Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Hermantown 6 Little Falls 3

Top-seeded Hermantown defeated Little Falls 6-3 in the quarterfinals of the Class A state tournament. But it wasn’t the Hawks advantage in talent that helped carry them to the state semifinals so much as it was their advantage in experience.

Heading into the third period, Hermantown trailed Little Falls 3-2, but came up with four unanswered goals in the third period to win the game. The Hawks were led by junior Drew Leblanc, who scored three goals and two assists, including the game-winning goal at 6:05 of the third period and an empty-netter with 12 seconds left to close out the victory and his hat trick.

“ I had a couple bounces go my way and I wanted to make sure I hit the net on the [empty-netter]. My linemate last year, Karl Gilbert, got [a hat trick] last year, and I kind of know what he was feeling. It’s a great feeling,”said Leblanc, referring to the hat trick scored by Gilbert in the first round of the tournament last season against Thief River Falls.

The hat tricks weren’t the only common thread between Hermantown’s first round game this season and last season. Last year, Hermantown also trailed heading into the third period, before coming back to win the game. The experience of knowing they were able to come from behind in the state tournament was a huge boost to the Hawks.

“We’ve come through in the third period this year. They don’t give in and they don’t give up,” said Hermantown head coach Bruce Plante of his team’s comeback. “They were very comfortable”

Little Falls, on the other hand, seemed to struggle under the pressure of the third period. Despite this being the Flyers third consecutive trip the state tournament, the Flyers dressed 8 sophomores that were making their appearance in the state tournament.

“Anytime you get a good team like Hermantown on the ropes, you know that they’re going to battle back. I felt like there was a lot of panicking on our part,” said Little Falls head coach Tony Couture.

Little Falls top forward line showed why they were the highest scoring line in the state. Jared Festler started the scoring at 5:47 of the first period when he stole the puck from a Hermantown defender in the corner and walked in front of the net, where he beat goalie Nathan Hardy for a short-handed goal. Festler also assisted on Little Falls third goal, when he fed the puck to linemate Ben Hanowski, who skated in with Festler on a 2-on-1, but kept the puck and fired it over Hardy’s shoulder to give Little Falls the lead.

In the end, however, Hermantown’s play in the third period was too much for Little Falls to pull off the upset.

Hermantown will advance to the state semifinal on Friday, where they will take on Warroad, who defeated Albert Lea in the last game of the evening.