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Hermantown boys hockey holds off Mahtomedi comeback in Class 1A semifinals

The Hawks won in overtime after the Zephyrs came back from 4-0 and 5-2 deficits

ST. PAUL — The No. 1-seed Hermantown Hawks (20-8-2) defeated the No. 4-seed Mahtomedi Zephyrs (18-12-0) 7-6 in overtime in the Class 1A MSHSL boys hockey semifinals on Friday at Xcel Energy Center.

Three hundred and sixty-four days before Friday’s game, Mahtomedi defeated Hermantown 2-1 in the 2023 Class 1A semifinals, and Hermantown’s title dreams were dashed.

“For me, it was personal for the boys last year,” Hermantown senior Weston Bohlman said. "Those guys were my best friends, and seeing them after that loss hit me hard. We had the date, March 9, on our whiteboard all year.”

March 9 is the date of Saturday’s Class 1A championship game, which the Hawks reached despite Mahtomedi scoring two goals in the final three minutes—both with a 6-on-5 advantage.

“I think what you saw today was two championship hockey teams, and the last two defending champs, literally slugging each other in the face like it was a Rocky movie,” Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews said. “It was just haymaker after haymaker after haymaker until somebody got knocked out. That’s what it felt like to me.”

The Hawks threw the first four haymakers. They scored four goals in the first period for a 4-0 lead at the first intermission. Mahtomedi head coach Jeff Poeschl had a simple message for his team.

“We have a choice in front of us,” Poeschl said. “We can either roll over and die — pack up our stuff and go —or we can make a decision to make a game of it. I was really proud of the way my guys responded, but it was a choice.”

Mahtomedi’s Sam Harris got the Zephyrs on the board, and Jake Hodd-Chlebeck scored on the power play two minutes later.

“Getting that first one was huge, and that sparked the second one and we were rolling. We had momentum with us, and we just kept going from there,” Cole Swanson said.

Hermantown was able to keep one step ahead of the Zephyrs for much of the game. Shortly after Mahtomedi scored its first two goals, AJ Francisco scored his second goal of the game for a 5-2 lead.

Mahtomedi’s Patrick Egan scored in the final minute of the second period, so the Hawks had a 5-3 lead entering the third period. Wyatt Tarnowski scored early in the third period to cut the deficit to one, but once again Hermantown went back up by two goals with Francisco’s third goal of the game.

Two minutes remained in the third period and the Hawks had a 6-4 lead. Mahtomedi pulled its goalie, and Sam Harris scored to cut the lead to one on the 6-on-5, and moments later, Max Strecker tied the game in the final minute on another 6-on-5.

“To be able to score two goals with your goaltender pulled late shows a tremendous amount of heart and belief that, Ok, we can do this,” Poeschl said.

It’s just a 3-minute break before the first overtime, but Andrews was confident in his team to recover from Mahtomedi’s comeback.

“It was 365 days in the making since they broke our heart,” Andrews said. “So I’m so damn proud of these guys for sticking with it. They could’ve quit. I knew once that thing went to overtime, and we got out of that crappy third period, I knew we were going to win.”

In overtime, Hermantown forced a turnover at Mahtomedi’s blue-line. Francisco got the puck and passed it to an open River Freeman, who one-timed it into the net for the win.

“Friancisco picked it up, and I saw it and I called for it, and I did my job and [Francisco] did his,” Freeman said.

The Hawks will play No. 3-seed St. Cloud Cathedral in the Class 1A state championship game on Saturday at 12 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center with an opportunity to complete the year-long mission.

“To hear them talk about last year, you get emotional,” Andrews said. “These guys care about each other so much. They’re such a tight-knit group.”

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- Jack Butler | | @Butler917