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About the Hawks: Hermantown started the season fast, stumbled in the middle but recovered quickly to set up a fourth consecutive tournament berth. The Hawks hope this one ends differently, though. They’ve been stuck in second place since 2010. “We kind of buckled down on working on defense,” coach Bruce Plante said. “We’re making people go through us.” If teams are able to do that, then they have to get by junior goaltender Adam Smith. Since taking over the job he is unbeaten (15-0-1). Smith has a save percentage of .929 with 288 saves.
About the Hilltoppers: Duluth Marshall is back for the second consecutive state tournament appearance (seventh overall) and still looking for its first title. The Hilltoppers were challenged this season against state tournament-caliber teams but lost all four meetings against qualifiers Breck, St. Thomas Academy, Rochester Lourdes and Hermantown. A 4-3 loss to the Hawks on Jan. 3 reminded the Hilltoppers the first-round draw could be favorable. The two teams were tied 2-2 entering the third period before Hermantown pulled away. Power plays have been good for Marshall, providing almost a fourth of its offense. Senior wingers Jeremy Lopez and Kris McKinzie have combined for 70 points.
Did you know? These two schools are in the same Lake Superior Conference. Hermantown’s coach said he would have liked to to see someone else in the first round. “We could play the game up here and mail it in,” Plante joked. “It’s not ideal for us to play someone [in the first round] we’ve already played.”
-- Jason Gonzalez