Hermantown junior Zach Kramer picked up a loose puck from teammate Bo Gronseth and completed the breakaway with a goal to give his team a 4-3 double-overtime victory against Breck in Friday’s Class 1A semifinal at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
“Both defenders fell down and I picked the puck up,” Kramer said. “That’s probably the fastest I’ve ever moved my skates. It was pretty important to be faster than the breakaway and get over there.”
Hawks coach Bruce Plante proclaimed it the most important move of his hockey career. Kramer agreed nothing else has compared.
Hermantown was fresh off a missed penalty shot, the first of this year’s state tournament. Lane LeGarde missed wide left.
The Hawks quickly shook off the miss. “Anything positive is a good thing in overtime,” Plante said. “So I don’t think that hurt us.”
Regulation’s final minute also provided each team game-winning opportunities. Hermantown’s Jake Zeleznikar and Chris Benson had clear shots. On the other end of the ice, Breck’s Mark Sharp got one off, but both goaltenders held strong to force extra time.
Body-sacrificing defense helped keep things close. The Hawks’ Joe Muehlbauer and Neal Pionk laid out in front of several of Breck’s shots. The Mustangs’ Derek Wiitala, on his knees in front of the goal, took a puck off his chest to prevent a score.
Hermantown’s defense maintained the edge once Travis Koepke’s second goal tied the game with 11:07 remaining in the third period. Breck led twice in the third period, but couldn’t hold the lead.
“I thought [the saved penalty shot] was going to give us a boost,” Breck’s Matt Colford said. “We worked really hard the whole game and just didn’t get the last bounce.”
Hermantown, three-time runner-ups in the state finals, will get another shot Saturday against St. Thomas Academy. The Cadets have inflicted the Hawks’ last two title game defeats.
Cadets cruise again
Long before St. Thomas Academy exploded for a 11-0 victory against East Grand Forks in Friday’s Class 1A semifinal, the teams were locked in a tight first period battle in which neither team’s coach felt comfortable.
Cadets’ co-head coach Greg Vannelli said his team and East Grand Forks were propelled by adrenaline and were “dead even” in terms of skating. Green Wave head coach Tyler Palmiscno wasn’t so sure.
“We were under pressure,” Palmiscno said. “I don’t know if anything was really working well for us but the longer the game stayed close the better chance we had.”
St. Thomas Academy’s talented sophomore Tommy Novak dashed the Green Wave’s dreams by giving the Cadets a 2-0 lead with one minute and 22 seconds remaining in the first period.
“It’s fun to watch Tommy and see the plays he can make,” Cadets senior defenseman Wyatt Schmidt said.
Said Palmiscno: “It wasn’t good to give up a goal there and we weren’t ready when the puck was dropped in the second period.”
St. Thomas Academy, widely considered the state’s best team regardless of class, crushed the Green Wave with six goals in the second period. Matt Perry and Schmidt each scored twice, with Schmidt adding two more goals in the third period.
“We didn’t expect that but they’re good and we weren’t,” Palmiscno said. Asked if a disparity in talent or a sense of intimidation doomed his team, Palmiscno replied, “All of the above.”
Novak, Matt Perry and Gunnar Regan scored twice. Goaltender David Zevnik stopped all 12 Green Wave shots faced before leaving the game in the third period.
The St. Thomas Academy victory sets up a third consecutive championship game meeting with Hermantown. The puck drops at noon on Saturday.
“We’ve been preparing all year for this game,” Regan said. “We’re ready to go.”
DAVID La VAQUE
DAVID La VAQUE