Top-ranked Hermantown knows that playoff hockey means tight-checking, grind-it-out type games. Even though it’s not quite playoff time yet, the Hawks experienced just that on Tuesday, Feb. 14, against Little Falls.
“I think they came at us really hard. They have a lot of team speed, and they came at us,” said Hermantown coach Bruce Plante. “We’re fast, they are fast and there wasn’t a lot of room.”
That speed and persistent pressure led to a low-scoring 2-0 win for Hermantown, which had to battle and grind for every inch of ice. When the Hawks did manage to get pucks toward the net, Little Falls goalie Michael Stumpf was usually there to keep it out, turning away 36 of 38 shots.
“We had a lot of chances to get a better jump on the lead,” Plante said. “But once you don’t get that puck to jump in that one time, you get a game like this.”
Luckily for Plante and his Hawks, this year’s group is built to play in games like these. Hermantown has good depth at forward, a great group of defensemen and a rock-solid goaltender.
Maybe the biggest asset for the Hawks is their special teams, though. Hermantown’s power play clicks at a 40-percent success rate, and it has only given up nine goals while shorthanded.
On Tuesday, the play of the specialty teamers was the difference.
Junior Bo Gronseth scored a power-play goal in the first, then added an insurance marker in the third on a shorthanded breakaway, again giving the Hawks a ‘W’ in the special teams battle.
“We move the puck well on the power play, and it messes up [other team’s] PKs,” said Gronseth, who has scored five goals in the past four games. “On the penalty kill, we just work harder than the other team’s power play.”
Gronseth’s shorthanded goal was the seventh of the year for Hermantown, meaning it has scored only two fewer times than opponents when it takes a penalty.
According to Plante, jumping on teams when the Hawks are shorthanded is part of the philosophy.
“We always tell them to look for an opening [while shorthanded] if they can, but it’s defense first,” Plante said. “If a puck bounces out there for you or you have a little ice to work with, go. A lot of times we catch teams overloading the net, and we get two-on-ones.”
That’s exactly what happened in the third, when Jared Kolquist was able to ring a puck around the wall to Jared Thomas, who quickly slid a cross-ice pass onto the tape of Gronseth's stick.
Hermantown has one game left on its regular season schedule, a Friday night battle with Hibbing. Once the playoffs start, though, one can bet that the Hawks will continue to look for any opportunity to catch foes sleeping.
Bo Gronseth scored twice – once on the power play and once shorthanded – providing more than enough offense for Hermantown’s stifling defense in a 2-0 win over visiting Little Falls on Tuesday, Feb. 14, at Hermantown Arena.
The win pushed the Hawks’ record to 24-0-0 with only Hibbing remaining on their regular season schedule.
Gronseth opened the scoring 9 minutes, 48 seconds into the game when he found a Jared Kolquist pass on his tape and buried it for the power play goal after Little Falls' Mark Anez was sent to the penalty box for charging.
Then, after a scoreless second period, Gronseth struck again, this time sneaking a shot five-hole after a perfect cross-ice feed from Jared Thomas sent him in on a shorthanded breakaway.
The game was a tight-checking contest, with Hermantown providing most of the offensive opportunities while locking down its own end.
Michael Stumpf was a standout in goal for the Flyers (16-9-0), stopping 36 of the 38 shots thrown his way.
Kolquist was also given an assist on the second Hawks’ goal. Defenseman Brian LeBlanc was the only other Hermantown player to record a point.
Matt Mensigner turned away 12 shots for his second consecutive shutout.
Little Falls is done with its regular season schedule, and it will learn its seed for the Section 6A tournament on Wednesday.
1. Bo Gronseth, Hermantown
Gronseth scored both of the game’s goals, scoring once on the power play and once while shorthanded. He also just missed on a few more quality chances, had some pretty dangles and was gritty along the wall.
2. Michael Stumpf, Little Falls
The junior goaltender made some giant saves in all three periods to hold his team in the game. Stumpf’s best stops came on Jared Thomas, who drove hard to the net on several occasions only to be stuffed by the legs of Stumpf.
3. Jared Thomas, Hermantown
Thomas made plays with his speed, got the puck to the net and did all he could to try and crack Stumpf. He didn’t score, but his cross-ice feed to spring Gronseth for his shorthanded tally was perfect, and he played well in all situations.