by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It’s been a stellar three-year run for the Rogers boys hockey team, but one giant barrier known as the Hermantown Hawks has stopped the Royals short of the ultimate goal each year.
Hermantown, at 28-0 the state’s lone unbeaten hockey team, pummeled the Royals 4-0 in the Section 5A finals on Friday evening at Duluth’s Heritage Center, and will be the favorite at “state” next week.
Rogers has gone 53-25-7 the last three years with three conference titles and a 5-0 mark in section games not against Hermantown. But they are 0-5 against the Hawks in that span, outscored 21-1, and had their season ended by the Hawks all three years, including the last two in the finals.
The Royals (20-7-1) had high hopes for an upset Saturday because gave Hermantown a stern battle last Dec. 17 at home, leading 1-0 after two periods before UM-Duluth recruit Jared Thomas pulled it out with two third-period goals for the Hawks.
But with “state” on the line Saturday, Hermantown once again showed who’s boss.
Zach Hnath’s buzzer-beating goal in the December game wound up being the only one Rogers scored against the perennial powers in those three years, even though Rogers can usually score, averaging 4.0 goals per game this year.
The Hawks defensive crew of Jared Kolquist, Brian LeBlanc, Owen Stauber and Jake Zeleznikar, and goalie Matt Mensinger (27 saves) frustrated the Royals just like they’ve been doing to everyone else lately. The Hawks have given up one goal in their last seven games.
“We’re one of the top defensive teams in the state — there’s no question about that,” Mensinger told the Duluth News Tribune. “Our defensemen are great, our forwards come back to play defense and all-around we are a great defensive team.”
The Hawks got their goals with slick passing and hard slashing to the net. Owen Stauber put them on the board just 90 seconds, beating Rogers goalie Robby Vukelich with a slap shot from the top of the point , and Andrew Mattson made it 2-0 on a power play at 10:41. The lead was quickly expanded to 4-0 early in the second period as Jeremy Amys scored at 2:21 and Jared Kolquist at 5:10.
Oddly Hermantown had just a 24-22 edge in shots while building a 4-0 lead the first two periods, and was unable to add to the lead while peppering Rogers 22-5 in the third period. On power plays, Rogers was 0-for-4 and Hermantown 1-for-5.