Pictured side by side, Blake Biondi and Joey Pierce don’t look like they play the same sport.
Heck, they don’t even look like they could attend high school together.
“We tease Joey all the time because he looks like a 1920's bare-knuckled prizefighter. He has that tough-nosed look, you just don’t mess with him,” Hermantown boys hockey coach Patrick Andrews said. “Blake has the All-American looks. But what’s funny is that Blake plays hard and physical, and Joey has finesse, soft hands and amazing skill.
“Joey can break guys in half and play physical, and Blake has all the skills that go with being a prima donna, but Blake isn’t that way and is a 200-foot player. That’s what makes both of them so special.”
Biondi, with the boyish good looks, and the rough-and-tumble Pierce not only starred together at Hermantown but eventually will be reunited at Minnesota Duluth.
They are just the latest in a long pipeline that runs from Hermantown to Amsoil Arena.
From past standouts such as Jon Francisco and Kyle Schmidt to the current roster that includes Cole Koepke and Dylan Samberg, Hermantown has been a talent-rich resource for the Bulldogs to mine.
It hasn’t hurt that head coach Scott Sandelin and assistant Jason Herter both live in Hermantown and had sons play on the hockey team in recent seasons, though neither went on to play at UMD.
Biondi was born with maroon bloodlines. His father, Joe, was a UMD center who scored 89 points in 143 games between 1989-93.
“My dad went here and I grew up watching the Bulldogs since I was young,” said Biondi, who committed to UMD when he was 15, before they had won back-to-back NCAA titles. “It was in my blood and I was never going to lose that. When I thought about going different places, it was cool to think about, but deep inside I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. And it’s right in my backyard.”
Though Biondi’s parents were natives of Warroad, Minnesota, they planted roots in the Hermantown community together after graduating from UMD.
Biondi grew up in an era when the Hawks lost six consecutive Class A state tournament finals before winning back-to-back titles in 2016-17. They lost in the state semifinals during Biondi’s sophomore season, then missed out on state for the first time in 10 years when he was a junior.
This year, the Hawks returned to the Class A final, losing 3-2 in overtime to Mahtomedi.
Biondi and Pierce were driving forces behind that run, with the former being named Mr. Hockey and the latter drawing praise from opponents as the team’s MVP.
“We had a lot of fun building chemistry this year, and going to the rink every day and practicing against each other — he’s obviously on another level — but it helped myself and everyone to be around that,” Pierce said. “We aren’t always happy with each other in practice because we were both going at each other. It’s making us better at the end of the day.”
Pierce, who committed to UMD earlier this season, says he and Biondi discussed the pros and cons of such a decision.
“We talked about that a lot,” Pierce said. “He never put any pressure on me, he just wanted what was best for me. But I think UMD was what was best for me. He was with me that whole process and it was special to have him to talk to, and have him along with me for the process.”
Biondi was glad to lend his voice to one of his best friends.
“You can’t force a kid to want to go somewhere, but I think deep inside Joe always wanted to be a Bulldog,” Biondi said. “Once he got the go from UMD, he took (the scholarship) right away.”
While it’s still unsure whether Biondi will suit up in a Bulldogs’ uniform this fall or play junior hockey for a year, local fans can look forward to a day when he and Pierce are teammates again.
“It doesn’t get any better than UMD right now,” said Andrews, a Hermantown alum. “And the fact that we have so many Hawks playing really important roles through this national championship run, it’s exciting to see. Our guys have done really well.
“I credit Coach Sandelin and his staff for letting our guys stay in high school and mature and then taking them after their senior year. We’ve gotten the most out of them and UMD has gotten the most out of them. It’s fun to turn on the TV or go to the games and see all these kids playing for your hometown.”