Hibbing/Chisholm players celebrate during their quarterfinal matchup with Rochester Lourdes.
What Hibbing/Chisholm coach Mark DeCenzo remembers most about his team’s regular-season finale against Hermantown was the goaltender play in critical moments.
“In overtime, Connor [Lucas] robbed us blind and then they came back down and Nate [Tromp] robbed them blind,” DeCenzo said.
The game, played Feb. 18, ended in a 2-2 stalemate. A winner must emerge in the rematch, taking place in the Class 1A state semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday at Xcel Energy Center.
Hermantown, the No. 2 seed in the bracket, beat Alexandria 5-1 on the strength of a five-goal second period. Hibbing/Chisholm upset No. 3 seed Rochester Lourdes 4-0 thanks to 29 saves by Tromp.
Both teams share a northern locale and rebuilt rosters. Hermantown graduated 14 seniors from last season’s state runner-up team, while the Bluejackets returned only four players.
Their inexperience showed at times during Wednesday’s games, but hard work led to good bounces.
Hermantown’s go-ahead goal started with an Andrew Mattson pass that deflected off an Alexandria defenseman and into the path of Jared Thomas. Goaltender Ben Allen came out to challenge Thomas, who said he “kind of whiffed” on the puck but managed to poke it under a sliding Allen’s armpit.
The Hawks’ third goal started with Bo Gronseth putting a move on a defenseman, then losing the puck — only to have it wind up on teammate Travis Koepke’s stick in perfect position for a shot and a goal.
Hibbing/Chisholm’s Adam Johnson also enjoyed some puck luck on his goal. Losing his footing as he approached the Lourdes net, Johnson swept the puck into the small space between goaltender Nick Heimer’s left skate and the pipe.
“They got that first bounce and that didn’t help much,” Eagles senior forward Andy Benner said.
Bouncing pucks and emotional waves are two big reasons quarterfinal games long have concerned Hermantown coach Bruce Plante, who has brought the Hawks to state seven times.
“That’s the most difficult game,” Plante said. “I remember back in the old eight-team draw, I always thought that first game was the best time to upset someone because of the nerves and jitters.”
The Hawks and Bluejackets forged a strong rivalry, meeting six times in the section playoffs from 2002-07 and splitting the series at three victories apiece.
“The last few years we’ve played them during the year but we’re not in the same region,” DeCenzo said. “So the intensity hasn’t been at the same level.”
With a berth in the championship game at stake, Friday’s game is sure to ratchet up the rivalry.
A Hermantown player takes a shot during the quarterfinal matchup with Alexandria