ST. PAUL — Hermantown’s Wyatt Carlson was the ripe old age of 3 when he tossed on his first pair of skates. Hawks defenseman Drew Nelson got his start around that age, too, although allowed he might have started to skate a bit late for a Hermantown kid: age 4.
That’s how it works in the hockey-crazed west Duluth suburb. Start early, hit the outdoor rinks adjacent to the Hermantown Arena hard, look up to those heroes playing varsity and someday toss on the blue and gold for yourself.
“Every day after school I’ll go to the rink and see a bunch of kids out there, just like I was when I was a little kid,” said Drew Nelson, a junior defenseman who scored twice — doubling his season goal output — in Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Orono in the third-place game.
“They are really excited to see us.”
Nelson said he grew up idolizing former Hawks stars such as Ryan Sandelin and Dylan Samberg.
“Dylan Samberg was probably my favorite player back in the day,” Nelson said about the current Winnipeg Jets defenseman. “He’s a really nice guy. I look up to him a lot.”
Nelson goals and Garron Opsahl’s 15-save shutout helped propel No. 2-1A Hermantown (27-3-1) to the victory that included a lengthy stretch — including the entire second period — during which No. 4-1A Orono (24-7-0) failed to register a shot on goal.
Saturday’s victory continued Hermantown’s decade’s worth of state tournament success. The Hawks have finished third or better in the state 11 times in the last 13 seasons.
“I love our program,” sixth-year Hermantown coach Pat Andrews said. “From top to bottom, all the way from Ice Mites to what I get to do. I love going to the rink. I love coming outside in the winter and the outdoor rinks are going. I love the vibe. I love the community. They support us so well. I think it all just feeds off each other.”
Added Nelson: "Everyone has bought in. Everyone is willing to play a couple years of JV just to play a year of varsity. So I think that is really special."
Orono’s Bradley Walker gets ready for a face-off against Hermantown during Saturday's state Class 1A third-place game. The Spartans fell to the Hawks 2-0 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Photo by Jeff Lawler, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com