Hermantown 4, Thief River Falls 3 (March 8, 2006)

Here is a “news story” I wrote for my Media Writing class last semester; I thought I would share it. I had the privilege to play in the 2006 boys state high school hockey tournament, and I wrote a 100% factual news article based on my experience, interviews, observations, etc. I misplaced the final draft, but this one is very close to my final. Enjoy!

Hawks prevail after improbable third period

Jack Tuthill

ST. PAUL – I doubt that it mattered a great deal to the Prowlers of Thief River Falls that this meeting with Hermantown was eight goals closer than their previous contest, because the end result was the same.

On December 29, 2005 the Hawks of Hermantown embarrassed the Prowlers in front of their home crowd 9-0—easily the worst loss of the season for Thief River Falls. Wednesday evening’s class A Minnesota state high school hockey tournament quarter-final certainly carried more importance, for both teams, and the outcome was a hard fought, nail-biting, instant classic for high school hockey fans all across this great state.

The Hawks once again prevailed however, knocking off the Prowlers 4-3 in Wednesday’s fourth and final quarter-final contest, thanks to the heroics of Hermantown senior winger Karl Gilbert, who recorded three straight third period goals to end the Prowlers’ season.

It was not an easy victory for the now 26-3 Hawks as they trailed Thief River Falls 3-1 heading into the third period. “They started jumping on us in the first couple of periods there, but we finally realized that if we play our game and keep moving our feet we should come out on top of this one—and we did,” Gilbert explained.

Gilbert was non-existent in the first two periods, but he eventually led the charge in route to demoralizing the experienced Prowlers. “I didn’t think I was moving my feet, not doing the simple things,” he said. “Once we got on that right mindset we started rolling—it just seems like it comes naturally for me.”

Thief River Falls’ dynamic and talented first line combined for 150 points coming into the tournament, and they struck first at 5:23 of the first period when Matt Nordhagen stuffed his 18th goal of the season by Hawks junior goaltender Nathan Hardy.

After some nifty passing by Michael Forney and Robby Philipp, a path was opened for Nordhagen, who circled around the back of the net and shoved the puck between the legs of Hardy. It took two pokes, but he eventually got the better of Hardy.

Forney, Philipp and Nordhagen carried this Prowlers squad all season long. “I feel like our line sets the tempo to how we are going to play—the other lines look for us to be leaders,” Philipp said. “We know each other on the ice really well. I always know where Nordhagen or Forney will be.”

The Hawks answered promptly one minute and 17 seconds later with a breakaway goal from Senior winger Buddy Hernesman, the goal resulted from a picture perfect breakout. Centerman Kyle Thompson won the draw back to defenseman Paul Knowles, who went cross-ice to winger Dave Chiarello sending Hernesman in all alone on Prowlers senior goaltender Brady McIntyre. Hernesman’s wrist-shot beat McIntyre high blocker-side and sent the Hermantown faithful into pandemonium.

The Prowlers broke the tie late in the first period with a fluky goal from Junior defenseman Michael Benedict. After some nice cycling from forwards Lucas Genereux and Cody Bottom, the puck ended up on Benedict’s stick. Without hesitation Benedict hastily fired the puck toward Hardy. The puck stung Hardy in the shoulder, bounced into the air and fell behind him and into the goal—it was Benedict’s 10th goal of the season.

Thief River Falls carried a 2-1 lead into the second period—a much different story in comparison to late December’s game—yet Prowlers head coach Scott Berglund was still subdued. “I thought we were okay, we are capable of playing much better hockey,” he said. “Defensively we gave up too many unforced turnovers in our own zone, and that was probably nerves, toward the end of the period our forecheck started going and our big forwards started cycling the puck.”

The Prowlers added to their lead with 9:58 left in the second period thanks to a power-play goal from Nordhagen, who tipped home a Benedict wrist shot. Hardy had difficulties finding the shot thanks to a terrific screen from junior center Corey Horien, and the puck found a home in the back of the net after sneaking between Hardy’s legs.

Minutes earlier Thief River Falls lost senior captain and Mr. Hockey finalist, an award given to Minnesota’s best high school hockey player, Michael Forney for the rest of the game from a shoulder separation. Forney’s absence did not seem to alarm the Prowlers as they carried a sturdy two goal lead into the third period.

