Hermantown’s path toward an appearance in the 2020 Class A boys hockey state championship game began more than a year earlier at Amsoil Arena on a night that saw the Hawks fail to reach the state tournament for the first time in a decade.

In the aftermath of the Hawks’ double-overtime loss to Greenway in the Section 7A title game, star player Blake Biondi vowed to his coach, Patrick Andrews, that he would return for his senior season to guide the program to a state championship.

“In the bowels of Amsoil Arena, after a devastating double-overtime loss to Greenway, he gave me a hug,” Andrews recalled. “He was in tears, I was in tears, and he told me he was coming back to win a state championship with his buddies.”

Biondi, who had committed to play at Minnesota Duluth before his sophomore season, turned down a chance to play for the U.S. National Team Development Program Under-18 squad in order to stay in Hermantown.

“It doesn’t matter that it was in the heat of the moment, I automatically knew I was coming back,” Biondi said of the decision. “We were both crying and holding each other, I just told him, ‘Coach, I’ll be back.’ He asked me the next day and I said, ‘No, I’ll be back and hopefully we’ll win a state championship.’

“(Andrews) and some other guys in the program were probably questioning it more than I was.”

Ultimately, Biondi’s quest for a state title ended in a 3-2 overtime loss to Mahtomedi in a championship game the Hawks dominated with a 42-12 advantage in shots on goal.

A runner-up finish didn’t take the luster off Biondi’s season. The center registered a school-record 47 goals and 95 points en route to claiming Mr. Hockey and Associated Press Player of the Year honors.

He’s also the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year.

Biondi closed his three-year prep career with 111 goals — one more than record-holder B.J. Radovich scored for the Hawks — and his 216 points were just three shy of Radovich’s school mark set in four seasons.

“It was my best season on and off the ice,” Biondi said. “I’m more proud of just getting this team to the point we got and to come together and bond as a group and play for a bigger purpose, than all the accolades or records I got.”

Still, coaches and players alike say Biondi deserves all the awards.

“I think he’s one of the hardest-working guys I know,” Hawks junior defenseman Joey Pierce said. “He comes to the rink every day and competes as hard as he can, and it’s good to see he got rewarded for all that. I know he wanted to win a state championship, but I also know he had one of the best years of his life being a part of our team.”

Regardless of personal or team honors, Andrews says the act that Biondi displayed on that fateful night at Amsoil showed his true character.

“First and foremost, the fact that he came back his senior year and tried to win a state championship with his buddies ... was completely selfless,” Andrews said. “He had a lot of people telling him that was the wrong decision. Blake was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ And that’s what he told me from day one.”

Biondi, who turned down the U.S. U-17 team the year before, also left his United States Hockey League junior team to return to the Hawks.

“It really showed how much he cared and was invested in all of us,” Pierce said. “That was a great opportunity and nobody could have been mad at him if he hadn’t turned that down. But it’s pretty special that he did because he trusted us.”

It all added up to the Biondi legend growing in Hermantown.

“The little kids idolize him. From 4- to 5-year-olds all the way up to bantams, they think the world of him,” Andrews said. “He was clearly this group’s leader. And he was a better leader and a better person in February and March than he was in November. That’s the advantage of coming back, you learn how to be the guy.”

Though his next stop is two-time defending NCAA champion UMD, Biondi will miss playing for the Hawks.

“If I could, I’d come back next year,” he said. “I have zero regrets. This was the best year of my life. That’s why I’m at peace because I did everything that I possibly could.”