HIBBING — Being the No. 1 rated Pee Wee A team in the state, Hibbing had a target on its back when it entered state play last weekend in Monticello.
That didn’t seem to bother Hibbing as it came away with a 7-1 victory over Northfield to capture the State Pee Wee A title.
Hibbing earned its way into the finals with a 6-0 quarterfinal victory over Mankato, and a 9-4 win over Minnetonka in the semifinals.
“We knew that if we played well, we could win,” Hibbing coach Pat Iozzo said. “We knew every team was gunning for us seeing as we were No. 1 in the state. Every team came at us strong, but we withstood the barrage.
“We stuck to our game, which is moving the puck and our feet. We played hard. The kids played great. It was absolutely incredible.”
In game one, Hibbing jumped on Mankato from the opening faceoff and never let up.
“That was the hardest we’ve jumped on a team right from the beginning of the game,” Iozzo said. “It took all 17 players to do that. We played hard on pucks, and we had a strong forecheck and backcheck.”
The Minnetonka game didn’t go as smoothly, but Hibbing still won going away.
“We weren’t as sharp in that game, but we were sharp enough,” Iozzo said. “It was the sloppiest game we’ve played. We were a bit off in that game.”
Even so, Hibbing did take the lead, and even though Minnetonka kept chipping away at the deficit, Hibbing was able to match them goal-for-goal.
“They would score, then we would score,” Iozzo said. “We kept a five-goal lead. We could do that because we’re a high-scoring team. We know how to put the puck in the net. We practice with a lot of tempo. We condition these kids to play fast.”
In the title game, Northfield scored the first goal, which caught Hibbing off guard.
“They scored a controversial goal against us, and that put us on our heels,” Iozzo said. “We played tense.”
Thanks to goalie Gavin Lamphere, Hibbing kept it a one-goal game until late in the first period when it tied the game 1-1.
Hibbing went on to score four second-period goals and two in the third to put the game into running time with 13 minutes to play.
“Gavin played an incredible game,” Iozzo said. “He kept us in there until we got our legs under us, then we turned it on in the second period. We coasted our way to a state championship.
“Running time in the third period… that makes it enjoyable.”
A total of 10 players played their last games as a Pee Wee A. Seven players will be returning.
“We’re going to have some good memories for the rest of our lives,” Iozzo said. “I couldn’t be more proud of them. I’m going to miss the heart and intensity they had. They made going to practice enjoyable every-single day.
“Whoever replaces these 10 players, I hope they have the same heart and passion.”
Iozzo has played and coached at state tournaments, and he said this one was just as exciting as the other ones.
“Everything from the pregame skates to the bus ride on the way there and preparing for each day, it was incredible,” Iozzo said. “I’ve never been a part of a team where it was such a team effort.”