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Duluth News Tribune 2022-23 Boys Hockey Preview

Hermantown and Grand Rapids are the class of the area — again — and Duluth East hopes to claw its way back to the top of Section 7AA.

Hermantown scores early to advance to Class A semifinal against New Prague at Xcel Energy Center
Hermantown forward Wyatt Carlson (4) keeps the puck from Warroad forward Carson Pilgrim (18) during the 2022 Class A championship game Boys Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Hawks won the state championship in March and Carlson is one of three senior captains who hope to lead their team back to the state tournament in March.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live
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With its run to the 2022 Class A state title in the rearview mirror, Hermantown won't look the same when the Hawks take to the ice this season.

All but one of Hermantown's top line players left the program for junior hockey or the USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

Still with the return of Kade Kohanski and Penn State recruit Dallas Vieau, Hermantown’s rebuild looks closer to a reload and coach Pat Andrews hopes to have a better idea of the team’s potential by the holidays.

The reigning state champions lost arguably the most talent of anyone in the state, but they also have plenty of returning talent to make their way to their 13th Class A state tournament in 14 years.

A bigger question about Section 7A is who, if anyone, will step up to challenge Hermantown for a spot in the state tournament. Duluth Denfeld has faced the Hawks in the last three section championships but came up empty and Hunters coach Dale Jago must contend with his own losses to graduation to make it four straight years.

In Section 7AA, Grand Rapids will look to goaltender Myles Gunderson to keep them in games early while they try to replace more than 300 points of offense.

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The Thunderhawks fell to eventual state champion Andover in the Section 7AA final, but in 2022-23 they could also be dealing with a resurgent Duluth East squad still smarting from an eight-win season last year.

5 PLAYERS TO WATCH

KADE KOHANSKI

Hermantown, senior forward

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Kade Kohanski
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Kohanski is perhaps the most experienced player returning to the Hawks’ bench this season.The senior forward was Hermantown’s second-leading goal scorer with 22 and is the only player from the Hawks’ top line to return this season. “People will see how darn good Kade is in his own right, because he is going to make the top line go this year,” Hawks’ coach Pat Andrews said.

COLE CHRISTIAN

Duluth East, senior forward

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Cole Christian
Submitted photo

Christian is the leading returning scorer for a revamped Greyhound squad, with 14 goals and 30 points last season. Duluth East struggled to just eight wins in 2021-22, but coach Steve Pitoscia believes the team will be much-improved this season. As always, Duluth East faces a brutal Section 7AA schedule that gives it few nights off. If they are to improve significantly on last season’s win total, Christian will be at the center of the Greyhounds’ resurgence.

ANDY LARSON

Duluth Denfeld, senior forward

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Andy Larson
Submitted photo

Larson will lead the Hunters’ top line and was second on the team last season with 53 total points. A 2022 All-Area team member, Larson has great hockey sense and awareness across zones and is “just on the verge of becoming something really special,” according to Denfeld coach Dale Jago. If the Hunters are to advance to a fourth-straight section final, Larson will be a big part of the campaign.

MYLES GUNDERSON

Grand Rapids, senior goaltender

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Myles Gunderson
Submitted photo

Gunderson is among the top returning goalies in the state after recording a 2.19 goals against average and .899 save percentage with four shutouts for the Thunderhawks last season. Goaltending and defense will again be a strength for Grand Rapids, according to coach Wade Chiodo, for a team that pushed defending Class AA champion Andover to the limit in the section title game. Gunderson’s play will be key as the Thunderhawks try to replace the offensive production of departed players like Joey DelGreco, Hayden DeMars and Kaden Nelson.

GEORGE PETERSON

Hermantown, senior defenseman

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George Peterson
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Peterson, a senior captain for the Hawks, will be stepping into a top line that returns just one player from the state championship squad. Peterson finished the season with 10 goals and 12 assists, but Hermantown will need him to lead a defense that lost Beau Janzig and Ty Hanson. Coach Pat Andrews called him a “phenomenal defenseman” who will be important to the Hawks as they work to get back to the state tournament after arguably losing more talent than any team in the state.

5 GAMES TO WATCH

Duluth East vs. St. Thomas Academy (at Bloomington)
3 p.m. Nov. 26

The annual Youth Hockey Hub Opener features a matchup that will get a lot of attention inside and outside the Twin Cities metro. Citing a lack of support, Mike Randolph left Duluth East in 2021 with 671 career victories but also under an administrative investigation. After a year as an assistant, Randolph was elevated to coach St. Thomas. Neither team was happy with last year, with St. Thomas going 13-13-1 and the Greyhounds going 8-18-1.

Hibbing/Chisholm at Duluth Denfeld
7 p.m. Dec. 6

Hibbing/Chisholm fell to Denfeld 3-0 in the Section 7A semifinal last year, but the Hunters lost three of their top four scorers from last season. This game will be a good test for both teams as the Bluejackets look to end Denfeld’s run of advancing to the section final the last three years.

Duluth Denfeld at Duluth East
7 p.m. Jan. 17

The Hunters topped Duluth East for the first time in nine years in a game remembered more for ugly penalties than hockey. The Greyhounds hope to rebound, while the Hunters are hoping to continue their run of three consecutive trips to the Section 7A championship.

Hermantown vs. Mahtomedi (at White Bear Lake)
1 p.m. Jan. 29

The Hawks will face off with the Zephyrs in one of three Hockey Day Minnesota matchups in White Bear Lake. The Zephyrs must replace goalie Ben Dardis, 2022 Frank Brimsek award winner, from their third-place team, while Hermantown must replace the offensive production of Zam and Max Plante.

Grand Rapids at Hermantown
7 p.m. Feb. 14

The Thunderhawks and Hermantown met in the regular season finale for both teams in 2022 and it was perhaps the game of the year, with Hermantown falling behind by two goals before a third period rally and a game-winning goal in overtime by Max Plante.

2022 BOYS HOCKEY PREVIEWS

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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