Class A hockey: Defending champ Hermantown fight off Luverne
ST. PAUL — After watching two heavily favored teams get dumped on a wild opening day of the Minnesota high school boys hockey tournament, Hermantown wasn't concerned with style points or victory margin Wednesday.
The Hawks simply wanted to survive the Class A quarterfinal round, which No. 2-seeded Delano and No. 3 Mahtomedi couldn't do against first-time tournament entrants Monticello-Annandale-Maple Lake and Northfield, respectively.
Even that proved to be a chore.
In perhaps the biggest shocker of the day, the Hawks needed overtime to dispatch Luverne from a bracket that was nearly overrun by Cinderellas.
Dylan Kolquist scored 42 seconds into overtime when he converted Jesse Jacques' feed in front of the net to seal a 3-2 victory at Xcel Energy Center.
Late in the third period, Tyler Reisdorfer notched his second goal of the game to forge an improbable 2-2 tie.
For the top-seeded Hawks (27-1-1), who won their previous two tournament openers by a combined 19-3, disaster loomed. Hermantown coach Bruce Plante was shown on the Jumbotron after the third. His was an unmistakable look of disbelief.
"I was thinking about Mariucci (Arena)," he said of the venue that hosts consolation games.
Instead, the Hawks advanced to a 1 p.m. Friday semifinal against either East Grand Forks or St. Cloud Cathedral.
That spot almost belonged to unseeded Luverne (22-6-1) thanks to a brilliant performance by indefatigable senior goaltender Kaden Ericson, who made 49 saves. He was the story of the night, time after time keeping Hermantown at bay and allowing the Cardinals to hang around. Ericson was especially effective at limiting rebounds.
The Hawks, whose winning streak reached 27 games, didn't solve Ericson until Tyler Watkins capitalized on some dirty work by Logan Judnick and Matt Valure early in the second period. Those two dug the puck out of the corner, and Judnick sent it out front, where Watkins fired from the left faceoff circle. Based on reputation, many at Xcel — certainly Hermantown's red-, white- and blue-clad student section — expected the goals to start coming in bunches.
That never materialized.
"As the game went on and their goalie kept stoning us, then I think we got out of character," Plante said when asked if the Hawks were pressing.
Less than a minute after Hermantown's Ryan Sandelin refused to give up on the puck and made it 2-0 late in the second, the Cardinals halved the deficit when Reisdorfer tallied a power-play goal from the high slot off a Hawks turnover.
Luverne is in its second state tournament. In the program's debut, the Cardinals were doubled up 6-3 by Hermantown in the 2014 quarterfinals. Wednesday, their defense stymied a high-powered attack that totaled 23 goals in three Section 7A playoff games. In front of Ericson, Luverne blocked 28 shots.
"To hold them to two goals in regulation and lose in heart-breaking fashion in overtime really speaks to the efforts of our guys," Cardinals coach Phillip Paquette said. "They gave everything they had out there."
Sporting the Hawks' pink player-of-the-game helmet, Kolquist described his game-winner, in which he had all the time in the world to decide where to go with the puck. Upon receiving Jacques' pass, Kolquist hesitated and got Ericson to commit before going around him.
"Jesse gave me a perfect pass to the back side," Kolquist said. "There was nobody by me. I just had to put the puck in the net."
He did, and a wild celebration that nobody could have predicted ensued.
Sandelin, who said Hermantown started to get frustrated at its inability to deliver the knockout blow, regrouped after Reisdorfer scored with 2:08 remaining in regulation.
"It was right back to work," Sandelin said. "Let's go get the next one."
Sandelin, like everybody else who watched Ericson dazzle, tipped his cap to the senior goaltender.
"Hat's off to their goalie because he played unreal," Sandelin said. "He kept them in the game."
Watching Delano and Mahtomedi fall in the first session Wednesday did little to calm the Hawks' nerves as they embarked on their state title defense. Ahead of the tournament, it was widely expected that Delano and Hermantown would meet in Saturday's final. Instead, the Tigers, who narrowly lost to the Hawks 4-3 in December, and their three Division I commits started the zaniness with a loss to MAML.
"I was sick to my stomach all afternoon," Plante said.
In most years, the Class A quarters are a predictable warm-up act for the remainder of the week. Apparently, this isn't a normal year. At the least, Wednesday wasn't a normal opener.
"It was amazing to watch the (afternoon) session and see that anything is possible in the state tournament," Paquette said.
M/A/ML 3, Delano 2
Delano created chance after chance in the closing minutes of its Class A quarterfinal Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.
But for every problem the Tigers presented, Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake junior goalie Tyler Klatt had the answer.
Klatt and the Moose survived a flurry of attacks down the stretch to upset second-seeded Delano and advance to Friday's semifinals at the boys hockey state tournament.
Klatt finished with 33 saves, including one in the final minutes where he swatted away a fluttering puck that nearly crossed the crease. Moose coach Eric Nelson said it was probably one of Klatt's best performances of the season. It was certainly the most pivotal.
During the final few minutes, Klatt said he was "just trying to focus on what I need to do in that situation, which, usually, I don't really know."
If that doesn't inspire confidence, what will?
