For three years in a row, the Hermantown Hawks and St. Thomas Academy Cadets have met in the Class A state hockey championship. Each time, the Hawks fell short. While this year's final score goes in the books as history repeating itself, Hermantown has plenty to be proud of at the end of this year's campaign and lots to look forward to for next season.

The State Championship Game

Nick Cooper - Townsquare Media

Entering this year's championship game, St. Thomas Academy had been riding a streak of 5 shutout games, not allowing one goal through their run in the section playoffs or through the state tournament. Beside the stingy defense, the Cadets averaged over 8 goals each game through all of the post season. Beside Hermantown's two early section playoff games, the Hawks played in closer matches rather than steamrolling teams like the Cadets had done through the entire playoffs.

The first period of the game was a hard-fought defensive battle with both teams looking very evenly matched. While the Cadets got on the scoreboard first with a goal where Hermantown goalie Adam Smith had lost his stick, Chris Benson broke the shutout streak to tie things up in the first period. In the second period, Scott Wasbotten, Ryan Kero, and Lane LeGarde found the net with the Cadets only able to answer with one goal of their own.

Nick Cooper - Townsquare Media

Entering the final period of play with a 4-2 lead left the Cadets facing their first third period deficit in 16 straight games. St. Thomas Academy battled back to tie things up 4-4 midway through the third period, and a late power play goal from Tom Novak of the Cadets closed the door on the final Class A championship St. Thomas Academy would play for.

At the end of the game, Hermantown senior Chris Benson was named the 2013 Class A Boys Hockey recipient, and Neal Pionk, Chris Benson, Travis Koepke and Adam Smith were all named to the 2013 All-Tournament Team.

Next Year and Beyond

Nick Cooper - Townsquare Media

The Hawks will graduate 8 seniors this spring, including big names like Chris Benson, Jake Zeleznikar, Bo Gronseth, and Travis Koepke. While this will leave some big skates to fill, there will be an opportunity for the Pionk brothers and others on the team to step into those leadership roles. Both goalies will return for the 2013-2014 season as well, offering consistency between the pipes for the Hawks.

Next season will look different in the world of Minnesota Class A hockey with St. Thomas Academy making the move to Class AA. Those close to the game have called for this move for several years, and while the school's size qualifies them to remain in the smaller class, they have elected to move to the next level of competition. The jump will shake things up as a perennial powerhouse leaves and opens up opportunities for new teams to step in and claim the Class A title after the Cadets have claimed the title 5 times, including a reign as the returning champion for the last three seasons.