ST. PAUL — The Hermantown boys hockey team has been down this road before.
One-goal defeats in Class A championship games in 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015 — including two overtime losses — were part of a run of six consecutive runner-up finishes by the Hawks that was only partially healed by back-to-back titles in 2016 and ’17.
More heartbreak was on the menu Saturday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center.
Senior Colin Hagstrom, who missed seven weeks with a broken fibula and didn’t return until later January, scored the game-winner 2:44 into overtime as he chipped a J.D. Metz centering pass over Hermantown goaltender Jacob Backstrom’s outstretched glove, giving Mahtomedi a 3-2 win and its first state title in 11 tournament appearances.
“I just got the pass from (J.D. Metz) and cut to the middle and just shot it and it went in,” said Hagstrom, who also was awarded the Herb Brooks Award for exemplary character and sportsmanship. “It was unbelievable, doesn’t feel real.”
As joyous as the Zephyrs were, the Hawks were at the other end of the spectrum.
The loss came only minutes after Aaron Pionk tied the game at 2-2 with 21.2 seconds left in regulation with Backstrom pulled for an extra attacker.
“I told them I’m proud of them, that’s all you can tell them,” Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said. “You ask kids to answer the bell every single day and get better every single day, and push them really hard to be the best they can be. It wasn’t for a lack of effort.”
Despite an overwhelming 42-12 advantage in shots on goal, which included the Zephyrs going more than a period without testing Backstrom, Hermantown trailed from the outset.
Ben Dardis, who made 40 saves, stymied Hermantown’s high-powered offense that averaged about six goals a game this season.
“That kid (Dardis) played out of his mind,” Andrews said. “The third period was a clinic on how to play goalie. He made everything look easy. He was never out of position.”
Hermantown had 23 shots on goal in the final period but didn’t score until Pionk, a junior forward, snuck a shot past Dardis while he sat on his backside in the crease. Even that goal needed video confirmation that Zach Kilen didn’t interfere with Dardis.
“Putting up (42) shots on goal and them putting up 12, I knew one had to go in at the end of the game,” said Pionk, who was captured on the bench by TV cameras nervously awaiting the decision. “I just went crazy when they counted it. I think I knew it was in right away, that there was no goaltender interference, but I was happy that the ref agreed with me and called it a goal.”
The Zephyrs (23-8) didn’t have much time to regroup during the three-minute break before overtime.
“We were a little stunned because with 21 seconds left it’s hard not to be,” said Metz, who was credited with Mahtomedi’s first goal when Hawks defenseman Indio Dowd deflected his shot in.
Dardis added: “It was tough, but things like that have happened before and you have to shake it off and keep going.”
Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl, in his 23rd season with the team, wasn’t surprised his players showed no panic.
“Just get after it and get another goal,” Poeschl said of the team’s response. “The resilience of this team was unbelievable.”
Hermantown blasted Mahtomedi 9-2 in December, but the Zephyrs devised a solid game plan in the return engagement: let the Hawks put shots on net but don’t let them get any 2-on-1 breaks.
“There was a lot of bending and not breaking,” Poeschel said. “We’re not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with Hermantown. We’re not going to come out on top in a track meet. We executed our game plan to a ‘T.’ We needed to take time and space away from them and not let them have odd-man rushes. I don’t remember an odd-man rush.”
The Zephyrs took two early undisciplined penalties, but the Hawks were unable to capitalize on them. During the second power play, the Hawks took a penalty themselves and Mahtomedi pounced. Metz’s shot from the point was deflected at 6:19 of the first period for a 1-0 lead.
Early in the second, again with a Hermantown player in the box, Mahtomedi made it 2-0 on Ethan Peterson’s goal. Metz did the stick work, skating in the zone and behind the Hawks’ net before finding his teammate out front at 1:47.
“I thought for the first half of the game, they wanted it more than us,” Andrews said. “Then we kind of woke up and I thought for the second half of the game we wanted it more. They sat back on that lead and we were just coming, coming and coming.”
Hermantown halved the deficit at 11:41 when Drew Sams’ blast from the right point hit Metz in front and beat Dardis.
The Hawks appeared to be on a endless power play most of the rest of the game, taking up home in the Zephyrs’ zone. But the tying goal didn’t come until a sixth skater came on the ice.
After that, it was up to Hagstrom, who originally didn’t know if his hockey career was over when he broke his leg.
“The doctors didn’t know at first (if I would come back) but I had the support of my team,” he said. “I told myself that there was no way I wouldn’t come back.”
And he came back a hero.
“That’s a fitting finish to his senior year,” Poeschl said.
First period — 1. M, J.D. Metz (Nikolai Dulak, Ethan Peterson), 6:19 (pp).
Second period — 2. M, Peterson (Metz, Colin Hagstrom), 1:47 (pp); 3. H, Drew Sams (Cole Antcliff), 11:41.
Third period — 4. H, Aaron Pionk (Ethan Lund, Sams), 16:38 (en).
Overtime — 5. M, Hagstrom (Metz, Dulak), 2:44.
Saves — Ben Dardis, M, 40; Jacob Backstrom, H, 9.