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Hawks flying high

By Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff, 02/18/13, 9:30PM CST


Section 5A preview: Hermantown takes familiar perch atop section despite revamped lineup

Hermantown's Zach Kramer reaches out for a poke check in the South St. Paul Premier Tournament's championship game against Eagan. The Hawks are once again the top seed in the Section 5A playoffs. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

Hermantown's Neal Pionk. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

At this time last year, Hermantown had a perfect record and a roster full of senior talent. The Hawks ran their record to 30-0-0 before ending up with the Class 1A second-place hardware for the third straight year.

The 2012-13 Hawks don’t have as many seniors, but they have done what has become customary in Hermantown in recent seasons -- they reloaded.

With another crop of skill and scoring loaded in its lineup, the self-proclaimed three-time defending public school state champions find themselves sitting atop the Section 5A bracket once again.

Hermantown (20-4-1) was paced by its top line of Travis Koepke (23-33—56), Chris Benson (25-31—56) and Bo Gronseth (22-31—53), which has emerged as one of the scariest lines in the state and is a big reason why the Hawks average more than six goals per game.

Depth is on Hermantown’s side, too, with forwards Scott Wasbotten (13-10—23), Nate Pionk (8-11—19) and Zach Kramer (6-11—17) playing key roles.

Defensively, the Hawks are commanded by two of the best blue line generals around in Jake Zeleznikar (11-28—39) and University of Minnesota-Duluth recruit Neal Pionk (14-15—29). Add to the mix Ryan Carlson (5-10—15) and you have a group of defenders that will not only shut teams down and but also put the puck in the net.

Goalies Adam Smith (11-0-1, 1.56, .919) and Jace Thomas (8-4-0, 2.68, .857) have split time this year, but Smith has emerged as the go-to guy down the stretch and looks to be the starter for the Hawks in the postseason.

St. Cloud Cathedral's Mitchell Fritz. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

No. 2-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral (18-7-0) handed Hermantown one of its four losses this season, and the Crusaders are hoping they can add another loss to the Hawks’ résumé in the section tournament.

University of North Dakota recruit and leading scorer Austin Poganski (25-22—47) is a threat whenever he touches the ice. Fellow forwards Tommy Hall (19-21—40), Will Hammer (15-18—33) and Mitchell Fritz (22-8—30) make the Crusaders a dangerous offensive group.

On the blue line, Austin Swingle (4-25—29) and Dan Bailey (1-8—9) lead a group of defensemen that yielded 1.96 goals per game during the regular season. Goaltenders Connor Amundson (9-3-0, 1.83, .923) and Josh Robak (8-4-0, 1.82, .919) have been big reasons behind the great goals-against numbers, too.

Third-seeded Princeton (19-5-1) has pulled several upsets this year, and the Tigers hope they have a few more left in their toolbox. Forwards Dan Muench (30-21—51), Daniel Voce (19-31—50), Collin Buness (16-31—47) and Jake Green (21-22—43) all have registered more than 40 points this season, allowing the Tigers to pop in an average of six goals a game. Goalie Max Mattson (16-5-1, 2.46, .903) has been instrumental to the success of the team, too, and will look to continue his sound play in the section tournament.

Rogers' Travis Brown. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen.

After making it all the way to the 5A finals last year, No. 4-seed Rogers (11-12-2) has had its share of ups and downs this season. The Royals still have some talent in Nate Weber (14-18—32), Alexander Lorman (11-17—28), Spencer Marchand (8-15—23), Brandon Spah (4-18—22) and Travis Brown (14-7—21) and will be hoping to find their stride and make a charge at the section title.

Rogers’ first round opponent – fifth-seeded Legacy Christian Academy (19-5-2) – features two players with 20 or more goals and seven skaters that tallied at least 10 goals this season. Brock Thompson (30-17—47), Ike Larson (14-27—41) and Tyler Arenz (21-14—35) lead the offensive charge.

No. 6 Sauk Rapids-Rice (8-15-1) and its leading scorers Travis Kothenbeutel (21-16—37) and Mathew Meyer (16-16—32) will play No. 11 Moose Lake Area (0-25-0) for the chance to play Princeton. No. 7 Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson (12-11-0) plays No. 10 North Branch (3-22-0) for a shot at St. Cloud Cathedral and No. 8 Proctor (5-18-1) and No. 9 Pine City/Rush City (7-18-0) will battle for the opportunity to take on Hermantown.

Hub Prediction

Hermantown is currently riding a nine-game winning streak, suggesting the Hawks are peaking at the right time. With the scoring depth and the rock solid top duo at the blue line, Hermantown should be the favorite to advance to another state tournament. The Hawks will be motivated, too, as they lost to St. Cloud Cathedral in overtime earlier in the season.

Bracket Buster

The Tigers showed throughout the year they could skate with and beat anyone, and they are hoping the confidence gained in those triumphs will be a benefit to them during the section playoffs. Princeton would like to avenge a 5-1 loss to St. Cloud Cathedral on Feb. 5 and just might get that chance in the section semifinals.

Past Champions

2012 – Hermantown
2011 – Hermantown

2010 – Hermantown
2009 – St. Cloud Cathedral
2008 – St. Cloud Cathedral
2007 – Blake
2006 – Blake
2005 – Totino-Grace
2004 – Breck
2003 – St. Louis Park
2002 – Totino-Grace
2001 – Benilde-St. Margaret's
2000 – Breck
1999 – Benilde-St. Margaret's
1998 – St. Louis Park
1997 – Breck
1996 – Breck
1995 – Blake
1994 – Minneapolis Edison

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