Senior team scoring leader Tyler Watkins scored off a centering pass from linemate Jacob Herter with 14 seconds remaining in the second overtime to lead top-ranked Hermantown past No. 3-ranked Greenway 5-4 in the Class 1A, Section 7 boys hockey championship game Wednesday night at Amsoil Arena.
The two-time defending 1A state champion Hawks rallied from a 3-1 third period deficit to capture their ninth straight Section 7 championship. Hermantown (20-6-2) will seek a state championship three-peat starting Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.
First-year Hawks coach Patrick Andrews’ post-game quotes:
“A game like this says it all, doesn’t it? Hats off to Greenway, and Coach Clafton does such a fabulous job with them. Five years ago they almost didn’t have a team, and they’ve clawed their way up. No one deserved to lose this game. That’s what it boils down to. It’s unfortunate someone had to lose. I said last week, if we’re the No. 1 team in the state, they’re No. 2. They just proved that, and it’s unfortunate that they don’t get to advance to the state tourney, too. They’re a state tourney-quality team. I’m just so proud of our guys. They played unbelievable. They had every chance to quit. They could have quit. They go into the third period down by a goal, after playing perhaps the worst we’ve played there in the second period. Then, they scored early in the third period, and we still don’t have any momentum. With about eight minutes left in regulation, Watty scored to get us going. He was the best player on the rink from that point on.
“Greenway took away our time and space. I thought we played tight, our guys were nervous, and we didn’t handle the pressure well. Greenway handled the pressure great, right from the beginning they owned us the first five to six minutes. We got a tv timeout, and by the end of the first period I thought we were playing pretty well. And in the second period we played afraid to lose, the same way we did before Christmas. So in between the second and third period we talked about it. I told them, ‘You guys remind me of the team I saw before Christmas, and that’s not who we are.’
“I love these guys. I’ve been with some of these guys for five years, guys like Watty since bantams. I’ve had all of them in bantams, but four to five years is a long time to get to know these special kids. I’m proud of him.
“Tyler is our leader, and showed me that he’s one of the best players in the state, again. He did not have a good start tonight, and he would tell you that. He did not have a good first period, and not a very good second, and in the third period it was like a flip switched. It was like he was hit with the thought that we might lose, and it was like, ‘We’re not going to lose.’ He got us started with that first goal, and then he got an assist on the game-tying goal which was one of the prettiest goals I’ve seen. He’s been unbelievable for us.
“And, how good was (goalie) Cole Manahan? That overtime wasn’t overtime — that was insane. It was three-on-one one way, three-n-one the other way. Your heart stops about a hundred times. He’s played so well for us, and he did tonight. Those goals he let in were not his fault. They were just plays. He made a few saves in overtime that saves our lives.
“I felt some pressure, personally. I we would have lost tonight, would it have changed all the success we’ve had? We’ve played great this season, and our top guys have got to shine. Our role players have played great. I’m proud of our team, and if we would have lost in overtime, it wouldn’t have changed that. But to be able to do this, being able to go to state nine years in a row, and the one thing that has changed is the head coach, right? If you don’t go, there’s pressure there. Absolutely.”