Jared Thomas (10) is one of 10 Mr. Hockey finalists playing in this year's state tournament. Photo by Helen Nelson.
Top-seeded Hermantown has the same aspirations as the other teams in this week’s Class 1A tournament, and that’s to win the whole thing.
There’s just a little difference between the Hawks and the rest of the small-school field – Hermantown has a perfect record.
The Hawks (28-0-0) will try to become one of a select group of teams to ever complete a Minnesota high school hockey season without a loss.
Since 1990, eight teams have reached the state tournament with unblemished records. Of those teams, four – Bloomington Jefferson (1993), Red Wing (1997), Warroad (2005) and Hermantown (2007) – have completed the season with a state title.
The four teams that weren’t able to complete the unbeaten campaign – Hutchinson (1995), Duluth East (1997), Roseau (2008) and Little Falls (2009) – can attest to that.
Hermantown coach Bruce Plante was behind the bench when the Hawks forever etched their names into Minnesota high school hockey history in 2007. He thinks there is one defining characteristic that is common between that team and his current group.
“These kids are great competitive kids, just like that group was,” Plante said following Hermantown’s 4-0 win over Rogers in the Section 5A title game. “We can’t even have a practice half the time without having fights.
“They’re just nasty competitors.”
Perhaps that spirited play is fueled by the tragic endings the Hawks have suffered in the past two Class 1A championship games. In 2010, Hermantown saw its title hopes slip away in the final 1 minute, 40 seconds against Breck when a shot deflected in off a shin pad.
Last year, it was St. Thomas Academy beating the Hawks in an epic overtime thriller.
Senior goalie Matt Mensinger (22-0-0, 1.30, .940) says those finishes aren’t at the front of his mind, but they are games the Hawks remember.
“We can’t really think about it,” Mensinger said. “We just have to go down there and take it one game at a time. We have to go out and try to win the rest of our games.”
Success should come easy if Hermantown continues at its current pace. The Hawks average over six goals per game, give up less than two and have one of the best special teams groups in the state.
Senior forwards Jared Thomas (26-51--77) and Andrew Mattson (15-25--40) lead the charge up front, while blueliners Jared Kolquist (11-26--37) and Brian LeBlanc (17-19--36) run things at the back end.
The improvement of Mensinger has been a giant boost to this team, too.
The 6-foot-3 senior has five shutouts, and he hasn’t allowed a goal since Feb. 2.
“The strength of the defense has been our strength all year, and that
helped Matt at the beginning of the year,” Plante said. “That gave him confidence and got him comfortable, and now he’s taking charge and has for the last month or so.”
Mensinger and the rest of the Hawks will open the state Class 1A tournament at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday, March 7, at 6 p.m. against unseeded Rochester Lourdes.
Hermantown is without a doubt the favorite going in, but given the strength of this year’s field, it will take great play from high-scoring forward Jared Thomas, defenseman Jared Kolquist and goaltender Matt Mensinger for the Hawks to hoist the hardware on Saturday afternoon.
Bruce Plante was a goaltender for Cloquet in high school, and that helps explain why his teams always seem to plug a talented netminder into the lineup. Tough defense is another Hermantown trademark. Private schools aside, the suburban Duluth program is consistently among the best in Class 1A in the state.
Head Coach: Bruce Plante
Conference: Lake Superior
Colors: Blue, Gold
Assistant Coaches: Daryl Illikainen, Craig Peterson, Matt Swanson, Nate Buck
Home Ice: Hermantown Arena, Hermantown
State Tournament Appearances: Class A: 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011
State Titles: 1 (2007, Class A)
Section 5A playoffs