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Seek and Destroy

By Loren Nelson, 01/16/22, 12:15AM CST


Hermantown senior Gavin Blomdahl, a no-frills grinder, scores OT winner against Warroad

Hermantown senior Gavin Blomdahl celebrates Saturday after scoring in overtime in the Hawks' 2-1 victory over Warroad. Photo by Loren Nelson,

Grip it and rip it. 

Works in golf. So why not hockey?

With every nook and cranny of the Hermantown Hockey Arena stuffed with fans breathlessly hanging on every deke and dangle, it was a no-nonsense blast from grinder extraordinaire Gavin Blomdahl that gave Hermantown a 2-1 overtime victory over Warroad Saturday in one of the state’s most highly anticipated Class 1A regular season matchups in recent history.

Blomdahl, a senior alternate captain who brings a football player’s mentality (i.e. seek and destroy) to the ice, gave the rest of the Hawks one final command before they broke the huddle to start the overtime period.

“I said, ‘Just get pucks on net, get everything to the net and then go get a rebound and score,’ ” he said.

Blomdahl then deviated from his orders by skipping that whole rebound part. After taking a long pass near center ice, he cruised down the right boards and, from a tough angle near the top of the face-off circle, uncorked a rising shot that snuck between Warroad goaltender Hampton Slukynsky’s arm and body.

The goal was Blomdahl's third of the season.

“It wasn’t a pretty goal,” Blomdahl said. “Just get it on net, and it goes in.”

With four Division I commits (two for each team) on the ice and probably a combined dozen or more future DI players in the respective lineups, the superstar quotient was extraordinarily high for the matchup between the undisputed top two teams in Class 1A.

So it only figured that Blomdahl, who really does play football for the Hawks and is known more for his unrelenting work ethic than his toe drags, would score the winner in decidedly straightforward fashion.

“He knows how to work,” Hermantown junior Zam Plante said about Blomdahl. “He just goes hard on everything.”

It didn’t hurt that the huge crowd, officially counted at 1,127 but probably another 500 or so larger than that, added a healthy jolt of adrenaline to the players not used to seeing faces stacked three-deep behind the glass.

“It was a fun atmosphere to play in,” Blomdahl said. “It does add a lot more energy, it definitely amps the game up.”

Locals couldn’t remember the last time Hermantown hosted a game so highly anticipated — or well attended. The Hawks went unbeaten in 2007, and there were a couple of games on their home ice that attracted big turnouts. One of them was a showdown with Cloquet, which went 20-4-2 that season and was undefeated when it played the Hawks late in the season for the Lake Superior Conference championship.

More recently, matchups against St. Cloud Cathedral in Hermantown created a buzz and drew abnormally large crowds.

“You know, we have a tight barn,” Hermantown coach Pat Andrews said. “We don't have a lot of room, but I think that almost makes it more intimate. Like more fun. 

“They're six deep on the glass and they’re packed in the stands. And upstairs. It’s just a really fun atmosphere.”

The bleachers were mostly full by the start of the third period of the junior varsity game. Standing-room spots along the glass were gone with opening puck-drop more than an hour away. Half of Warroad showed up. And every youth player in Hermantown, seemingly, found a way in.

“I heard youth teams were canceling games so they could be here today,” Plante said. 

The notion that the game could be a state championship preview isn’t far-fetched, given that No. 1 Hermantown had one loss and No. 2 Warroad was undefeated entering the showdown. Warroad defeated Roseau, one of the top teams in Class 2A, 5-0 last week and Hermantown (12-1-0) has downed a Murderer’s Row of top-ranked Class 2A and 1A teams.

There were several momentum swings, but the game played out with neither team holding a significant advantage in play. Hermantown failed to score on a 5-on-3 power play. Warroad also didn’t capitalize on a 5-on-3 man advantage.

Although prime scoring chances were rare in a game with all the deliberation of a chess match, both teams had a handful of quality looks, only to be denied by the standout goaltending of Hermantown’s Dane Callaway and Warroad’s Slukynsky.

“Anytime you can come in and play the number one team, you know, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” Warroad coach Jay Hardwick said after the Warriors fell to 15-1-0. “Obviously, Hermantown is very good. And people talk about them a lot. But I think now they can put us in the same sentence.

“Hopefully, we’ll play them again.”

Hermantown's Gavin Blomdahl is mobbed by teammates after scoring in overtime Saturday against Warroad. Photo by Loren Nelson,

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