HIBBING — The last time a Hibbing Pee Wee A team advanced to state was during the 1995-96 season.
At that time, there was only one class in the state, which made that task extremely difficult to accomplish.
In 2013, all of that changed when the state went to the two-class system, which gave more teams the opportunity to advance.
Still, Hibbing had fallen short of that goal, until now.
The Hibbing Pee Wee A boys hockey team beat East Grand Forks 6-3 last weekend in regional play, and they will now play in the State Tournament, which begins today in Monticello.
Hibbing will be taking on Mankato, beginning at 6 p.m.
All of the pieces fell into play for this team to advance to state.
“We have a good group of kids, who want to learn,” Hibbing coach Pat Iozzo said. “We have a good group of parents that give the kids every opportunity. That’s a perfect formula, and it makes it easier to coach.”
Iozzo, who runs the forward lines, is assisted by Ryan Hanegmon, who runs the defense, John Rue and Phil McDonald.
Hibbing takes a 35-4 record into the tourney, having outscored its opponents 367-66.
Hibbing has scored double-digit goals in 14 games, and it put 23 games into running time.
“We’re a huge-scoring team,” Iozzo said. “We come at you fast. We spread out the ice, and we go weakside a lot. We come at teams hard. We play with more tenacity than any other team that we’ve seen.”
Hibbing’s Yellow line of Tate Swanson, Isaiah Hildenbrand and Whitaker Rewertz, who is squirt age, has a grand total of 397 combined points as line.
According to Swanson, the bond this team has with each other is the reason for their line and teams’ success.
“Everybody cares for each other, and we’re all a big group of friends,” Swanson said.
“I had an OK season, but that’s because we pass the puck. We’re not always trying to get points for ourselves.
“We’re not trying to score all of the time.”
The Red line consists of Kellen Elsner, Joey Gabardi and Cole Swanson, who is also squirt age, and the Black line is made up of Brayden Rewertz, Mason McDonald, Gavin Schweiberger and Hunter Gustafson.
“A lot of our success has come because we have three good lines,” Iozzo said. “All three of those lines are different. We have a top line that scores probably more than anyone else in the state between the three of them.
“The Red line, which is led by Kellen, chips in a bit of scoring, but they’re sound defensively. They don’t let up many goals. Our Black line is a great defensive line, but they do chip in goals here and there.”
Iozzo said they encourage creativity on the ice, but the team does play with some structure.
“Meaning we take short shifts. We’re off the ice fast,” Iozzo said. “We’re covering for each other, and we try to attack with numbers. It’s all that kind of stuff that makes us an explosive team.
“We went on a stretch before our East Grand Forks game where we put teams into running time nine games in a row.”
The defensive pairings include Ben Galli and Ethan Sundvall; and Landon Krampotich, Jackson Strukel and Dylan Vesel.
“Ethan and Ben, they’re on the ice at all times,” Hanegmon said. “When they’re on their game, nobody is beating us. Against East Grand Forks, both of them played great games. They’re a big reason why we won.
“We emphasize that to be good hockey players you have to play in the D-zone, the neutral zone and the offensive zone. It’s about blocking shots and backchecking. You have to do those little things, and we’ve gotten a lot better at that this year.”
The goaltending duties belong to Gavin Lamphere and Aaden Folstad.
It was Lamphere who kept Hibbing in the East Grand Forks game.
“He made several big saves while his teammates got their nerves under control,” Iozzo said. “We’ve had good goaltending this year when they’ve both played. We’ve been solid between the pipes.”
Both Iozzo and Hanegmon said the team hit a lull during the middle of the season, so they went to work to change things around.
“They play with the same intensity that we coach with,” Iozzo said. “We bring it every day. When we hit that lull, Hano said, ‘Hey, we need to look in the mirror here. We’re doing something wrong. We need to change something.’ We did.
“We don’t sit there and say, ‘The kids don’t want to work. The kids don’t listen.’ That’s on us. We needed them to be playing at a high level come tournament time. If not, that was on us.”
So Iozzo and Hanegmon changed up their practice routine.
“We went away from some of the stuff we were doing in practice for awhile, so they could recharge,” Iozzo said. “They needed something new.”
Swanson said that was a key to keeping the team focused.
“It’s about the coaches,” Swanson said. “The practices are more fun, and we work harder in practice. We do a lot more skating, and a lot more tempo drills than last year.”
It’s that kind of attitude that can carry a team a long way.
“To have a team like this, to hopefully, go to a state championship, and hopefully, win a state championship, you need everybody to buy in,” Hanegmon said. “This team has. This group has so much chemistry.
“They all love each other. They’ll do anything for each other, which is huge. They’ve stepped it up so much. It’s awesome.”
Swanson is hoping his team can keep momentum up heading into state.
“Hopefully, we can keep up what we did in regions and dominate,” Swanson said. “We need to back check hard. We need more O-zone time than our opponents. We need to get more sticks on pucks and we need to move the puck.”