Experienced and stern Hermantown head coach Bruce Plante fleetingly described his message to his team in the locker room before the start of the third period, “Stay positive, keep working, stay calm and work your butt off—that is all you can really do.”

Thief River Falls maintained its two-goal lead until Karl Gilbert tightened things with his 33rd goal of the season with 9:54 left in the third. After some hard work from his line-mates, senior Ryan Schmidt and sophomore Drew LeBlanc, Gilbert slipped by two defenders and snapped a shot between McIntyre’s legs.

The Hawks tied the game two minutes and 22 seconds later when Gilbert’s backhand slap beat a sprawling McIntyre, which sent the building into a frenzy. What ensued was the best hockey of the evening as the Hawks and Prowlers went blow-for-blow.

After numerous scoring opportunities for both teams, the game ventured into its final minute—as well as its dramatic conclusion—where a gassed Thief River Falls unit was taken advantage of by the fresh legs of Schmidt, LeBlanc and Gilbert.

Gilbert received a pass from LeBlanc, crashed the net and quickly snapped a shot that beat McIntyre short-side for his third straight goal of the period—the clincher for the hawks. “I busted into the net and put it in,” Gilbert said. “We caught them on their heels a little bit. It was just so exciting. It was one of the best moments of my hockey career.”

The game ended on an odd clock malfunction issue that put the Hawks’ celebration on hold, but the top line for Hermantown doomed the Prowlers in the end. “That line has been our scoring line all season,” Plante said. “It has been the biggest part of our game.”

Prowlers’ coach Scott Berglund seemed proud of his senior-laden squad. “Obviously a very disappointing outcome, but we have nothing to be ashamed of,” he said. “It was a very good hockey game. We can feel good about ourselves. They scored on the chances they had in the third, and we did not. I thought that was the difference.”

Not having Forney, the Prowlers’ leading scorer, for half of the game undoubtedly played a role in the Prowlers’ defeat. “That put a big cramp in things. It hurt us not having him in the third period,” Berglund said. “If we had him I think we would have won the game.”

Senior captain Robby Philipp managed to find positives in his trip to St. Paul. “Beating Warroad and making it to the state tournament is something that can not be taken away,” he said. “It was something special, and I could not have picked a better group of guys.”

This was Thief River Falls’ first trip to the boys state high school hockey tournament since 1965—it had been 41 long years for Prowlers hockey fans. The once-storied program, which has two state championships to their name, has been starving for a shot at glory.

They got that chance after beating the defending state champion Warroad Warriors on their home ice in four overtimes last Thursday, the longest game in Thief River Falls’ history, and easily one of the greatest games Section 8A fans have seen in some time.

Forney scored the game-winning goal with 14:20 left in the fourth overtime. “I have never played in a game like that,” Forney said. “It was unreal.”

Hermantown, meanwhile, advanced after a nail-biter of their own as they downed hated rival Hibbing 4-3 with two third period goals, yet another comeback victory for the Hawks.

Despite the dramatic comeback victory, Karl Gilbert knows the Hawks can not look past a very skilled St. Thomas Academy squad on Friday. “This was just another step on our mission,” Gilbert said. “Our goal is the state championship. This is just one step closer to getting to it.”

Both teams set school records in wins entering this game—the Prowlers remain at 21, while the Hawks improved their total to 26. Hermantown has been extremely hot as of late—winning 16 out of their last 17 games.

The Prowlers are off to the consolation bracket where they will face the Orono Spartans. Orono also lost a third period lead on Wednesday night to St. Thomas Academy in a demoralizing 3-2 overtime defeat.

The attendance for last night’s barn-burner was 7,112, which is now the new record for a Wednesday evening session at the high school state hockey tournament—previously set in 1998 with 6,109. That is quite the feat considering this is the 62nd edition of the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament.


One response to “Hermantown 4, Thief River Falls 3 (March 8, 2006)

  1. Pingback: Bootcamp2013: An unforgettable, thought-provoking, exhausting, educational trip worth taking | Jack in the Box·

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