Tyler Watkins scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period, to lead Hermantown to a 4-3 victory over Duluth Marshall in the Hilltopper Holiday Classic high school hockey championship game Friday afternoon at Mars Lakeview Arena.
Elliott Peterson and Darian Gotz scored back-to-back shorthanded goals in the second period for the top-ranked, Class 1A Hawks, who captured their fourth straight Hilltopper title.
Hermantown (5-3-2) earlier defeated Roseville 4-0 and Wayzata 3-2 in the eight-team tourney.
“We’re starting to jell, as guys figure out their roles on the team and continue to buy into what we’re trying to do,” said first-year Hawks coach Pat Andrews. “We’ve been playing really well, and just haven’t always gotten the results we wanted, especially early on. The scoring is starting to come around, when we’ve been getting the goals at the key moments. That’s usually the last thing to come, so hopefully we’re figuring it out.
The Hawks have won four straight games — a strong response after starting the season 1-2 with a 6-4 road victory at Lakeville South sandwiched between losses against 2A powers Wayzata (5-3) and Eden Prairie (5-4)
“I was really impressed with how our guys played through the tough early-season season schedule,” said Andrews, a former Hawks assistant who has replaced legendary coach Bruce Plante, who retired after last season. “The players learned a lot about themselves playing in four straight overtime games, against top competition. There were a lot of positives: we fought back from deficits, we gave up some leads and learned some lessons. Hopefully it will bode well for us moving forward.”
Watkins has assumed the Hawks’ scoring lead with 21 points (6 goals), and followed by linemates Jacob Herter (19 points) and super-sophomore Blake Biondi (18), who has a team-high nine goals and had two goals and an assist in the Wayzata victory Thursday night.
“Tyler has played outstanding,” said Andrews. “What’s really cool about it is that everyone knows Tyler is a great goal-scorer, with a Division I shot, but he’s actually been making unbelievable plays. He’s leading the team in assists.”
Andrews said Biondi, a Bulldogs’ recruit and one of the state’s elite young players, has been “simply outstanding.”
“I knew he was good, but I didn’t expect that he would instantly impact our team as a first-line sophomore,” Andrews said of Biondi.
Gotz, a junior who bench presses Volkswagons during off-season workouts, is the team’s best defenseman.
“Darian is playing at another level, while logging so much icetime for us,” Andrews said.
Burly senior power forward Brandon Schmidt, junior defenseman Elliott Peterson and junior goaltender Cole Manahan have “really stepped up their games,” said Andrews.
Hermantown will be the heavy favorite in the Section 7A tournament later this season, with Greenway, Virginia and possibly Duluth Denfeld contending.
“We’re playing the toughest regular-season schedule we can to be the best team we can be in February,” said Andrews. “There’s definitely some good competition in 7A and in the state, a lot of parity this year.”
The two-time defending 1A state champion Hawks begin a three-game homestand next Friday against St. Cloud Cathedral.
Hawks’ Remaining Regular-Season Games
Friday, Jan. 5 — St. Cloud Cathedral, 7:30 PM
Tuesday, Jan. 9 — Grand Rapids, 7:30 PM
Thursday, Jan. 11 — Duluth Denfeld, 7:30 PM
Saturday, Jan. 13 — at Minnetonka, 7:00 PM
Tuesday, Jan. 16 — at Greenway, 7:30 PM
Saturday, Jan. 20 — STMA, 3:15 PM
Tuesday, Jan. 23 — Hibbing/Chisholm, 7:30 PM
Thursday, Jan. 25 — Proctor, 7:30 PM
Tuesday, Jan. 30 — at Virginia, 7:30 PM
Thursday, Feb. 1 — Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 7:30 PM
Saturday, Feb. 3 — Mahtomedi, 3:15 PM
Monday, Feb. 5 — Superior, 7:30 PM
Friday, Feb. 9 — Eveleth-Gilbert, 7:30 PM
Saturday, Feb. 10 — Bemidji, 3:15 PM
Thursday, Feb. 15 — at Grand Rapids, 7:30 PM
Note: Home games listed in boldface
. . .
Duluth Denfeld rallied from a 2-0 first-period deficit to outlast Owatonna 6-3 in the Heritage Classic consolation championship game Friday afternoon at Essentia Duluth Heritage Center.
Ian Dahl, Ryan Lemker, Brady Bastyr, Zachary DeCaro, Payton Budisalovich and Nathan Johnson all scored goals for the Hunters, who out-shot the Huskies 32-23.
Budisalovich leads Denfeld in scoring with 16 points (3 goals). Next are Jacob Eskola (14 points, team-high 7 goals), and Brady Bastyr and Jacob Marciniak have 11 points apiece.
Ben Lafont and Shawn Easty are alternating in goal.
Denfeld, which has won two straight, is 5-9-0 overall.
The Hunters will play host to Proctor in a Lake Superior Conference game next Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Essentia.