Hermantown defenseman Ryan Carlson, a towering 6-3 senior nicknamed "Pronger" after similarly oak-like former NHL star Chris Pronger, is counted on for his shutdown abilities and not much else.
Playing tough defense is a big enough assignment, figures Hermantown coach Bruce Plante.
"He's our lead penalty killer and our best defensive defenseman," Plante said about Carlson, who opened the scoring in the No. 2-seeded Hawks' 4-2 victory over No. 3 New Prague in the Class 1A boys' hockey semifinals Friday at Xcel Energy Center. "So we use him a lot in those roles.
"Well, Ryan always has wanted to be on the power play, we just haven't let him."
Carlson stepped out of character and into the spotlight long enough to showcase his mostly untapped offensive abilities. He unveiled some surprising speed and maneuverability — and a deft scoring touch — when he opened the scoring 5 minutes, 9 seconds into the first period after racing into the Trojans' end.
"That was awesome," Carlson said about scoring his fourth goal of the season and providing the spark that led to an eventual 3-0 third-period lead for the No. 2-state ranked Hawks (24-4-2) before No. 6-ranked New Prague (22-5-3) staged a late mini-rally. "I just tried to use my speed to get to the net and get some momentum for my team right away."
Senior Scott Wasbotten added two goals as Hermantown became only the third team in state history to reach the state tournament championship game in five consecutive years.
Hermantown joins Eveleth (1948-52) and International Falls (1962-66) as the only teams to reach five consecutive title games. The Hawks are winless in their four previous championship game appearances.
"Not a lot of teams can do five years in a row," Carlson said. "So it's going to be awesome to play in [number] five."