Hermantown's Travis Koepke is mobbed by teammates after scoring in the second period against Duluth Marshall. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
There’s a saying within the Hermantown hockey program that has been passed on from year to year: “Seniors lead, juniors follow and sophomores keep their mouths shut.”
It’s not just a joke, either. Hermantown players live by the saying.
So when Bo Gronseth, Travis Koepke and Chris Benson were affectionately dubbed the “diaper line” in the early part of their sophomore year, it’s no wonder that they didn’t put up a fight.
Instead, the sophomores took the role to heart, played their you-know-what’s off and worked their way up the Hermantown pecking order.
Now seniors, Gronseth, Koepke and Benson make up Hermantown’s top line. And, now that they have a little more pull, maybe its time they start petitioning for “top-line” to be their new nickname.
After all, that’s exactly what they are – the best forward line in Hawks' history, statistically speaking.
“Coach told us a couple weeks ago that we were getting close [to breaking the program record],” said Koepke, who has 29 goals and 67 points in 26 games this year. “We talked about it, but it wasn’t something we focused on.”
It was clear the line’s focus was elsewhere on Wednesday, March 6, when the trio took the ice against rival Duluth Marshall in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.
Hermantown senior Chris Benson follows a flying puck past Duluth Marshall's Connor Flaherty. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
They didn’t worry about the numbers, but they never do. What resulted was an outcome in which fans in Hermantown have grown accustomed. Each player had a goal and an assist, they worked the puck around like there was no one playing against them and they helped the Hawks advance in the state tournament yet again.
Same old, same old.
“They see each other very well, their vision is great,” coach Bruce Plante said. “They are just the kind of line you love to have if you are a coach. What I really love about them is that they are fun to have around, and they are totally unselfish.”
That team concept is displayed game after game between Gronseth, Koepke and Benson. Each player has nearly identical statistics, and they are willing to do everything to help the Hawks succeed.
Fittingly, when the offensive focus of Hermantown got in the way of its defensive responsibilities in the middle portion of the season, it was the three forwards who took the team role seriously and jeopardized their shot at statistical achievements.
“We had to change [the way we played] a little bit,” Benson said. “We realized we’re still playing against the other teams' best line, and we had to shut them down first. We knew we’d get our chances in the game and we’d be able to capitalize on them so we knew if we could shut them down first, we’ll go out and score after that.”
On Wednesday, the best examples of selflessness came in the third period.
On an early power play, the group sent a series of passes around the offensive zone, eventually getting the puck to Benson all alone in front of the Duluth Marshall net, where he scored to put the Hawks up 3-0.
Late in the game, with the Hilltoppers pressing, all three players sacrificed their bodies to preserve a shutout for goalie Adam Smith.
They scored. They stopped Duluth Marshall from scoring. Job well done.
“That is all that really matters to us,” Benson said. “We don’t care as long as we get to score goals and we win the game.”
With No. 2-seeded Breck waiting for them on Friday, Benson, Koepke and Gronseth know that they’ll need to refer back to that old Hermantown saying if they want to advance to another state title game.
The seniors better lead, and that’s exactly what they intend to do.
“We realized that this was the time that we got to play the best,” Gronseth said. “I think we all stepped up our game and I think that’s what we’ve done.”