2022 was a year written in the stars for Hawks, Rangers
For other Northland athletes, a more bitter finale awaited them.
Following a convention established by European soccer clubs, Hermantown has taken to putting stars on the back of its boys hockey jerseys that denote the number of state championships the school has achieved.
When 2022 started, a Hawks sweater came with three. The new model has four.
The Hermantown juggernaut returned to the top in 2022, as a 3-2 victory in an all-north Class A state championship game with Warroad made the Hawks four-time state champions and cemented one, if not several names in Northland boys hockey lore.
Zam Plante was one of precious few Hawks allowed to play in the 2021 state tournament after Minnesota State High School League protocols benched most of the varsity due to a COVID-19 exposure in the Section 7A tournament. With the full complement of Hawks behind him, Plante and Hermantown went on a revenge tour. Both he and Dallas Vieau had hat tricks on the scoresheet of the Section 7A final vs. Duluth Denfeld before a minute of the second period had elapsed at Amsoil Arena on March 2 on the way to an eye-popping 11-0 rout of the No. 2 seed.
Championship Saturday (March 12) was a rematch of a Jan. 15 thriller between the Hawks and Warriors that Hermantown won at home in overtime. With much more on the line, Plante scored twice in the second period to break a 1-1 and 2-2 tie, with the latter goal standing as the game-winner. He was the player of the game, at least on the offensive end. At the back, defensemen Ty Hanson and Beau Janzig held a Warroad attack that featured future Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs Jayson Shaugabay to just 10 shots over the last 34 minutes.
And then, it was all over. Plante was taken in the fifth round of the 2022 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. His brother Max, an emerging player in his own right, joined the U.S. National Team Development Program. Hanson, Janzig and Vieau started at various locations in the junior hockey landscape.
And after Hermantown sewed a fourth star on the backs of their jerseys, coach Pat Andrews and the Hawks started anew in November, where through seven games they've yet to lose.
Mirage denied in repeat quest
That boys game wasn't the first time Hermantown and Warroad met at Xcel Energy Center in 2022. Two weeks previous, the Proctor-Hermantown Mirage faced off against the Warriors for the Class A girls championship.
This one, however, tilted in Warroad's direction on Feb. 26. Nya Sieger scored early for Proctor-Hermantown, but it would prove to be the only goal Warroad allowed in the entire tournament. The Warriors notched four goals in the second period and ran away 6-1 winners, stripping the 2021 champion Mirage of their crown.
No Olympic fairy tales this time for curlers
As 2022 began, one of the foremost stories in the Northland was whether John Shuster's rink could defend its Olympic men's curling championship. The Winter Olympics took place in Beijing, China under a heavy COVID-19 lockdown that prevented most fans from the venues.
Through five matches of round-robin play, Team USA found itself with the same record, 2-3, that it had at that point four years previous, and like then, there was another rally, as the Americans won three of their last four contests, but that was where the similarities ended. Bruce Mouat's Great Britain rink was too hot for the Americans to handle in the semifinals, and the subsequent bronze-medal match went to Canada, 8-5.
The Shuster rink's fourth-place finish equaled the third-best effort by an American team in an Olympics since 1998.
Duluthian Chris Plys competed not only as Shuster's third but teamed with Alaskan Vicky Persinger in the mixed doubles competition, finishing eighth.
Bulldogs bucked in national title game
With 2022 being an Olympic year, the worlds of college women's hockey and UMD women's hockey were affected in familiar ways. Defenseman Ashton Bell was centralized with Team Canada, with whom she won a gold medal. Goaltender Emma Soderberg was out for most of the second half of the season playing for Sweden in Beijing.
However, when tournament time rolled around, UMD reached heights not seen in years. The Bulldogs stunned Minnesota on its home rink with a 2-1 regional final win to seal a ninth Frozen Four in school history.
UMD avenged its 2021 ouster by defeating Northeastern on a double-overtime goal from Naomi Rogge in the national semifinals in University Park, Pennsylvania, and set up an all-WCHA national championship game vs. Ohio State on March 20. A close encounter at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena was decided by a bad bounce late in the third period, as OSU's Kenzie Hauswirth scored the game-winning goal on a shot that deflected in off a UMD skate.
