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Hawks Spoil Cardinal Debut

Nate Pionk scores twice, leads Hermantown over Luverne and
into state semifinals.

Hermantown goalie Adam Smith denies Luverne’s Chaz Smedsrud in the Hawks’ 6-3 Class A quarterfinal win over the Cardinals. (MHM Photo / Jordan Doffing)



St. Paul, MN – One hour prior to the gates opening at the Xcel Energy Center, there was a buzz in the lobby of the home for the 2014 Minnesota State High School Hockey tournament.  Visible to the eye was a sea of red as fans from Luverne packed the lobby in anticipation of their team’s first appearance at the legendary tournament.

The Cardinals entered the tournament  27-0-1 and outscored their opponents by a combined 206-32 margin this season and were tasked with the number two seeded Hermantown Hawks, veterans of five straight state tournament appearances with the previous four resulting in runner up finishes.

Regardless of the energy provided, the tournament experience of the Hawks shone through early in the game and Nate Pionk scored just :27 into the first period.  The Cardinals have not been forced to play in their defensive zone much this season, or last year for that matter, and were forced to focus their coverage on the swooping Hawks.

“It’s nice to get the first goal,” Hawks coach Bruce Plante said.  We had a couple of other chances and they tied us up and that put a little fear into our boys.”

Eventually, the Cardinals worked their way back in the game and tied the score at a one on Gunnar Olson’s first of two goals on the season at 9:01 of the first period.  Tnner Kimball responded just three minutes later to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead and one they would never relinquish.

Cole Koepke scored for the Hawks to deliver the two-goal lead at 3:57 of the second period yet Olson struck again with the man advantage at 7:04.  The Cardinals skill and ability to attack on their offensive zone entry was evident and the Hawks knew the could not allow Luverne much space to operate.

As the Hawks began to wrestle the territorial game from the offensive zone, they scored late in the second period on Luke Jacques goal that beat Cardinal goaltender Kendall Meyer for some much needed breathing room and a 4-2 lead at  the second intermission.

“The period that I was kind of disappointed with was the second.” Plante reflected.  “I thought we really backed off and I didn’t like that.  It is just so uncharacteristic of our team.  We usually try to play a more aggressive attacking in your face kind of game.”

A fifth and back breaking goal by the Hawks was scored early in the third period by  at Kyle Amundson just :42 into the game .  It didn’t deter the heart of the Cardinals who pressed on and Meyer made some steady saves in the game.

A late goal by Andrew Verhey at 11:54 pulled the Cardinals within two at 5-3.  A few mad scrambles and some high caliber scoring chances were snuffed out by Hawks goalie Adam Smith who made 23 saves in the game.

“They expect us to go out there and play our game and for the most part, we go out and play our game as much as we can,” Pionk said.  He had who had a pair of goals including the empty net tally to finish the game for the Hawks and was discussing his team’s ability to play their game regardless of the challenge before them.

For a Section that was largely mocked by fans and hockey pundits for the past few years, the Cardinals wanted lay to rest that hockey in Southwestern Minnesota is subpar.  They went toe to toe with a State Class A power and put not only Luverne hockey on the map but the Section 3A.

“I am just so proud of these guys,” Cardinal coach Derrick Brown said. “We came up here and obviously a lot of people have not talked very highly of our section or area of the state that we play.  I felt that we came and showed some people that just because we are in the corner of the state that is historically basketball country that we can play hockey too.”

Plante added at the end of the press conference that he was impressed with the Cardinal effort and said, “A lot of what happened today was the other team was pretty good.  They have some really attacking players. They transitioned the puck great, attacked us hard and they had some really skilled guys that made some good plays.  They are a skilled team, they are probably not as deep as us but they sure play.”

The Hawks (23-4-2) advance to the semifinals that will play out on Friday morning and can be heard live on Sports Radio 105 The Ticket.  The Cardinals (27-1-1) head to Mariucci Arena to face off in the consolation semifinals Thursday morning.

Pete Waggoner has covered hockey since 1989 and his work includes play-by-play and studio hosting. Currently, he hosts This Week in High School Sport on 1500 ESPN and hosts the Overtime Hockey Podcast at that posts every Monday. His past work has appeared on Sports Radio 105 The Ticket, KFAN Radio,, Fox Sports North Prep Zone, MNHockeyCenter, and to that, Waggoner developed along with Fox9 Twin Cities and was one of the original architects of the from concept to delivery.

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