 section titles and have won three Class A titles since 2016 — a fact not lost on team captain George Peterson.
“At the first of the season, I felt like I was under a lot of pressure to take this huge role,” Peterson said. “I was unsure, if you will, but after those first two games, I was just like ‘Yeah, I can totally do this.’”
Coach Pat Andrews said he had faith in the senior to step forward, but he’s also proud Peterson didn’t try “to be something he’s not.”
“His personality is not one to stand in front of the room, pound his chest and be in a guy’s face like ‘I’m the leader, do this,’” Andrews said. “He’s just such a great human being and his personality is contagious — it’s infectious. He’s just happy, smiley and intense — but in an unassuming way, if that makes sense.”
Those first two games, a 6-3 win over Cretin-Derham Hall and a 3-1 win over Hill-Murray, were successful but assistant captain Kade Kohanski, Hermantown’s leading returning scorer from last season, broke his hand against Hill-Murray and was sidelined for more than six weeks.
With Kohanski gone, Peterson, a defenseman by trade, tried to pick up some of the offensive load as well and ended up second on the team in points with 41.
In fact, in Hermantown’s 28 games so far this season, there are only six games where Peterson did not record a point. Peterson, however was quick to point out it wasn’t just him that stepped up.
“Kade was the guy that put the puck in the net,” Peterson said. “Losing him was big, but everyone kind of stepped up in their roles. As we saw in sections, we have depth — they can and do score. So everyone stepped up and we just filled that role for him.”
That depth certainly was on display last week. Senior Aaron Evjen scored three goals in the last two games of the Section 7A tournament, including a game-winner against Hibbing/Chisholm with less than 15 seconds to play in the semifinal.
'Great energy, but not emotion’
Early in the season, Peterson took some unnecessary penalties or “let his emotions get the best of him.” In the back half of the season, that hasn’t been the case, according to Andrews.
“He’s played on great energy, but not emotion,” Andrews said. “He’s been able to channel that energy into positive play — he’s grown up in front of our eyes. In fact, it’s something you take for granted now looking at March and then look back where he was in November, it’s kind of cool.”
Peterson and his teammates have taken a bit of pride in continuing Hermantown’s dominance in Section 7, even after all the losses from last season.
“My senior class and I feel like it’s in our hands,” Peterson said. “Last year, we kind of had all the superstars to depend on and it’s on us now. We feel like we have more control and in a way, it’s a good thing.”
Something else Peterson has done is earn the trust of the team.
“This is the biggest thing a leader can do — besides being the best version of themselves — is they show up and the boys can trust them,” Andrews said. “George continually shows up for the boys. He speaks up for them, he communicates with us. He lets us know when they need things. He shows up for them every day, works hard every day and they learned that they can trust him. You can have the C and if guys don’t trust you, no one’s going to follow you.”
Instead of falling off with all the departing talent, Hermantown (25-2-1) put together a pretty standard Hermantown season and that is “100% a credit to George,” according to Andrews. The Hawks picked up the No. 2 seed in the Class A tournament and will play Luverne at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the state quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
It’s not just Peterson that has gotten Hermantown back to the state tournament, but his fingerprints are all over the way the Hawks play.
“He is intense in a way that isn’t overbearing to the guys,” Andrews said. “When it comes to game playing, he competes his butt off, he blocks shots, he’s nasty and he’s beautiful to watch — he kind of has it all. But he hasn’t tried to be something he’s not and that was my biggest goal for him. Just be the best version of you and the guys will follow — and they have been awesome.”