Hermantown senior Joey Pierce scored 55 points last season, the most of any returning defenseman in the state. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media
Our look at Class 1A continues as we count down the top 20 small-school teams for the 2020-21 season.
2019-20 Record: 23-4-4
Playoffs: Lost 3-2 in overtime to Mahtomedi in Class 1A state championship
Seniors lost: 9
Goals for: 180
Goals lost: 100 | Goals returning: 80
Goals against: 58
Goalie minutes lost: 1489:36 | Goalie minutes returning: 124:32
Power-play percentage: 25.8
Penalty-kill percentage: 87.4
High school hockey is a fickle mistress. One decade she smiles and winks at, say, Eveleth. And the next she turns her attention to International Falls. And then Edina, and then Bloomington Jefferson … and on and on.
Her latest object of affection: Hermantown.
The Hawks reached their first state tournament in 1994, won their first state Class 1A championship in 2007 and, after suffering a mind-boggling six straight runner-up finishes from 2010 to 2015, claimed back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017. Last season Hermantown celebrated its first Mr. Hockey award winner in Blake Biondi, the latest to join a vast universe of star Hawks players, including the likes of NHLers Neal Pionk and Dylan Samberg.
Based on the supernova-like nature of Minnesota’s high school hockey dynasties, it seems only natural to expect an eventual implosion or, at the very least, a dimming of Hermantown’s glow. Instead, the Hawks only seem to grow stronger with each passing season. A mega-talent such as Biondi departs, only to be replaced by Joey Pierce, a manchild of a senior defenseman certain to be a Mr. Hockey finalist this season and, most likely, an NHL draft pick next summer. The 6-foot, 190-pound Pierce is the state’s top-scoring returning defenseman (55 points in 31 games) and No. 1 in Legacy Hockey's rankings of the state's top seniors. He has committed to play at Minnesota Duluth.
And then there’s Zam Plante, a precocious sophomore who has yet to play a Minnesota State High School League-sanctioned high school game but already seems a lock to join the pantheon of Hawks greats. Plante, No. 4 in Legacy Hockey's Class of 2023 rankings, scored a stunning 193 points in 47 games as a Bantam AA last winter, an achievement he followed by finishing in a tie for seventh in scoring (29 points in 22 games) as one of the youngest players in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall. He also scored six goals in three games during the Legacy Bridge League season this fall, a final tune-up to the delayed Minnesota State High School League season.
While a lack of more than a handful of highly skilled players is often the bane of small-school programs, Hermantown’s decades-long run of dominance is most often fueled by superior depth. This Hawks team, like so many others before it, is loaded with top-end talent. Senior forward Ethan Lund scored 17 goals among his 56 points last season, the most of any returning player. Senior Aaron Pionk scored 35 points last season and showed his versatility in the Elite League by transitioning from forward to defense and being selected to play in the season-ending International Invitational Tournament (along with Plante).
Senior forward Aydyn Dowd scored 17 goals last season and 5-7, 150-pound senior forward Cole Antcliff, Hermantown’s “Little ball of hate” as described by Hawks coach Pat Andrews, performs the agitator role flawlessly while providing scoring punch (7 goals, 17 assists). Senior Jackson Lucia (3 goals, 13 points) leads a graduation-depleted group of defensemen that also includes junior Jack Glockle (1 goal, 5 assists) and sophomore George Peterson. Ty Hanson, a standout defenseman on Hermantown’s Bantam AA team that finished No. 2 in one set of season-ending rankings, figures to get extended playing time.
Jacob Backstrom departs after playing all but a few games in goal last season, posting a 21-4-4 record. Senior Luke Lind and juniors David Rutka and Cole Thorsvik all saw limited action and figure to be in the mix for the starting role.