ST. PAUL — Joey Pierce wasn’t wearing the coveted Minnie Mouse bicycle helmet given to Hermantown’s most valuable player, but the junior defenseman was wearing the praise of all those involved after the Hawks’ Class A semifinal win over St. Cloud Cathedral on Friday.

From Crusaders coach Derrick Brown’s postgame accolades to his own coach and teammates, everyone had good things to say about Pierce’s play in the 6-2 win at Xcel Energy Center.

“I told him after the game that he’s their best player,” Brown said. “I was really impressed by him. I thought he was the difference. We could not generate any momentum when he was out there.”

From his crushing hits to intercepting passes to scoring a late goal, Pierce dominated play.

It’s not only his college-age beard that makes him look older, but the Minnesota Duluth commit has the mature game to match. He's tallied 16 goals and 55 points this season.

“He’s only a junior, that’s the scary thing,” Brown said. “He comes in here with his beard and everything. He does not look like a high school junior.”

Most opponents, and for good reason, focus on senior center Blake Biondi when they game plan for the Hawks. Biondi has a single-season school record 47 goals, but it’s often Pierce who dictates games.

“One kid that does not get enough recognition — I know everyone loves to talk about Biondi — but it’s Joey Pierce,” Brown said. “He does everything for them. Numerous times he killed us in the neutral zone. Our guys are used to making plays and he took them out of the play.”

Hawks coach Patrick Andrews has had a close-up view of Pierce’s play all season, so he needed little convincing.

“Joey is unbelievable for us. It’s 1A and 1B,” Andrews said of Biondi and Pierce. “I am the luckiest coach in the world to have those two talents going on the ice all the time. I honestly think Joey has been overlooked, but I wouldn’t start a team with any other defenseman than Joey Pierce. He showed why today that he’s the best defenseman in the state.”

Biondi’s youthful appearance belies his level of play. Not so with Pierce. His physical stature and facial hair are an immediate indicator that opponents are dealing with a mature player.

“First of all, just look at him,” Biondi said, chuckling at the postgame news conference. “Coach said it best, I wouldn’t take anyone else in the state (to be on my team). He’s the best defensive defenseman and the best offensive one. He’s a heart-and-soul kind of guy, and that’s why we’re making such a deep playoff run. He’s the X factor right now.”