Hermantown fans have watched their team enter the state tournament unbeaten for the second time in six years. Photo by Adam Crane.
If there wasn't enough pressure for Hermantown to win the 2012 Class 1A state championship after consecutive runner-up finishes, the Hawks also entered the game unbeaten for the second time in six years -- and had to answer questions about it on a regular basis.
Those questions are now moot as the top-seeded Hawks lost to second-seeded St. Thomas Academy 5-1 on Saturday, March 10 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Even though Hermantown was unable to capture the perfect season, earning a similar accomplishment is not uncharted territory for the Hawks.
Hermantown finished the 2006-2007 season with a 29-0-2 record to win the Class 1A championship -- the last team in the state to finish a whole season without a loss. Ties came against Duluth Marshall and Cloquet/Esko/Carlton in the regular season. The Hawks were able to avenge one of those ties, beating Duluth Marshall 4-1 in the title game.
"It was pretty awesome to beat them in that championship game," said Matt Engelmeier before this year’s title tilt. Engelmeier was a member of the Hawks 2007 championship game who was on hand Saturday. "This year they have a chance to knock out the team that put the last blemish on their record, much like we did against Marshall."
As the Hawks continued their perfect 30-0-0 season through the first two rounds in St. Paul, they were asked more and more about the streak.
Yet one group that has never touched that point with them is the 2007 championship team, said Koby Wargin, another member of the state title squad.
"We talk to them, but nothing about that," Wargin said. "There is no need for us to do it and they have not come up to us for advice.
"They don't need any help with that. They have been here (state championship game) three years in a row, so they know how to handle it."
For current Hawks defenseman Brian LeBlanc, that task would seem to be harder to avoid, considering his brother Drew LeBlanc was on that team.
However, talk of the record has been hush.
"He doesn't really talk about it," Brian LeBlanc said. "He was in the same situation we are in and I think they handled it the same way we have."
Another key to the Hawks staying even-keel through those two seasons was coach Bruce Plante, Wargin said. "He's a great coach and knows how to handle these kind of things. He keeps things calm and knows those questions are going to come and he did a great job at deflecting that away from us.
"I am sure he has done the same with these guys."
Plante's coaching philosophy may be the same, but the style of play and the way the Hawks have won are different.
"I thought we were more physical and they have more finesse and goal scorers," Wargin said. "There are a lot of guys on this year's team that know how to score and score a lot. We didn't have as much of that on our team, but we could grind wins out."
What are the similarities?
"Depth," Engelmeier said. "We both had a lot of depth on our team. Some teams come here and only have one player or one line. If you shut that down, you are going to win. For our team and this year's team, there is so much depth that it allows you to just keep coming without giving your opponents a chance."
With five years having gone by, more players from the 2007 championship team have returned to watch the Hawks play and made the trip to watch them at the state tournament.
The emotions of that championship might have worn off a bit, but they have escalated with each game this year.
"I am more nervous watching them than playing back in '07," Engelmeier said. "They have a really special team."
-- Justin Magill, MN Hockey Hub staff
Bruce Plante has been in coaching long enough to have seen his share of special teams.
He’s coached teams to the state tournament.
He’s had teams win it all.
Plante has even coached a team that’s been perfect.
Even so, the latest group of kids to battle in the Hermantown uniform for Plante might be the most remarkable one yet.
The seniors on the Hawks roster, specifically forward Jared Thomas and defenseman Jared Kolquist, have led Hermantown to three straight Class 1A title games.
They’ve lost each time, twice in heartbreaking fashion and again on Saturday, March 10, in a 5-1 setback at the hands of St. Thomas Academy.
Yeah, the loss hurt. But Plante sat next to his two veteran leaders after the game and couldn’t be more impressed.
“It’s a great accomplishment [to play in three straight championship games],” Plante said. “Who else has done it? Our kids are great, its better than the alternative of losing in the sections or losing in the first game [at state] and playing at Mariucci.”
“Our kids can take a lot of pride in this and be proud of it.”
Despite the fact that the finish to their high school careers wasn’t the one they had played out in their minds time after time, Thomas and Kolquist agreed.
“It’s very special, and one that will definitely go down in my memory book,” said Kolquist, the emotional leader of the Hawks. “Coming from the same community and playing all the way up with each other, there’s nothing like it.”
Kolquist scored the lone Hermantown goal in the championship game, blasting a shot from the right dot through red-hot goalie David Zevnik’s arm and body.
It was the only goal scored on St. Thomas Academy all tournament.
The Hawks walked away wishing for another chance, but realizing that they’d have to move on. That harsh reality left Kolquist and Thomas thinking about the past and how they’ll look back and remember this season.
It’s not just about the 30 wins. It’s not even about the one loss.
It’s about the Hermantown family.
“We’re definitely close, you can see it in the locker room,” Thomas said. “We’ve grown up together, been on teams with each other all the way up. It’s kind of like our family. This being the last game with our family, it kind of hurts.”
“It will probably take us a while to get over it, but I’m sure after it we will still be a family.”
Not enough can be said about that continuity the Hawks possess. Their small community wouldn’t be able to keep with the metro schools if it wasn’t for it.
They wouldn’t have been able to do it without Kolquist and Thomas, either.
As a pair of captains, they inspired teammates to take their game to the next level. They helped friends bounce back from tough breaks. They sat at a press conference after their last game at Hermantown and were able to reflect on the good rather than dwell on the bad.
“It’s hard to find leadership in high school. Most kids aren’t truly good leaders, they’d rather be followers,” Plante said. “This kid right here [Kolquist] is a true leader. Jared Thomas is the same way – a great leader.”
-- Zack Frieldi, MN Hockey Hub staff