Spring Lake Park ran a gantletof big-school competition during the regular season, playing 17 Class 2A opponents in all.
Not even that could prepare the Panthers for a Hermantown team senior captain Jacob Nystrom described as “phenomenal.”
“They are just as skilled, they work just as hard as [big-school powers such as Elk River and Blaine],” Nystrom said about the Hawks, state runners-up the past five seasons, who sailed to an 8-0 victory. “Their defense was phenomenal. They blocked shots, they took the body, they made us go wide.”
Top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Hermantown (26-2-1) allowed only 10 shots while getting a hat trick each from the dynamic top-line forward tandem of seniors Ryan Kero and Nate Pionk. In a dizzying display of speed and playmaking, the Hawks captains set each other up for all six of their goals, including three in the first period as the Hawks raced to a 3-0 lead over the Panthers (16-12-1).
“They are very special players, these two guys,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said about Kero and Pionk, the Hawks’ leading scorers with 72 and 69 points, respectively. “These guys have been great all year.”
Kero scored the opening goal on a feed from Pionk (of course) to punctuate a 4-on-1 rush just 3:15 into the first period. The rest of the game mostly stuck to that script, with goals by defensemen Wyatt Aamodt and Ryan Sandelin serving as the exceptions.
Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero each scored three goals as Hermantown, state runner-up the last five seasons, employed a dizzying display of speed and passing to ease past Spring Lake Park 8-0 on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the state Class 1A tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The Hawks advance to the 1 p.m. state semifinal game Friday against the winner of Wednesday’s late quarterfinal game between St. Cloud Apollo and Breck.
The Kero-Pionk combination clicked on four of Hermantown’s first five goals, and the No. 1-seeded and No. 1-state ranked Hawks (26-2-1) led 3-0 after the first period and 5-0 heading into the third.
Kero and Pionk each added goals in the final minute to complete their hat tricks.
Unseeded Spring Lake Park (16-12-1) was held to single digit shots until the closing minutes of the third period and finished with 10 in all.
Hermantown fired 46 shots on Spring Lake Park starting goaltender Aaron Furlano, who gave way to sophomore Nick Robinson with 3:23 remaining. Robinson made two saves on four shots in relief.
Hermantown junior goaltender Luke Olson made eight saves through two periods. Sophomore Cade McEwen played the third period and made two saves.