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.
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.
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.
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.
Hermantown, senior forward
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.
Duluth East, senior forward
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.
Duluth Denfeld, senior forward
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.
Grand Rapids, senior goaltender
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.
Hermantown, senior defenseman
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.
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.