For the first good chunk of the opening period, St. Cloud Cathedral played aggressive, got some scoring chances and controlled the play.
But even the Crusaders knew their opponent wouldn’t let them get too comfortable.
“Hermantown is a very good hockey team,” Cathedral coach Eric Johnson said. “To their credit, we made mistakes and they capitalized. That’s what really good teams do.”
Hermantown loosened up and its high-end players found some extra room on the ice and took advantage.
The Crusaders lost 5-2 Friday to the Hawks, ranked No. 1 in Class A, at the Municipal Athletic Complex in a matchup between two teams that reached the boys hockey state semifinals last season.
Hermantown lost in the 2014 championship game. Cathedral took fourth place.
The Crusaders lost a few of their offensive weapons from 2013-14, while Hermantown came into St. Cloud reloaded with targets for Division I hockey programs.
And Hermantown’s big guns were firing on offense Friday night, led by Ryan Kero’s two goals and two assists.
Wyatt Aamodt had a goal and two assists and Nate Pionk had a goal and an assist for the Hawks. Those three players have the chance to play Division I college hockey.
“Those guys have been doing a lot of good things for us all year and we count on them to do their thing,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “They’ll all probably play juniors and they’re getting a lot of looks (from college programs), but nothing concrete yet.”
The Hawks outshot Cathedral 50-31 for the game, forcing Crusaders goaltender Zach Fritz to make a season-high 45 saves.
Junior forward Logan Neu led Cathedral offensively with a goal and an assist.
Neu’s goal 10 minutes into the second period made the score 3-1 after the Crusaders survived an offensive onslaught by Hermantown early in the period.
“We had momentum at that point and it got our team going for once,” Neu said. “That goal was big, but then they came right back.”
But the Hawks broke Cathedral’s back with two goals 58 seconds apart late in the second period. Pionk scored his goal with 4.1 seconds left before the buzzer.
“We gave up goals in the last minute of the period twice tonight and that’s never good,” Johnson said. “We had two breakdowns on the last goal and 5-1 is a lot different than being down 4-1.
“We missed on a couple chances right before that and that goal totally changed the complexion of the game.”
The Crusaders (10-5) saw their six-game win streak end with Friday’s loss. The last defeat came against section opponent Alexandria 3-2 on Dec. 20.
Cathedral’s next opponent is another Class A heavyweight, No. 5 Breck, on Thursday at the Municipal Athletic Complex.
“We have a few more tough games before the end of the year so it won’t be easy,” Neu said. “It was frustrating to lose this one because we had six wins going, but we just have to let it go.”
Added Johnson: “The only way to get better is to keep pushing and challenging yourself, and sooner or later we need to win one of these big games, but I like the direction we’re going.”