As Hermantown’s domination of Class 1A competition extends to historic levels, so too have the cries for the Hawks to move up to Class 2A.
“I’ve been getting pounded this year,” said coach Bruce Plante, who guided Hermantown to its second state championship last season and on Wednesday led the Hawks to a 3-2 overtime victory over Luverne in the state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. “There’s even a petition going around.”
Hermantown’s players and coaches have been pelted by jeers and been called out by an opposing coach on social media. An online petition with the headline “Hermantown High School Hockey To Be Moved to 7AA” had, as of Wednesday night, 693 supporters.
Hermantown had until midnight Monday to submit paperwork to the Minnesota State High School League if it wanted to move up to Class 2A for the next two-year cycle. Reached on Monday afternoon, Hermantown activities director Beth Clark wouldn’t say what the Hawks were going to do. Plante said over the weekend, “We are not going to go up, I don’t believe.”
This season Hermantown extended its regular-season unbeaten streak against Class 1A competition to 56 games and reached the state tournament for an unprecedented (in Class 1A) eighth consecutive year. The Hawks have reached the past seven state title games. After a late-season 8-1 Hawks victory in Hibbing, Bluejackets fans yelled at Hermantown players and coaches as they left the ice, saying the Hawks should be playing in Class 2A.
Scott Pionk, who has had two of his sons play for Hermantown and has another serving as a student manager this year, doesn’t disagree.
“The program is clearly a double-A program, and it’s clearly time to move up,” he said, adding that he believes his opinion is in the minority, estimating that two-thirds to 75 percent of parents involved in the program, “would just as soon play single A.”
Plante said typically parents of the youngest players in the program, Mites and Squirts, are all for the idea of moving into the bigger classification.
“Then, when their kids get to be Bantams they don’t want to move up anymore,” Plante said. “They start thinking the state tournament looks like a pretty fun thing to do.”
Plante said he’s not bothered by the catcalls and criticism aimed at him. He said he wouldn’t even be against a move to the big-school classification if that is what the majority involved in the program wanted.
“In the past I have always felt we were a single-A team,” he said. “These last two teams were definitely double-A teams.”
Plante, however, was taken aback when Orono boys’ hockey coach Mark Parrish weighed in on the issue, saying Plante is, “scared he’ll actually have to coach instead of easily defeating weaker programs at A level.”
“I really have no idea what his beef is with me,” Plante said.