By Howie Hanson
First-year Hermantown high school boys hockey head coach Patrick Andrews says his players prefer to battle against Minnesota’s large- and small-school elite teams and marquee players every season.
The Hawks will get their chance to do so again in 2017-18 — as the defending Minnesota Class 1A champions face 2A No. 5-ranked Minnetonka, No. 7 Wayzata, No. 13 Cloquet, No. 15 Grand Rapids and No. 16 St. Michael-Albertville, and 1A No. 3 St. Cloud Cathedral and No. 5 Mahtomedi.
Hermantown begins official preseason workouts Monday ranked first in Minnesota 1A, according to the HowieHanson.com.
Hermantown’s first five games will be especially telling. The Hawks will open Dec. 1 against Wayzata at home, before visiting traditional 2A powers Lakeville South, Eden Prairie and Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
“Teams are always gunning for us, and going on six or seven years now,” said Andrews, a former top assistant who replaces longtime Hawks coach Bruce Plante, who retired. “We get everyone’s best game, and it’s actually fun to be that team.”
Leading the Hawks compete-back this season will be senior forwards Tyler Watkins and Jake Herter, junior defenseman Darian Gotz and super-sophomore forward Blake Biondi, who verbally committed to the Bulldogs earlier this week.
“Watkins is extremely dangerous offensively, and boasts good speed, a very heavy shot and good quicks,” said Andrews. “Herter, who has great hockey sense with good hands and vision, had a strong Elite fall league. Gotz is a coach’s dream – a hard-nosed, gritty defender who plays physical and with an edge. Biondi has tremendous potential to be an elite high school player, and is unarguably one of the top three sophomores in the state.”
Senior Brandon Schmidt and juniors Brady Baker and Justin Thomas are rock-star forwards also with big upsides.
“Schmidt was dinged up twice last season, at a time when he was playing on the first line with (Ryan) Sandelin and (Jesse) Jacques,” said Andrews. “He’s a guy who could explode for a big season.”
The Hawks are solid on D — and led by Gotz, senior Trent Madill, and juniors Elliott Peterson and Sam High.
However, goaltending is a 72-point sized question mark, with senior Austin Hess or junior Cole Manahan both lacking varsity experience.
“You never want a question mark in goal, but one or both of our goalies will step up,” Andrews said.
Hermantown and Greenway are best bets to meet in the Section 7A final.
“The (Ben) Troumbly and (Christian) Miller kids (both sophomores and St. Cloud State commits) are forces, and the word is Greenway has added a foreign exchange goaltender from Sweden,” Andrews said.
The Hawks will host preseason scrimmage sessions against Mahtomedi, Champlin Park and Greenway on Saturday, Nov. 18, and against Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Eastridge and Totino Grace on Saturday, Nov. 25.
The annual Lake Superior Conference Jamboree is Monday, Nov. 27 in Duluth, when the Hawks will face Cloquet, Duluth Marshall and Duluth Denfeld.
“We’re itching to get going Monday,” Andrews said Wednesday night. “Our hockey community expects nothing less than us winning the state championship. We have the horses to make another strong run this season.”
2017-18 Hawks Schedule
Friday, Dec. 1 – Wayzata
Saturday, Dec. 2 – at Lakeville South
Friday, Dec. 8 – at Eden Prairie
Saturday, Dec. 9 – at Benilde-St. Margaret’s
Tuesday, Dec. 12 – at Duluth Marshall
Saturday, Dec. 16 – New Prague
Friday, Dec. 22 – Thief River Falls
Friday, Jan. 5 – St. Cloud Cathedral
Tuesday, Jan. 9 – Grand Rapids
Thursday, Jan. 11 – Duluth Denfeld
Saturday, Jan. 13 – at Minnetonka
Tuesday, Jan. 16 – at Greenway
Saturday, Jan. 20 – St. Michael-Albertville
Tuesday, Jan. 23 – Hibbing
Thursday, Jan. 25 – Proctor
Tuesday, Jan. 30 – at Virginia
Thursday, Feb. 1 – Cloquet
Saturday, Feb. 3 – Mahtomedi
Monday, Feb. 5 – Superior
Friday, Feb. 9 – Eveleth-Gilbert
Saturday, Feb. 10 – Bemidji
Thursday, Feb. 15 – at Grand Rapids
HowieHanson.com Minnesota Class 1A Preseason Rankings
3. St. Cloud Cathedral
6. East Grand Forks
7. Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake
8. St. Paul Academy