The Hermantown boys' hockey team has been to eight straight state tournaments and has won the last two, so there's clearly plenty of experience as this year's Hawks make yet another appearance in the MSHSL Class A field.
Among the returners is senior captain Tyler Watkins, who is also the team's leading scorer this season.
"It's kind of an indescribable experience," he said of the tournament. "It's the best thing you can do in Minnesota high school hockey. You try to go down there and make the most of it. Don't play too nervous, try to play loose. That's the key to success down there."
Watkins practiced what he preached in last week's Section 7A championship game, netting the double overtime game-winning goal against Greenway to cap a dramatic comeback for the now perennial favorites.
"Everyone was so tired at that point, so you knew it wasn't going to be a pretty, highlight reel goal," he said, smiling. "I just did the right thing, went to the net, and luckily the puck went in."
Perhaps among the happiest people he did was his linemate and sophomore forward Blake Biondi, who wasn't on last year's varsity team and will be making his first-ever appearance at the state tournament.
"It's crazy, watching for your whole entire life and always dreaming about it," Biondi said. "Now it's finally a reality, and I'm really excited for that first game. Hopefully we just keep on winning, getting that state championship is our end goal."
Biondi and Watkins, along with Jacob Herter, have combined this season for 72 goals and 99 assists and are three of the top four scorers included in this year's Class A tournament field.
Hermantown is the No. 1 seed at this year's tournament and will open with a quarterfinal against Monticello-Maple Lake, which will also serve as a rematch of last year's state championship game. That is scheduled to start at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday.