Thursday’s high school boys hockey contest between Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and Hermantown was billed as a matchup of two of the Northland’s top players in the Lumberjacks’ Christian Galatz and the Hawks’ Blake Biondi.
And though each of those players added to their impressive goal-scoring totals, the game swung on the performance of less-heralded players.
Aydyn Dowd and Jack Mathison scored third-period goals to give second-ranked Hermantown the 3-1 victory and a leg up on the Lake Superior Conference championship.
Dowd, a junior forward, converted a pass in the slot after junior defenseman Joey Pierce skated into the CEC zone and around the net. Dowd picked out a corner and beat Lumberjacks goaltender Jacob Walsh 1:25 into the period.
“Those juniors have been outstanding for us this year,” Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said.
Mathison finished the scoring by cleaning up Matt Erickson’s effort to keep the puck in the slot midway through the period.
“We had two seniors come through on the third line to put the game away,” Andrews said. “(Erickson) did all the dirty work behind the goal line and Mathison cleaned up. We thought that’s how it was going to go. Our goals were going to have to be in the paint, slashing, hacking, whacking, third, fourth rebound, and that’s what the third goal was.”
Hermantown (14-1-4 overall, 4-0 LSC), which extended its unbeaten streak to 16 games and winning streak to five, needed such goals since Walsh played the game of his career. The sophomore, who has played less than 30 percent of the time this season, stepped in for regular Owen Carlson and made 45 saves.
“He was definitely on his game tonight and was our best player,” CEC coach Shea Walters said. “We need to have everyone else clicking at that same tempo to give him a chance.”
Walsh, who has a 2.88 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, totaled 21 saves alone in a second period dominated by Hermantown, but kept the score tied 1-1 the entire 17 minutes.
“He played out of his mind,” Andrews said. “We were putting pucks everywhere. There was literally a puck that sat and spun on top of his pads somehow and didn’t go over.”
Still, the experienced Hawks didn’t let that rattle them. Despite having struggled in losing and tying CEC the past two seasons, they kept their poise and kept harassing Walsh in the third.
“Everyone was confident on the bench, no one was frustrated,” Andrews said. “They were even laughing that (shots) wouldn’t go in. Everyone stayed calm and went to work.”
The teams tied for the LSC crown in the 2018-19 season — marking Hermantown’s only banner from that year among the 40 that hang in the rafters of the school’s arena.
Now, the Hawks can win it outright by beating Superior next week.
CEC (12-8-1, 4-1) still has a lot to play for in the final two weeks of the season, including a rematch against Section 7AA rival Duluth East on Monday night at Heritage Center.
But since Hermantown is in Class A, this marked the only time Biondi and Galatz lined up on the same ice.
They didn’t disappoint early on as Galatz stole the puck after a misplay in the Hawks’ zone and slid his shot underneath goalie Jacob Backstrom for his 29th goal of the season at 5:20 of the opening period.
Biondi, a Minnesota Duluth commit, responded less than five minutes later with his Northland-leading 31st.
“They both are very skilled, dynamic players, and you notice when they are on the ice,” Walters said. “It’s fun to have that amount of skill on the ice, but at the end of the day it’s not an individual game, it’s a team sport.”