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Howie: Hawks ready to begin run for state championship


Hermantown boys hockey doesn’t measure success by its won-loss record during the regular season. The stated goal is to play a highly-competitive regular season schedule against many of Minnesota’s Class 2A state-ranked teams, which hopefully prepares the Hawks well for the Section 7A playoffs and to make a possible run at a Class 1A state championship.

It's a scheduling strategy that has worked well for the Hawks throughout the years.

Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews said his club is in a good spot physically and mentally ahead of Tuesday’s final regular season game at Grand Rapids (14-10-0, 6-0-0 for 10 points in the Lake Superior Conference), with the conference championship on the line and the 7A tournament set to begin with play-in games Saturday. The Class 1A/No. 2-ranked Hawks are 14-8-2, 4-0-1 (9 points) in the LSC.

“The Grand Rapids game will be a fun one, (and) will have all the intensity of a playoff game without the consequences,” said Andrews. “It’s a great dress rehearsal for both teams heading into the section playoffs.”

Playing the Thunderhawks, on the road, is a good regular season-ending tune-up for the Hawks, who are coming off a resounding 6-1 victory over Class 2A Chaska at historic Hermantown Arena last Saturday and following a 6-3 loss at Class 2A/No. 5-ranked Benilde-St. Margaret’s on Friday night.

“Last week was a good one for us, and we played a very competitive game at BSM,” said Andrews on Monday. “The score ended up the wrong way for us but the effort was there. The Red Knights were the best team we have seen so far this season, and I was proud of how our guys handled their forecheck and speed.”

The win over Chaska was a positive sign and a nice way to celebrate the seniors class of 2024, Andrews said.

“We got better and better as the game went on Saturday, which is a testament to the boys' compete and conditioning as we didn't get home until the early hours on Saturday morning,” Andrews added. “It was good to score some goals and gain confidence heading into a tough game at Grand Rapids to end the season.” 

Hermantown (14-8-2) is poised to defend its Section 7A title starting next week, with Cloquet-Esko-Carlton a likely opponent in the final at Amsoil Arena.

Senior goaltender Dane Callaway backstops the defensive-minded Hawks, who feature on defense super-sophomore A.J. Francisco, seniors Drew Nelson and Weston Bohlman, and junior Henry Peterson, a rising Division I prospect.

Hermantown mostly rolls three lines, spotting a fourth line on occasionally, and is led up front by burly junior River Freeman, who has a team-high 15 goals and 30 points, and senior William Esterbrooks (team-high 31 points). Francisco also double shifts at forward.