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Spring Lake Park is battle tested; Hermantown staying in Class 1A for foreseeable future

By Loren Nelson, Sport Ngin, 03/04/15, 12:00PM CST


David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996. Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for Sport Ngin. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.

Coming at you from the X today, all day and all night. Typing this as the Class 1A quarterfinals are about to kick off with New Ulm vs. Mahtomedi. Apologies for those night owls who might have tried to access the newly unveiled blog last night. Forgot to hit the switch from disabled to public. Oops.

Anyway, we are off and running today. Not to steal his thunder, but Mr. La Vaque is in the process of posting a blurb on Hill-Murray defenseman Jacob Olson winning the Reed Larson Award that goes to the top senior defenseman.

I’m still sifting through the some of the extra information gathered when doing the Class 1A previews earlier this week. Bonus info on Mahtomedi and New Ulm can be found here, and some extra nuggets on New Prague and East Grand forks can be found here.

We’ll focus here on Spring Lake Park and No. 1 Hermantown, which appears to be a big-time mismatch. Maybe. Spring Lake Park has the worst record in the field, but as I mentioned in the Class 1A previews that appeared in the Star Tribune today, the Panthers played a whopping 17 Class 2A opponents this season as newly minted members of the Northwest Suburban Conference.

Spring Lake Park coach Tom Benson, who played at North Dakota during the rough-and-tumble Jim Archibald era, loved squaring off against north metro giants such as Blaine, Centennial, Maple Grove and Elk River.  

“Every game you play is like a section tournament game,” Benson said. “That prepared us real well for our section playoffs. Hopefully it will benefit us against Hermantown.”

While Spring Lake Park has been hit hard by defections to other high school programs as well as midget and junior teams (nine players from the school district are playing elsewhere) help is coming. Benson was in attendance on Sunday as the Spring Lake Park Bantam A team qualified for the state tournament.

Speaking of scouting, Hermantown coach Bruce Plante made the trip to Isanti to watch Spring Lake Park beat Chisago Lakes in a section final for the Panthers’ first state tournament trip since the program’s inception in 1972. 

“How cool is that?” Plante said about the Panthers’ inaugural state trip. “Everyone was so pumped up and excited. That is the beauty of single A hockey.”

Benson was surprised to hear of Plante’s presence at the game. 

“That right there tells you one of the reasons why they are so good year after year,” Benson said.

Hermantown is making its sixth straight state tourney appearance and, remarkably, has finished second five straight times. Plante doesn’t mind talking about the string of losses, even if he is haunted by them.

“I still haven’t gotten over some of them,” he said. “I go down there with trepidations.”

Where Plante and Hermantown stand with the option of moving up to Class 2A no doubt will be explored in depth this week. We won’t get into it too much here other than to say that Plante has no plans to push school administrators to make the jump next year, or in the near future.

“We get a lot of crap for not moving up,” said Plante, adding that he doesn’t sense any groundswell of opinion to go to Class 2A from anywhere in the Hermantown hockey community. “(Duluth East coach) Mike Randolph wants us to come up. He’s told me he’d like to have an all-northern Section 7AA.”
Breck coach Les Larson also talked about where the Mustangs stand in the Class 1A or 2A dilemma earlier this week, and we’ll get to that in our next post.

Stay tuned.

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