Coach Bruce Plante has his Hermantown program in the Class 1A state championship game for the fourth straight season. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen.
The trap was set, but Bruce Plante wasn’t taking the bait.
Hermantown had just defeated Breck 4-3 in double overtime in the state Class 1A semifinals at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and the longtime Hawks coach was addressing the media.
Plante holding court with reporters is most often wildly entertaining and always wholly unpredictable. The old-school coach doesn’t come equipped with filters, so everything just sort of pours out. Asking Plante to be politically correct is as ridiculous as feeding a shark fruits and vegetables.
On Friday afternoon, with a fourth straight appearance in the state small-school title game secured – and two-time defending champion St. Thomas Academy looming as the likely opponent – it was only a matter of time before the outspoken Hawks coach was asked to share his thoughts on the longstanding public versus private school debate.
Gentlemen, grab your popcorn.
Last year at this same point in the tournament, Plante gave a 20-minute dissertation on whether public-school programs such as Hermantown are on a level playing field with private schools such as St. Thomas Academy.
The Cliff Notes version: No.
Hermantown has reached each of the last four state Class 1A championship games, but has yet to win a title in that stretch. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
When the topic resurfaced again Friday, Plante didn’t hold his tongue as much as he didn’t bother wagging it. He’s already unloaded his cannons.
“Hey, we are just happy to be there, man,” Plante said. “We’re just happy to play them again, if they get there.”
St. Thomas Academy got there, alright. The Cadets steamrolled East Grand Forks 11-0 in their semifinal. Now they play the Hawks for a third straight time. Next year St. Thomas Academy makes the jump to Class 2A.
“You’re like beating a dead horse there,” Plante said when asked after the formal media session why he declined to fire both barrels. “Everybody knows how I feel already, so why do it again?”
Plante says he doesn’t have a problem with the Cadets’ coaches or players. He respects them.
“It’s just not personal to those guys, the coaches,” he said. “I like those coaches, and their teams are good, and they play the right way. I like how they play and the way they coach. There’s not one thing I dislike about the way they play.
“My whole beef is the philosophy of it, when you get kids from everywhere. It’s tough on everybody else.”
Plante said he received a record number of inquiries this year about players potentially transferring to Hermantown and playing for the Hawks.
Everyone, it seems, is out there looking for the next best thing.
“I had nine people call me this year, and email me, wanting their kids to come to Hermantown,” he said. “I’ve had one or two every year. I had nine this year that wanted to come to Hermantown.
“I had one from Montreal, a couple local kids, a couple Cities kids, and I tell them all the same thing, ‘Stay where you belong, help the team where you are at. They need you. Stay there.’ Not that we wouldn’t like having them.”
Plante has had his share of superstars come through the program, but listen to him talk and it’s obvious he gets just as much enjoyment from the muckers and grinders who put their time in on the junior varsity before finally earning their varsity spot.
What happens to those kids if five or 10 all-stars transfer in to Hermantown each season? What happens to the program that developed those kids and suddenly loses them?
“It’s sad because some of these teams down here, they groom this kid, he’s their best player, they got a chance to do something, he bolts,” Plante said. “What does that do to that program? It kills them.”
By Plante's estimation, the state is heading for a time when 30 elite programs will draw players from the rest of the 120 or so teams. We're almost there now, he says.
"I don’t necessarily want to be one of those teams," Plante said. "I just want to play with our kids and have our community."
Plante said Jon Francisco and B.J. Radovich, Hawks standouts from the early 2000s, helped build the foundation of Hermantown’s model program. The Hawks rarely lose players because of transfers to other schools or early departures to junior leagues, in part because those early stars decided to stay.
“If those guys had left, we never would have gone anywhere,” Plante said. “Because then that would have become the norm. Guys would be leaving and thinking that’s the right thing to do.”
Plante has said he’d consider Hermantown moving up to Class 2A if he was convinced the Hawks could consistently compete with the best teams at that level. He says he’s already upgraded Hermantown’s schedule for next season.
“Some Hermantown people think we should do it,” Plante said about moving up to the big-school class. “And of course there are people all over the state who think we should do it. I wouldn’t be against going up.
“But I gotta make sure that we can do that year after year after year.”