QUARTERFINAL Spring Lake Park (16-13-1) vs. Hermantown (No. 1, 25-2-1), 6 p.m. Wednesday
Scouting the Panthers: St. Louis Blues captain and former Spring Lake Park star David Backes was among the dozens of former players who sent congratulatory text messages to longtime Spring Lake Park coach Tom Benson after the Panthers defeated Chisago Lakes 5-0 last Thursday to win the Section 5 championship and secure the program’s first state tournament appearance in its 43-year existence. Realignment two years ago shifted Spring Lake Park into what is generally considered one of the state’s weakest sections. But Benson isn’t offering any apologies for the relatively bump-free road to the tourney after spending years toiling in a section that included Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Breck, Blake and Totino-Grace, all among the state’s most competitive small-school teams in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Scouting the Hawks: Hermantown coach Bruce Plante finds himself trapped in a cruel version of Groundhog Day, as his Hawks have lost the past five Class 1A state title games. “This whole thing, five times in row, you couldn’t script anything like that,” said Plante, in his 26th season guiding the Hawks. “What are the odds of that happening?” Plante, who watched Spring Lake Park’s historic section title game victory, has one of his best teams in recent Hawks vintage. It’s led by the irrepressible forward line of seniors Ryan Kero (29 goals, 37 assists, 66 points) and Nate Pionk (31-32-63) and junior Cole Koepke (20-22-42).
Worth knowing: Backes played for the Panthers in 1999-2002, amassing 179 points. His retired No. 5 Spring Lake Park jersey hangs from the rafters at Blaine’s Fogerty Arena.