UMD men snag a trophy but no Frozen Four berth
Fans expecting the Minnesota Duluth men to hit the afterburners for the postseason in their usual style were probably not surprised to see the Bulldogs go from failing to secure home-ice advantage in the NCHC playoffs to sweeping St. Cloud State in its home rink in the first round and then winning the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at Xcel Energy Center with back-to-back shutouts against Denver and Western Michigan.
When the NCAA tournament began, the Bulldogs added a third clean sheet against Michigan Tech in Loveland, Colorado. However, beating a talented Denver team in its home state proved too tall a task. The Pioneers won the regional final, 2-1 on March 26, meaning there was a men's Frozen Four conducted without the Bulldogs for the first time since 2016. Denver then won that national championship two weeks later in Boston, though there was still a Northland presence in the game: UMD head coach Scott Sandelin's son Ryan and fellow Hermantown alum Wyatt Aamodt were playing for runners-up Minnesota State.
Lindwurm, Ondoro return to winner's circle at Grandma's
No, not all of 2022 in Northland sports played out on ice and snow or within a four-week span at the end of the winter. Once summer finally arrived at this latitude, with it came a full roster of marathoners and half-marathoners when Grandma's Marathon and its associated events returned to 100% capacity on June 18.
Eagan, Minnesota native Dakotah Lindwurm was a fan favorite when she claimed the title in 2021 and cemented her status in Grandma's lore by not only succesfully defending her title, but also coming within 33 seconds of the event record on an ideal Saturday to make a dent in the history books. Her winning time of 2 hours, 25 minutes and 1 second was more than 4 minutes faster than her winning time a year previous, when she became the first Minnesota woman since 1987 to win the event.
Kenya's Dominic Ondoro also had fast feet as he completed and won his first marathon in 2 1/2 years in the men's race, his time of 2:09:34 coming within a half-minute of the course record he set when he claimed the event in 2014.
Softball season full of state runs
The story of the spring came on the softball diamond, as three local teams made deep runs in their respective state tournaments.
In Wisconsin, Superior may have felt hard done by after receiving only a fifth seed in their sectional tournament but the Spartans let their game argue for them, knocking out top-seeded Chippewa Falls on their home field in the semifinals, and then crushing Stevens Point Area 9-0 for their first state tournament berth since 1993.
In a state quarterfinal against Cedarburg, the Spartans roughed up one of the state's best pitchers and triggered the mercy rule with a 10-0 victory before falling at the hands of eventual repeat state champions Kaukauna in the semis.
Still, this team led by Northwestern recruit Emma Raye at catcher, returns nearly all of its top players in preparation for another run in 2023.
Across the border, both Proctor and Moose Lake/Willow River returned to the state tournament in North Mankato after lengthy absences — Proctor since 2006 and ML/WR since 1982.
Proctor in particular had a harrowing run to the state title game that included two come-from-behind victories, one in 12 innings, but when championships were on the line, the breaks went against the Northland. The Rails couldn't dig out from a rough first inning, losing 3-2 to Chatfield, while the Rebels suffered a heartbreaker, as Sandra Ribich came within feet of a state championship winning walk-off homer before Nicollet escaped with a 3-2 win in eight innings.
MI-B brings football crown north
Sometimes the fall season can be a little rough on the Northland. Entering 2022, the region had yet to win a state football or volleyball championship in the 21st century.
Mountain Iron-Buhl finally broke through this year, culminating a dominant season by claiming the state IX-Man division.
The Rangers claimed the first Prep Bowl title in 1972 but several recent dominant seasons had fallen short of the ultimate prize. After rolling into the state tournament, MI-B knocked off Kittson County Central and Wheaton/Herman-Norcross to get to the championship, where they trailed Spring Grove much of the way. The Rangers fell behind 19-0 after a quarter and committed five turnovers, but their offense, led by star quarterback Asher Zubich, could not be denied. A 10-yard rushing touchdown by Damian Tapio gave MI-B the lead with 25 seconds to play and they held off a last-ditch effort to earn the first Prep Bowl title for the Northland since the Cook County football dynasty of the late 1990s.
No word yet if the Rangers will put a star on their jerseys.