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Not flawless, still perfect

By Star Tribune and MN Hockey Hub staff, 03/07/12, 10:45PM CST


Hermantown remains unbeaten despite defensively sub-par win over Rochester Lourdes

Hermantown senior and Mr. Hockey candidate Jared Thomas celebrates one of his two goals against Rochester Lourdes. Photo by Helen Nelson

Sluggish. Scared. Nervous.

Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said some of his best teams are at least one of those things in the first period of the state tournament.

Nervous best described this group of Hawks. The two-time Class 1A runners-up entered Wednesday’s quarterfinal game against Rochester Lourdes with championship aspirations and an undefeated record.

So when Rochester Lourdes got a last-second goal from Alex Funk to close the first period, Plante preached calm in the locker room.

“That first period in the state tournament, guys do things out of character,” Plante said.

No. 1 seed Hermantown returned to form in the second period, scoring three unanswered goals to pull away for a 7-2 victory. The Hawks (29-0) remain on course to become the first unbeaten, untied team in the two-class tournament era since Red Wing’s 1997 team.

“This time of the season it really doesn’t matter what your record is,” Jared Kolquist said. “You take it night by night and try to get the W’s. I don’t think the guys put too much pressure on themselves.”

Rochester Lourdes (20-9) felt the pressure in the second period as Hermantown’s defensive corps turned stifling. Leading 3-2 after the late first period goal, the Hawks scored three times while allowing just three Eagles’ shots on goal.

Chris Benson and Kolquist scored goals less than one minute apart and the Hawks never looked back. Jared Thomas finished with two goals and two assists.

“It was fun while it lasted,” Funk said of closing the gap. “But we got it taken to us in the second period.”

-- David La Vaque, Star Tribune

Rochester Lourdes within striking distance

Jason Samuelson (7) and Rochester Lourdes closed the gap to one goal with just 1.5 seconds remaining in the first period. Photo by Helen Nelson.

Through the first two Class 1A quarterfinal games on Wednesday, March 7 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the lower seeded teams didn’t exactly fare well. In fact, they didn't even score.

Little Falls was held without a goal by second-seeded St. Thomas Academy and Duluth Marshall was blanked by third-seeded Breck. Neither was given many offensive opportunities -- and both failed to capitalize on those few chances.

Combine that with the fact that heading into unbeaten and top-seeded Hermantown’s quarterfinal against Rochester Lourdes, the Hawks had shut out six of their last seven opponents. Any hope for a strong day of underdogs scoring goals looked unlikely. 

Despite all of this riding against them, the Eagles (20-9-0) came out strong in the first period in an eventual 7-2 defeat to Hermantown. Determined to play the role of 'trend buster,'  the top line of their top line of Jason Samuelson, Alex Funk, and Landon Farrell drove hard to the net and found space with their wealth of speed to create chances. 

“They are a good team, they are a scrappy bunch, they come at you hard,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said after the game. “Especially that one line, they have some good quickness out there. Always a surprise when guys are quick…” 

That quickness showed in the first period when Connor Nellans muscled his way to the front of the net and snapped a bad-angle shot through the legs of Hermantown goaltender Matt Mensinger to make the score 2-1 in favor of the Hawks.

The goal injected life into the Eagles and seemed to almost surprise a crowd at the X not used to the underdogs making things close.

“Always good to get a goal,” Nellans said. “But kind of been our motto all year, doesn’t really matter who gets the goal.”

Rochester has been no stranger to scoring goals this season, averaging about five per game. Leaning on that offense helped the Eagles continue to push against top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Hermantown. With just one second left in first period, a pass from Jason Samuelson off of a faceoff found Alex Funk back door for a tap-in goal, again bringing Rochester Lourdes within one.

Although it didn’t work out in the end, putting a scare into the undefeated Hawks was a nice showing for Rochester Lourdes. 

“It was great we got that one late, it put us right back in the game,” Funk said. “But, like I said earlier, we came out in the second and got it taken to us, doesn’t matter how many goals you score unless you get the win...

“It was fun while it lasted, but you got to get the win.”  

-- Walker Orenstein, MN Hockey Hub staff

Jared Thomas (10) led the way for Hermantown with two goals and two assists. Photo by Helen Nelson.

Under pressure ... or not

The pressure of an undefeated season isn’t something that weighs heavily on the minds of Hermantown players and coaches. In fact, it’s been so long since the Hawks lost that every game is becoming “just another game.”

Unless it’s the first game of the Class 1A state tournament, of course.

“I always worry about that first period [of the first game],” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “We’ve had some bad first periods over the years…”

New year, same trend.

During the opening period of its Class 1A quarterfinal matchup with unseeded Rochester Lourdes on Wednesday, March 7, top-seeded Hermantown was very un-Hermantown-like.

The Hawks gripped their sticks just a little too tight.

They didn’t suffocate the opponent in the defensive zone.

Most astonishingly, they gave up a pair of goals, including one with just 1.9 seconds left in the first period to allow Lourdes to jump right back into the game prior to the intermission.

But playing in enough first periods at the state tournament has allowed the Hawks to discover what it takes to bounce back from the meager opening. Hermantown could write a textbook on the topic.

It took the Hawks only 6 minutes, 13 seconds to turn a 3-2 contest into a 6-2 blowout. Kolquist, Jared Thomas and Chris Benson all scored early in the second while the Hawks battled it out in the offensive zone for a good majority of the period.

