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'Puck luck' remains bad for Hawks

By Michael Rand, Star Tribune, 03/12/11, 6:10PM CST


Hermantown falls just short of another state championship

Hermantown coach Bruce Plante walked into the losing news conference after the Class 1A title game for the second consecutive season. As he walked by a TV on the way to the podium, he caught a glimpse of St. Thomas Academy’s game-winning overtime goal being shown on a replay.

The poor guy can’t even get the “puck luck” for which he’s been waiting two seasons when he’s off the ice. But as usual, he didn’t mince words or hide his pain.

“It was just: 'Why them? Why does that puck go in for them? Why couldn’t it be us?’” he said when asked what he was thinking as he sat motionless on the bench for minutes after the game ended. “It’s just … how these games go. Tight and tough.”

Last year, it was a deflection off a shin pad with 1:40 left in the game that gave Breck, the No. 1 seed, a 2-1 victory over Hermantown. This time, No. 2-seeded Hermantown faced another mighty top-seeded metro private school in St. Thomas Academy — a squad not only talented but hungry after failing to make state each of the two previous seasons.

The Hawks jumped to a 3-0 lead. The Cadets rallied to force a 4-4 tie and were carrying play with a 41-20 shots advantage in the third period. From there, though, Hermantown fired off 13 of the next 15 shots in regulation and overtime. But nothing went in until Taylor Fleming’s shot from the point won it for St. Thomas Academy with 1:26 left in the first overtime.

Over the past several years, Hermantown — located about 10 miles from Duluth and led by its no-nonsense coach, who has become a media darling in St. Paul — has been the primary public school in Class 1A offering consistent resistance to STA and Breck. Those two schools have won five of the past six Class 1A titles; Hermantown took the other in 2007 and was a couple bounces away from having three in five years.

“That’s amazing to me; that’s not normally how you reload in a small program like we have,” Plante said of Hermantown, with an enrollment of 645. “I think we fit in with all the teams we’ve competed with. … We love to play the best. Everybody knows [St. Thomas Academy] is the best. … They’re a Double-A team playing Single-A hockey. They’re that good.”

If you detected a little more than a compliment with that last statement, you might be on to something. Then again, if it was Plante’s intention to engage in a little hockey class warfare, it can be explained more by pride and disappointment than bitterness.

“It hurts like hell is what it does. [Ticks] you off, too. You play your [butt] off, and then you lose,” Plante said. “I love the kids for doing it. I mean, you saw them battle out there. … What do you do? We were hoping for puck luck. A bounce for us would have been nice.”

Instead, Plante and Hermantown got an instant replay.

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