ST. PAUL -- In the modern world of goaltending, stopping three-fourths of the shots one faces will not earn you a spot on a peewee team, let alone make you a starter in the state championship game.
On Saturday afternoon, Hermantown senior goalie Jacob Backstrom faced a dozen Mahtomedi shots and stopped nine of them, for a .750 saves percentage that would be considered disastrous in most settings. But Backstrom’s work, all agreed, played a big role in getting the Hawks to overtime. The Zephyrs’ rushes to the net were rare, but on at least four occasions, Backstrom produced sliding, spectacular saves that kept Mahtomedi from putting the game out of reach.
Perhaps the most notable of them came with less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation, when the Hawks trailed 2-1 and were pressing to tie. The Zephyrs got an odd-man rush, and Backstrom’s heroics prevented Mahtomedi from grabbing a two-goal lead.
“They almost put that game away with 1:15 or 1:17 (left) when I finally got that timeout called,” Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews said, praising Backstrom for helping get the game to overtime. “He made an unbelievable 2-on-1 stop. I don’t know how he did that one. That saved it and then we go down and tie it.”
Mahtomedi sophomore goalie Ben Dardis, who had 40 saves, even had praise for his adversary in the other crease, and offered some brief words for Backstrom after the game.
“I didn’t say much. They all looked really sad, so I let them have their space,” Dardis said. “He played well, and made some really nice saves. It’s unfortunate, but there can only be one winner, and I’m glad it’s us.”
Backstrom was the Hawks’ mainstay in the net all season, and his work, even facing just a dozen shots, did not go unnoticed by the team or the media, even in a losing effort. Dardis and Backstrom were both named to the all-tournament team.
“He was our backbone obviously. You saw how good he was, and he deserved that all-tournament thing,” said Hawks captain Blake Biondi. “There’s nothing more he could possibly have done. They didn’t get a lot of shots but they were high-end shots and grade A shots. So there’s nothing more from that kid that we could’ve asked.”
Best of times for Metro East hockey
Mahtomedi’s win gave the Metro East Conference one state hockey title, and a win by Hill Murray in the Class AA title game could give the nine-team conference two state championships on the same day.
With St. Thomas Academy also in the tournament this season, that meant one-third of the conference was in the state semifinals, and Hastings was an overtime goal from giving the Metro East one-fourth of the tournament field, before the Raiders fell to Lakeville South in their section final. For Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl, who had to beat three Metro East teams -- Henry Sibley, Tartan and South St. Paul -- in the Section 4A playoffs to get to St. Paul, it was a sign of good things coming from some generally less-heralded programs like his.
“There’s certainly an awful lot of pride for the east metro, as much as we hear about the west metro and those teams,” Poeschl said. “Not to take anything away from them, but we are often in the shadow of the Edinas and the Wayzatas and the Benildes and the Eden Prairies, and the list goes on. Awfully proud of the east metro and the way that we’ve represented our conference.”
Hawks quartet on the all-tournament team
Befitting of the close game that Hermantown and Mahtomedi played for the state title, there were four Hawks and four Zephyrs given all-tournament team honors before the medals were handed out.
Biondi and Backstrom were obvious choices for Hermantown, and the voting panel also honored Hawks defenseman Joey Pierce and forward Zach Kilen. For Mahtomedi, Dardis and defenseman Nathan Gruhlke, along with forwards Nikolai Dulak and J.D. Metz made the list. The rest of the all-tournament field was Warroad forward Grant Slukynsky and defenseman Blake Norris, and St. Cloud Cathedral forward Jack Smith and defenseman Jon Bell.