Moments after his team fell just short of perhaps the greatest upset in Class 1A state tournament history, St. Cloud Cathedral coach Derrick Brown gave credit where it was due. He handed Hermantown forward Ryan Sandelin the game puck.
The Hawks' senior forward earned the gesture, scoring four goals in Hermantown's 6-5 victory, including the winner with 21.3 seconds left in overtime.
"I couldn't have appreciated that more," said Sandelin, a Mr. Hockey finalist with 36 goals this season. "I know it's tough losing in overtime, especially when they played a really good game. For him to consciously grab the puck and give it to me — that means a lot to me."
Sandelin's efforts put defending champion and No. 1 seed Hermantown (28-1-1) in Saturday's championship game for the eighth consecutive season.
"He's a stud," said Brown, whose team nearly became the first to upset the top seed in the semifinals since 2009. "He took over the game when he needed to. He's a bull."
Sandelin completed his hat trick just 55 seconds into third period but Hermantown still trailed 5-4. Hawks coach Bruce Plante challenged Sandelin to raise his game even higher.
"He's the one guy out there on our team who really had the energy going," Plante said. "When he came off I just hugged him and whispered in his ear, 'You've got to do it tonight because some of the guys are playing on flat tires. It's gotta be you.' "
The goal turned the game's tide and put No. 5 seed St. Cloud Cathedral (21-7-2) on its heels.
Sandelin said his overtime goal owed to instruction from his father, Minnesota Duluth head coach Scott Sandelin.
"All the times he's told me to shoot the puck right away, I just shot it and it happened to go in," Sandelin said.