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Unbeaten Hawks soar to state

03/02/2012, 10:00am CST
By Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

No. 1 Hermantown too much for Rogers, advances to third straight state tournament

 Hermantown senior goalie Matt Mensinger was quick to admit that he was a little nervous coming into the Hawks’ Section 5A final matchup with Rogers on Friday, March 2.

But according to Mensinger, those nerves didn’t last long.

“One shot, then I was in the game,” said Mensinger, who was phenomenal between the pipes in a 4-0 win. “We scored early, and it took the pressure off of me.”

Good thing he was in the game at the point, because the Royals threw everything they had at Mensinger in the opening period, outshooting the Hawks 11-10 while creating numerous quality scoring chances.

But for every effort Rogers could muster, Mensinger had an answer.

“I stopped 11 shots in that first period, and that really helped me get in the game,” Mensinger said. “From there, I was focused for the rest of the game.”

Throughout the year, Hermantown’s defense has been rock-solid, limiting most teams to almost zero scoring chances. Against Rogers, when the blue-liners might not have had their best performance early, Mensinger stepped up to the plate.

“He’s just a big body, and he’s just a great, great competitor,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “He throws his face out there, he throws something out there, but he stops the puck. He’s not pretty, but he makes a lot of great saves.”

With the confidence spewing out of Mensinger as the game wore on, the defensive effort of the Hawks improved. By the time the third period rolled around, it was the same old Hermantown.

The Hawks limited the Royals to only five shots in the final period, rolling to their third straight trip to the state Class 1A tournament.

“At the end of the first period, he was unreal,” said senior defenseman Brian LeBlanc. “If they would have got one there, it could have been a completely different game. He was awesome tonight, and that really helped us.”

Now Hermantown will get a shot at what has slipped through its fingers the past two seasons – a Class 1A title.

Hermantown is  unbeaten and the team with the biggest target on its back, but the Hawks don't want to think about that right now.

“We don’t really think about that too much, we just have to play it one game at a time,” Mensinger said.

The Hawks will learn their seed and game time for Wednesday this weekend.

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Four Hermantown players scored, and senior goalie Matt Mensinger stopped all 27 shots he saw to help top seeded, top-ranked and unbeaten Hermantown advance to the state Class 1A tournament with a 4-0 win over Rogers on Friday, March 2, at the Heritage Sports Center in Duluth.

Owen Stauber and Andrew Mattson scored first-period goals to get the Hawks going. Stauber floated a puck over Rogers goalie Robby Vukelich’s shoulder just 90 seconds in, and then Mattson buried a rebound 10 minutes later to help Hermantown end the first with a two-goal cushion.

Jeremy Amys and Jared Kolquist added goals before the 6-minute mark of the second, putting a dagger in the Royals’ hopes for a comeback.

The story of the night was Mensinger, who was perfect – just like his team has been this year – making some of his biggest saves during key moments of the game.

Stauber and Mattson each added an assist, while five other Hawks recorded a point.

Vukelich finished with 41 saves for Rogers, including 21 in the third period alone.

Hermantown will kick off its Class 1A state tournament showing on Wednesday, where it will likely be the top-seed in the small school tournament.

1. Matt Mensinger, Hermantown
Mensinger was a rock between the pipes, making save after save to keep the Royals off the board. His best efforts came at vital points in the contest, too, like during a flurry at the end of the first period that could have given Rogers tons of momentum entering the first intermission. In all, Mensinger turned away 27 shots for another shutout.

2. Owen Stauber, Hermantown
Stauber was just one of many Hermantown defensemen who played well, but his contributions offensively – he had a goal and an assist – set him apart. Oh, and don’t forget about the steady play in his own end, his good decisions with the puck and his ability to lead the rush with good passes.

3. Robby Vukelich, Rogers
The senior goalie did everything he could to keep Rogers in a position to start fast, making at least a dozen outstanding saves to go along with the other stops he made. Vukelich finished the night with 41 stops, including 21 during a third period controlled by the Hawks.

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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

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