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Hermantown earns special win

By Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff, 01/10/12, 1:56PM CST

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No. 2A Hawks excel on special teams, knock off host Grand Rapids to stay unbeaten


Hermantown's Jared Thomas moves in on Grand Rapids' Jake Bischoff (22) and Patrick Flaherty (1). Photo by Jason Groth, Grand Rapids Herald-Review

A quick glance at Hermantown’s team stats makes it easy to understand why the Hawks are playing as well as they are right now. Hermantown is scoring over six goals a game, giving up less than two per night and its getting great play from all positions.

Maybe the most important stats for the Hawks are the power play and penalty kill totals. Hermantown is clicking at a forty-percent cut on its man-advantages, while the penalty kill is rolling along at a ridiculous 92.5 percent success rate.

“Our special teams are what’s helping us win games,” said junior forward Chris Benson, who scored a power-play goal against Grand Rapids on Tuesday night. “Our penalty kill is outstanding because everyone wants to block shots, and [goalie] Matt [Mensinger] is making big saves when he needs to. Our power play is not selfish; we move the puck around with quick passes, open up space and look for that goal.”

Against the Thunderhawks on Tuesday, Hermantown clogged up center ice, didn’t allow Grand Rapids to enter the zone with speed and used tons of blocked shots to keep pucks away from the net.

With the man-advantage, the Hawks set up quickly, worked the puck around and found their shooting lanes. They peppered Grand Rapids goalie Patrick Flaherty and made the Thunderhawks pay for taking penalties.

The result was a two-for-three showing on the power play, a perfect five-for-five outing on the penalty kills and yet another impressive win. And if that wasn’t enough, a special teams success led directly to the first Hermantown goal.

“We’ve been a good penalty kill team this year. We’ve had a lot of penalties, and [the penalty kill] is getting a lot of practice in games,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “[On the power play] we moved the puck pretty well tonight, tried to get to those two-on-one situations, and we moved it quick and attacked.”

Big game Hawks

Second-ranked Hermantown knew it would have to play one of its best games to stay unbeaten against rivals Grand Rapids on Tuesday night. The Hawks did almost everything right on their way to a solid 5-2 victory over the Thunderhawks.

“The effort of the team was great tonight,” Chris Benson said. “We knew we had to come out great and work hard to beat [Grand Rapids]. People say we haven’t played the deeper teams, so coming in here and winning against them on their own rink, that’s a big win for us.”

While Benson believed the win might have been a little bit of a statement game, head coach Bruce Plante doesn’t necessarily believe that his team has anything to prove.

“We know we’re pretty good,” Plante said. “We knew we’d be up against it and would have to play our best game.”

One thing is certain, though – Hermantown loves the spotlight. In recent memory, the Hawks have played some of their best hockey when the pressure is on, and they did exactly that on Tuesday night.

“Our guys kind of rise to that, they like playing the better teams,” Plante said. “We play a lot better when we play in the big games. We have a lot of gamers on this team. They’re not afraid of these teams at all; they could play anyone in the state and not be afraid of them.”

Plante’s Hawks will get yet another big test on Friday night in Hermantown, when they have a showdown with red-hot Section 5A rival St. Cloud Cathedral, a team that has won seven of its last eight games.

“[Friday] will be a big game for us,” Benson said. “They are on a little roll, and we have to stop that. It’s a big game for seeding and keeping home-ice in the playoffs.”

Opening faceoff between the Hawks and St. Cloud Cathedral is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday night at Hermantown Arena.

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Chris Benson scored twice, Jared Thomas had three points and Matt Mensinger stopped 20 shots to give No. 2-ranked (Class 1A) Hermantown a 5-2 road win over Grand Rapids on Tuesday, Jan. 10, at the IRA Civic Center.

The host Thunderhawks jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Nate Mondry buried 6 minutes, 6 seconds into the game. It looked as if Grand Rapids would carry the one goal lead into the second period until Thomas scored a great unassisted goal with just seconds to play in the first.

As Thomas was getting ready to step out of the penalty box, a Grand Rapids player fired a hard shot wide of Mensinger. The puck skipped around the boards and right onto Thomas’ stick as he got back on the ice. Thomas deked a man in front of the net, then waited for Thunderhawks’ goalie Patrick Flaherty to commit before finding the back of the net.

Hermantown rode the wave of momentum gained from the late goal the rest of the game, scoring four in a row before Avery Peterson finally got the run stopped midway through the final period.

The Hawks (13-0-0) excelled on special teams, scoring twice on three power-play chances while stuffing Grand Rapids on all five of its man-advantage opportunities.

Bo Gronseth and Andrew Mattson were the other goal scorers for Hermantown. Jared Kolquist had two helpers, and Paul Herrold and Travis Koepke each had single assists.

Cody Mann was the only Thunderhawk to finish with multiple points with two assists. Travis Underwood and Jake Bischoff each had an assist for Grand Rapids (10-4-0).

Flaherty turned away 27 shots in the loss.

The unbeaten Hawks are off until they host Section 5A rival St. Cloud Cathedral on Friday.

Grand Rapids is back in action again on Thursday, when its scheduled to battled top-ranked and undefeated Duluth East.

1. Jared Thomas, Hermantown
Thomas always seems to find himself on the score sheet in key situations. With his Hawks trailing by a goal late in the first, Thomas stepped out of the box, gathered in a loose puck and dangled his way to the net before stuffing in the tying goal. Not only did his goal totally shift the momentum of the contest, but it also came after he put his team in a vulnerable spot with a penalty. Thomas also had two assists, and he probably could have had another goal or two.

2. Chris Benson, Hermantown
Benson scored just seconds into the middle period to dagger Grand Rapids, then added a pretty power play goal in the third for a two-goal night. Although he said that he benefitted from being in the right spot at the right time for his goals, Benson didn’t get to those spots without knowing how to find the soft spot in the Thunderhawks’ defense. Benson was also good in his own end, allowing the Hawks to limit Grand Rapids’ scoring looks all night.

3. Jared Kolquist, Hermantown
Kolquist might be Hermantown’s most important player, and he made a good case for himself on Tuesday. He had two points, a few shots and some absolutely perfect defensive plays to slow down the talented Grand Rapids top-line. With Kolquist’s steady efforts on the backend, the Hawks again held an opponent without a power play goal, transitioned very well and limited time and space in the defensive zone.

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Micah Miller leaps to the fans after scoring the game winner.

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Moorhead's Jack Stetz (21) throws his arms up as he and his teammates celebrated the win. ] ANTHONY SOUFFLE • anthony.souffle@startribune.com