Bruce Plante is in his 26th season as Hermantown's head coach. Photo by Helen Nelson
Bruce Plante doesn’t have anything against private schools.
Shoot, there was a time when the Hermantown coach would dot his schedule with ’em every year.
The games were competitive, Plante said.
But after a while he got that nagging feeling something wasn’t quite right. Sort of like the Hawks were playing on a tilted rink, and they were the only team skating up the slope.
“We played (Benilde-St. Margaret’s) year after year, and we went, ‘We’re always close, we’re always close. We’re gonna get ’em next year!’ ” Plante said.
Then, one year, Plante was absolutely certain the Hawks were going to win one for the public schools.
“They had (graduated) like 14 seniors,” Plante said about Benilde-St. Margaret's. “And we had like 12 seniors coming back, our best team we had up to date. ‘Ok, we’re going to get ’em.’ It was like 1998.
“(Expletive). They come back with like six defensemen that are Division I. Everyone was like, ‘Where the hell did these guys come from?’ We dropped them. Why do this? We’re getting our brains beat out for nothing.”
Hermantown coach Bruce Plante looks on during last season's Class 1A title game against St. Thomas Academy. The same two teams square off Saturday in this year's championship game. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.
Plante was holding court Friday afternoon deep in the concrete bowels of the Xcel Energy Center in a makeshift media room one Minnesota State High School League official said, in jest, should be renamed the “Bruce Plante Conference Center” for all the entertainment provided over the years.
The occasion was unbeaten Hermantown’s 3-2 triumph over Thief River Falls, a win that improved the Hawks to 30-0-0 and vaulted them into their third straight state Class 1A championship game.
Plante was fulfilling his postgame obligations with the media when the subject turned to private schools playing in the small-school tournament. After 23 years as head coach of the Hawks, Plante no longer bothers to run his thoughts through a politically correct filter. Not that he’s ever been anything but a straight shooter.
He just aims and fires.
“No, it’s not a level playing field,” he said when comparing metro powerhouses Breck and St. Thomas Academy, the teams that have defeated the Hawks in the last two state title games, to his Hermantown program. “We have 600 kids in our school. Even if we could draw every kid in northern Minnesota, that would be 100,000 people. They can draw from, what? Eight billion people down here? I mean they can get players from everywhere.”
Plante’s numbers are, of course, purely guesstimates. But the point is made.
Benilde-St. Margaret’s eventually moved up to Class 2A, where Hill-Murray and Holy Angels have won multiple big-school championships. This season, Holy Family Catholic, a private school with no history of postseason success at any level, also made the jump to Class 2A. The outcry for St. Thomas Academy and Breck to do the same gains a couple of decibels every year.
Those teams making the jump would undoubtedly improve the depth and competitiveness of the big-school tournament. Breck beat state Class 2A semifinalist Lakeville South during the regular season. St. Thomas Academy lost one-goal games to Hill-Murray, Duluth East and Edina.
They are good enough to make the move. But should they?
Plante isn’t certain the small-school tourney would be better without the privates. More fair? No question. But better? Nah.
“Schools like STA and Breck and these kinds of teams make Class A relevant, make it a better tournament,” said Plante, who leads his Hawks against St. Thomas Academy in Saturday’s championship. “Everybody tomorrow, nine out of every 10 people, will be cheering for Hermantown. Probably because they know we’re the underdog, really. We can be No. 1 rated all we want, but we’re still the underdog.
“Yeah, were 30-0, and we’re the underdog.”