Spring Lake Park ran a gantletof big-school competition during the regular season, playing 17 Class 2A opponents in all.
Not even that could prepare the Panthers for a Hermantown team senior captain Jacob Nystrom described as "phenomenal."
"They are just as skilled, they work just as hard as [big-school powers such as Elk River and Blaine]," Nystrom said about the Hawks, state runners-up the past five seasons, who sailed to an 8-0 victory. "Their defense was phenomenal. They blocked shots, they took the body, they made us go wide."
Top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Hermantown (26-2-1) allowed only 10 shots while getting a hat trick each from the dynamic top-line forward tandem of seniors Ryan Kero and Nate Pionk. In a dizzying display of speed and playmaking, the Hawks captains set each other up for all six of their goals, including three in the first period as the Hawks raced to a 3-0 lead over the Panthers (16-12-1).
"They are very special players, these two guys," Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said about Kero and Pionk, the Hawks' leading scorers with 72 and 69 points, respectively. "These guys have been great all year."
Kero scored the opening goal on a feed from Pionk (of course) to punctuate a 4-on-1 rush just 3:15 into the first period. The rest of the game mostly stuck to that script, with goals by defensemen Wyatt Aamodt and Ryan Sandelin serving as the exceptions.