As Minnesota’s Mr. Hockey in 2020 and the state's Associated Press Player of the Year, Hermantown’s Blake Biondi is well aware of the pressure he will face making the jump from high school to college.

And he could have deferred that pressure and given the hype a year to die down by heading to Sioux Falls of the United States Hockey League in 2020-21. Instead the 6-foot, 181-pound Hawks center signed his National Letter of Intent this week to join two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth in the fall.

“I want to be a Bulldog and I’m ready for the challenge. This is what I want. I’m fully on board,” Biondi said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that I need to learn and get better at right away and I feel like I’m fully ready for that. I’m hungry for that.”

The Bulldogs are in need of centermen for next season after the graduation of senior Jade Miller and the early departure of junior Justin Richards to the NHL’s New York Rangers. The middle of the ice was a weakness at times in 2019-20, so much so that coach Scott Sandelin brought in freshman Ben Almquist during the holiday break for added depth and competition.

In addition to Biondi, the Bulldogs also signed Luke Mylymok, a forward who played center and wing last season with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League. Hibbing native Jarrett Lee, a forward, is also transferring in from Northern Michigan, but may not be available until mid-season.

For now, Richards and Miller are the Bulldogs only losses at forward, meaning a young freshman like Biondi will have plenty of experience around to help him transition, including a pair of All-America wingers in juniors Cole Koepke and Noah Cates.

That kind of talent and skill, as well as an experienced coaching staff, has Biondi confident he can come in and be a goal scorer while also excelling at the little things.

“Trusting those guys and working hard against them every day is going to make me a better player,” said Biondi, who played 10 games in the fall with Sioux City of the USHL before returning to the Hawks for his senior year. “I’ll trust that process and the rest of the guys that I’m playing with, and just go do my thing.

“There’s a lot of elite hockey players there that are going to go on and play in the NHL. That’s really beneficial for my development.”

Biondi put up 47 goals and 48 assists as a senior at Hermantown this year to lead the Hawks within a overtime goal of the Class A state title. Biondi finished with 111 goals and 105 assists in his high school career, including 23 postseason goals.

With fellow Hermantown native Darian Gotz also signing an NLI to play for UMD in 2020-21, the Bulldogs are set to have four former Hawks on the roster next season along with Koepke and junior center Jesse Jacques. Assistant coach Adam Krause is also a former Hawk.

Both Biondi and Gotz said it’s special to join a pipeline that includes the likes of Dylan Samberg and Neal Pionk, who are now both in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets organization.

“It's awesome. I think about the players that have gone through the program, it gives me goosebumps,” Gotz said. “When you grow up, you want to be like them. It's just amazing what the little town of Hermantown is able to produce the caliber of players that we have, not only at UMD but also at other colleges.”