Hermantown tops neighbor rival Duluth Marshall in state boys hockey tourneyThird-ranked Hermantown (24-4-1) advances to a semifinal encounter against No. 2 Breck at 11 a.m. Friday. The Mustangs (25-3-1) downed Marshall High School 6-1 in the first quarterfinal, meaning the northeastern Marshall (16-13) will face the southwestern Marshall (14-11-1) in a consolation semifinal at 10 a.m. today at Mariucci Arena.
By: By Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune, Superior Telegram
ST. PAUL - Before the beginning of the 2012-13 high school boys hockey season, few thought Hermantown possessed any one scorer at the level of former stars Jon Francisco, Drew LeBlanc or Adam Krause.
But, collectively, the line of center Travis Koepke and wingers Chris Benson and Bo Gronseth has been as productive as any in school history.
Each scored a goal Wednesday afternoon as the Hawks downed Lake Superior Conference rival Duluth Marshall 3-0 in a Minnesota Class A state tournament quarterfinal before 3,554 fans at Xcel Energy Center. The trio now has a combined 85 goals on the season, setting a school record.
"I knew they were going to be good, I had no doubt about that," Hawks coach Bruce Plante said. "They see each other very well on the ice, they have great vision and are good friends. It's the type of line you love to have as a coach. What I really love about them is they are fun to be around and are unselfish."
Third-ranked Hermantown (24-4-1) advances to a semifinal encounter against No. 2 Breck at 11 a.m. Friday. The Mustangs (25-3-1) downed Marshall High School 6-1 in the first quarterfinal, meaning the northeastern Marshall (16-13) will face the southwestern Marshall (14-11-1) in a consolation semifinal at 10 a.m. today at Mariucci Arena.
Benson (30 goals), Koepke (29) and Gronseth (26) surpassed the mark of 84 goals shared by the trios of B.J. Radovich-Brent Palmer-Scott Arras and Drew LeBlanc-Karl Gilbert-Ryan Schmidt.
"We look at the lines that we surpassed and all the other great players who have played at Hermantown, and to be put in the same company as them is pretty special," Koepke said.
And not bad for a group that was affectionately known as the "diaper line" when formed as sophomores.
"Our sophomore year was fun, junior year was fun and this year has been unbelievable," Benson said. "We don't care who scores as long as the puck goes in the net and we win the game."
After a scoreless first period, Gronseth and Koepke broke open a tight game in the second period. Gronseth batted in the puck from the right edge after defenseman Neal Pionk circled behind the net and tried to stuff in a backhand. Benson, while diving to the ice, swept the rebound to Gronseth for a power-play goal at 3:34.
Koepke added a goal at 7:41 when he pounced on a Gronseth rebound and bounced the puck off goaltender Caden Flaherty's pads and back to himself. The quick stickwork gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
The play in front of the net on both ends of the ice was key, said Marshall coach Brendan Flaherty, who estimated Hermantown had a 30-pound-per-player size advantage.
"They are very suffocating defensively and their 'D' kept tight gaps on our forwards - we just didn't have a lot of places to go," Flaherty said. "They are very good defensively around their net and, conversely, we struggled around our net.
"We had some looks, opportunities and possession, but we couldn't penetrate (the zone). That's a credit to them - they are well-coached and work hard. But the size definitely was a factor."
Plante has seen that before, especially in a 4-3 regular-season win over Marshall and during the Hawks' current 13-game winning streak.
"They only had a couple quality chances," he said. "We were a little stronger physically and wore them down a little in the second half of the game."
What few chances the Hilltoppers had, junior goaltender Adam Smith stopped. He made 17 saves for his third shutout in four playoff games and improved to 16-0-1 on the season.
Caden Flaherty stopped 31 shots on the other end but was helpless to stop Hermantown's final goal. Benson floated to an open space in the slot on a power play and had plenty of time to pick out a spot in the upper-left corner of the net for a 3-0 lead 5:31 into the third period. Hermantown had another goal waved off in the final moments when Nate Pionk tipped in a shot with a high stick.
The self-proclaimed three-time public-school champions - Hermantown has lost to a private school in each of the last three finals - now must get past another private school to make it to four consecutive championship games.
First period - No scoring.
Second period - 1. Bo Gronseth (Chris Benson, Neal Pionk), 3:34; 2. Travis Koepke (Gronseth), 7:41.
Third period - 3. Benson (Koepke, Jake Zeleznikar), 5:31 (pp).
Saves - Caden Flaherty, DM, 31; Adam Smith, Herm, 17.
Att. - 3,554.