State Class A boys hockey: Hermantown tips Luverne, 6-3
ST. PAUL — The Hermantown Hawks scored a goal in the first 27 seconds of their state Class A boys hockey opener with Luverne Wednesday afternoon and held on for a 6-3 victory at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
The powerful Hawks, seeded No. 2 in the tournament, never trailed the unseeded Cardinals. But they didn’t run away from the underdog Section 3A champs, either.
“I’m just really proud of the boys. We knew when we were going in that we were playing a team that was one of the best teams in Minnesota, and we went toe to toe with them,” said Luverne head coach Derrick Brown, whose team brought a 27-0-1 record against a 22-4-2 Hermantown that has been a runner-up in the state tourney for the past four years.
This year marks Luverne’s first time at the state tourney.
Teams from southwest Minnesota are rarely expected to contend with their hockey-rich cousins from the north, but the Cardinals gave the Hawks a stiff test nonetheless. A first period power play goal from Luverne senior forward Gunnar Olson (assisted by Jaxon Nelson and Chaz Smedsrud) tied the game at 1-1 at the 9:01 mark before Hermantown scored twice more for a 3-1 lead.
Olson scored his second goal of the game at the 7:04 mark of the second period to cut the margin to 3-2 — another power play goal with assists this time from Smedsrud and Toby Sengvongxay.
Hermantown tallied the next two goals for a 5-2 lead before Luverne answered again with an even strength goal from junior Andrew Verhey at the 11:54 mark of the third period to cut the margin to 5-3. Hermantown got extra insurance with a goal by Nate Pionk five minutes later.
Ryan Kero, Tanner Kimball, Cole Koepke, Luke Jacques and Kyle Amundson scored the other goals for Hermantown, which advances to play New Prague today at 11 a.m. in the Class A semifinals. Luverne moves into the consolation bracket today with a 10 a.m. game at Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota against Chisago Lakes Area, which lost its first round contest with New Prague 5-2.
“We had a little bit of the jitters and they came right out and buried one,” Brown said of the first minute of play Wednesday.
But then came Olson’s first goal and the jitters were gone.
“Once we scored our first goal in the power play, that settled us down,” Brown explained.
Luverne’s goalie, senior Kendall Meyer, was credited with playing an outstanding game. He made 44 saves in the contest as Luverne was out-shot 15-8 in the first period, 13-9 in the second and 22-11 in the third.
“The unfortunate thing was, we had a lot of chances that we didn’t bury today. We left a lot of goals on the ice,” Brown said, pointing out that LHS shots hit a few posts and others missed some open corners.
Luverne converted two of its three power plays Wednesday while Hermantown was zero for two. The Section 3A champs racked up four minutes of penalties on two infractions while Hermantown had six minutes on three infractions.
Afterward, Brown described Chisago Lakes Area as a team somewhat similar to Luverne, built on speed. Since today’s venue, Mariucci Arena, is Olympic-sized, it forces both teams to cover more ground. Chisago Lakes Area has some “shifty” players, Brown said, adding to the Cardinals’ defensive challenges.
Despite the fact that the Cardinals are now in the consolation bracket, however, Brown said the team is determined to play hard and win at the state level.
“We want to take the next step. And to do that we have to win the next game up here,” he said.
Luverne 1 1 1 — 3
Hermantown 2 2 2 — 6