They outshot Lourdes 10-3 in the frame, but it was the effect on the Eagles’ legs and psyche that proved to be the difference.

“I thought we played real well in the second, didn’t give up much for shots and kept them to the perimeter,” Plante said. “We generated a little offense and wore them down a bit in the second, broke them a bit. I was real happy with the way we responded.”

Hermantown coasted home from there, finishing with a 7-2 rout to advance to the semifinals on Friday afternoon. The Hawks will skate out onto the ice at the Xcel Energy Center with a perfect 29-0-0 record, but still, they aren’t admitting that they even notice.

“This time of the season, it doesn’t really matter what your record is,” senior defenseman Jared Kolquist said. “You take it night by night, and want to get the W’s however they come."

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub

Hermantown's Jared Thomas (10) shoots the puck past Rochester Lourdes goalie Jesse Neumann (1) to score. Photo by Helen Nelson

Hawks' defense comes alive

Heading into the locker room after the first period, Hermantown held a lead over Rochester Lourdes -- as the Hawks expected.

The surprise was the slim margin -- Hermantown led by one -- and that the Hawks had uncharacteristically surrendered two goals in the opening period.

“That first period of the state tournament is always pretty testy for the guys,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “Just sluggish, scared, nervous -- that kind of stuff.”

Rochester Lourdes’ first period goals included one scored by Alex Funk that came with 1.5 seconds remaining on the clock.

While the goal could have become a momentum booster for the Eagles, Hermantown didn't resort to panic mode.

“Just one of those things where you just gotta look past it and move on to the game,” Hermantown defenseman Jake Zeleznikar said. “We came out in the second period and worked hard and got a few quick ones and then pulled away.”

Helping to lead the charge were the Hawks' defensive corps that contributed six points (two goals, four assists) in the 7-2 victory over Rochester Lourdes.

Hermantown's Jared Kolquist (16) skates the puck up the ice. Photo by Helen Nelson

“A lot of times this year we've had competitions in a few games if (defense) or forwards can score more goals or who gets the most points in the game,” Zeleznikar said. “We've got a pretty offensive group of defenseman, and that's always fun.”

Though they didn’t outscore the forwards, the Hermantown's defensive unit was concerned most with taking care of business in the Hawks' zone.

“We only had two shots in the second period, and they were on the power play,” Rochester Lourdes coach Josh Spaniol said. “They’re strong on their stick, and their defensive corps is pretty tight. (Brian) LeBlanc and (Jared) Kolquist -- they're on the ice non-stop, and they're strong kids. They covered up the middle pretty good on us, and we just couldn't get the shots we had.”

Despite the desire to get up in the rush and make an impact on offense, the Hawks know not to sacrifice defense in a quest for points.

“Kolquist and LeBlanc -- they're really offensive especially when they're out there together,” Zeleznikar said. “They kind of get caught sometimes, but they're both pretty quick and they get back.

“We don't have too many problems.”

With Hermantown allowing a miniscule average of 1.28 goals per game paired with a potent offense, it seems as though the Hawks are in prime position to coast into the Class 1A championship.

“We've given up less than two goals this year and we take a lot of pride in that,” Zeleznikar said. “We're looking to continue that, and hopefully win a title.”

-- Michael Murakami, MN Hockey Hub

Hermantown's Owen Stauber (21) checks Rochester Lourdes Alex Funk (20). Photo by Helen Nelson

Statistics, Summary


Hermantown kept its perfect record intact with a 7-2 victory over Rochester Lourdes in the Class 1A quarterfinals on Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

After a wild first period ended with the Eagles (20-9-0) cutting the Hawks' lead to 3-2 on a goal from Alex Funk 1.5 seconds before the horn, Hermantown (29-0-0) took charge.

Chris Benson, Jared Kolquist and Mr. Hockey finalist Jared Thomas – with his second of the game – all scored second-period goals to stretch the lead.

Andrew Mattson added a third-period goal during a five-minute Hawks’ power play.

Connor Nellans' first-period goal pulled Rochester Lourdes to within 2-1 and ended Hermantown goaltender Matt Mensinger's shutout streak that spanned six games and parts of another. Mensinger hadn't allowed a goal since Feb. 2.

Lourdes ended another shutout streak Wednesday after St. Thomas Academy and Breck each won their quarterfinal games 7-0.

The win keeps Hermantown on pace to become the state’s first team in either class to finish the season undefeated with no ties since Red Wing in 1997.

-- Brian Stensaas, Star Tribune

1. Jared Thomas, Hermantown
The Hawks' Mr. Hockey candidate gave a primetime showcase why he's on the final ballot, scoring two goals and adding two assists. The 6-foot, 190-pound Thomas used his size and strength to advantage against the Lourdes' defense, shielding the puck while gaining a territorial edge to either create his own shot or find a teammate with a tape-to-tape pass.

2. Jake Zeleznikar, Hermantown
On a well-decorated defensive corps, the 6-1 Zeleznikar was the best player Wednesday night, assisting on each of the first three Hermantown goals. His rocket from the point just 33 seconds into the game was tipped in by Bo Gronseth, and the rout was on. Lourdes' forwards couldn't knock the big and strong Zeleznikar off the puck.

3. Chris Benson, Hermantown
Benson finished with three points (one goal, two assists) and was a plus-4. His goal 1 minute, 46 seconds into the second period was the backbreaker, as it regained the Hawks' two-goal lead. Lourdes had scored with 1.5 seconds remaining in the first to cut the Hermantown lead to 3-2.

-- Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports USA

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