Asked after the game if he sweated out the final minutes, Nelson smiled and reached for his jacket zipper.
"I've got to do something here for the boys," he said as he started to unzip. "About mid-January it was, the boys came, I think we'd just lost a game and they had an idea that we needed a little good luck charm. Ever since that point and time they put a sweatshirt on me. You guys are going to laugh at this."
Nelson revealed a sweater covered in kittens. It was adorable, and, apparently, lucky.
"It's absolutely ridiculous, I know," Nelson said. "But we've had good fortune with it. I'm going to zip it back up."
He'll wear it again Friday in the semis. He has to after Wednesday's result. Delano was supposed to be the one true challenger to Class A powerhouse Hermantown. The Tigers' three three losses this year were a one-goal loss to Hermantown and two defeats at the hands of Holy Family Catholic, a Class 2A power.
"In all honesty, we probably weren't supposed to come in here and win this game," Nelson said.
Or keep it close. But the Moose struck first on a goal from senior forward Nick Zwack, which seemed to shift momentum and provide a little extra belief that this might be their day.
"I think you kind of think of a No. 2 seed and you think it's going to be difficult to slide more than one or two past them," said Zwack, who scored twice Wednesday. "Taking the first goal of the game and making sure that was ours, it kind of took the pressure off."
The pressure was on Delano throughout.
"It seemed like we were fighting the puck a little bit," Delano coach Gerritt van Bergen said. "I think the stage and the situation did affect our play a little bit."
Delano trimmed the Moose lead to 3-2 early in the third on a goal from Justin Daly, but that was all the closer the Tigers would get.
"In the hallway (before then third, the coaches) said, 'Man, if we pop one in the first three (minutes), they're going to deflate and our fans are going to explode,'" van Bergen said. "Those things happened, except they didn't deflate. They just kept sticking to their defensive game."
• Jace Frederick, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Northfield 3, Mahtomedi 1
Mahtomedi boys hockey coach Jeff Poeschl thought his young team performed well under immense pressure in the Class A, Section 4 final last week, as the Zephyrs upset St. Paul Academy.
That figured to be a hopeful precursor for the way Mahtomedi would perform at the state tournament.
Poeschl said his team was tentative Wednesday afternoon, as the third-seeded Zephyrs were upset by unseeded Northfield at the Xcel Energy Center in a Class A quarterfinal game.
It's one thing to play well in the postseason.
"It's a little bit different when you're playing in an NHL building for your first time," Poeschl said. "I didn't sense that the guys were nervous in the room, but we do have a lot of youth and on a big stage that they were just gripping their stick a little tight, and you tend to be tentative when that's the case."
Northfield, on the other hand, was not. The Raiders (21-5-3) were making their first state tournament appearance, and Mahtomedi its ninth, but Northfield features 12 seniors, and Mahtomedi had five.
The Raiders looked like the more experienced team Wednesday. Particularly in the third period.
Mahtomedi (16-12-1) struck first, with junior forward Dallas Duckson scoring from the point in the first period. Northfield's Jacob Halverson scored in the second period to make it 1-1 going to the third.
That's a situation Raiders coach Mike Luckraft knew his team was more than comfortable in.
Northfield has played in eight overtime games this season, including two in the sectional playoffs. So the tight spots probably feel more normal than anything else.
"The guys are fairly comfortable in that, not that you're ever completely comfortable in a tie game in the state tournament," Luckraft said, "but I think they were prepared for playing really hard in that third period and having that chance."
Northfield senior forward Nicholas Kvernmo scored twice in the third period. On the first goal, he danced into the slot and scored to make it 2-1 Raiders one minute into the period.
After the goal he pulled out his stick, put it over his shoulder and pretended to fire it like a rocket launcher. No, if you're wondering, that wasn't simply a state tournament special.
"I've seen stuff like that (from him) before," Northfield senior goalie Ryan Bielenberg said.
Kvernmo's second goal was of the empty-net variety with a minute to play to essentially secure the Raiders' upset bid. The celebration after that goal wasn't as elaborate but just as joyous.
"It was all relief," Kvernmo said. "That goal definitely took a lot of weight off our back."
Kvernmo noted that while on the ice, it felt like just another game. But after the fact? That's when his two-goal day really hit him.
"This was at the X, and I'm never going to forget this," Kvernmo said. "Two goals in one game, you dream about this as a kid. ... It's just a really great feeling."
Kvernmo was complemented by Bielenberg's performance. The Northfield netminder made 13 saves in the third period and 34 for the game.
"Ryan was just rock solid back in the goal," Luckraft said, "and kept everything in front of him."
That was one of the reasons for Mahtomedi's demise, along with what Poeschl said was an inability to generate traffic in front of the net and allowing too much space for Northfield to break out of its own zone.
"When you're tentative, you tend to lose battles," Poeschl said, "or you don't put yourself in a position to win battles."
Again, maybe that's all to be expected from a young team.
"It'll be a great learning experience," Poeschl said, "and I know that if it's anything like when I was a player, and even as a coach, once you're here, they've got that seed planted. For our younger guys, I'm sure it will be their goal to get back."
• Jace Frederick, St. Paul Pioneer Press