Prep boys hockey: Larson leads Hunters to Heritage Classic title

Senior Simon Davidson had two shorthanded goals in under a minute during the second period of the Hunters’ 8-0 win over Anoka in the Heritage Classic championship game Thursday. Yet Davidson’s performance couldn’t match Larson’s second period.

Larson scored three goals and recorded an assist in a seven-goal second period for Denfeld. He finished the game with four goals and five points, 14 total points in the tournament and his second hat trick in two games.

Just a couple weeks ago, Larson was frustrated with his play to start the season. During the Hunters’ 10-day break between a win over Proctor and Tuesday’s 7-1 win over Spring Lake Park, he spent a lot of time refining his game.

Duluth Denfeld’s Andy Larson, 16, tries to keep the puck away from Anoka’s Fred Huebner during the Hunters 8-0 win in the Heritage Classic championship game Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

“I feel like I was doing things right, but I just wasn’t burying the puck,” Larson said. “So I switched everything, even my stick and we had a little break. The break definitely helped me. Me and my dad went to Piedmont every morning and really skated and worked on my shot. I feel like that’s the main reason, just working out and shooting every day trying to find it again.”

Denfeld coach Dale Jago said Larson was playing well earlier in the season, but was “snakebitten” when he was shooting, hitting the crossbar or facing goalies that made strong saves.

Related: Prep boys hockey: Davidson’s hot streak continues in Hunters win over Proctor

“I just had a talk with him to keep encouraging him to get to those same areas and use his speed,” Jago said. “It’s when you don’t get those chances that you have to worry. He’s maturing, he’s creating opportunities for himself and now he’s capitalizing.”

Senior forward Connor McClure moved to a line with Larson earlier in the season. McClure — who picked up four assists, including three to Larson, in the blowout over Anoka — said the Hunters’ summer work is also paying off for the team and Larson particularly.

Duluth Denfeld's Connor McClure, 18, tries to keep the puck away from Anoka's Joshua Graske Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. McClure had four assists in the Hunters' 8-0 win. 
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

Duluth Denfeld’s Connor McClure, 18, tries to keep the puck away from Anoka’s Joshua Graske Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. McClure had four assists in the Hunters’ 8-0 win.
Jamey Malcomb / Duluth News Tribune

“He’s just finding ways to put it in the back of the net,” McClure said. “Our team changed a couple systems — like penalty kill and power play — but he’s just stepped it up to another level this year. He had a good year last year, he’s just finding the back of the net with that goal-scorer’s touch. That’s what we all worked on this summer, shooting the puck and I think you saw that out there today.”

The Hunters’ offense sputtered a little in the first period, with just a long goal from Larson. Jago wasn’t happy and said he talked to his team in the locker room about playing together.

“When we play the right way, we get rewarded for our work,” Jago said. “When we play as individuals, it doesn’t come as easy for us …We started playing the right way — moving the puck, moving our feet and making short, small passes — and we got four or five goals right away.”

Larson came out and scored his second goal a minute into the second period and with his third goal about seven minutes later, the floodgates opened. The Hunters scored five goals in less than four minutes, including both Davidson’s shorthanded scores.

Denfeld outscored its opponents in the Heritage Classic, which also included wins over Spring Lake Park and Owatonna, 22-1, and has scored at least five goals per game in the current eight-game win streak.

The competition gets harder for the Hunters next week when they face top-ranked Hermantown Tuesday. Jago said the Hawks are likely a top-five team in the state, regardless of class.

The Hawks beat fourth-ranked Delano Thursday 6-2.

“It’s going to be a great test for us and a great measuring stick for us to see where we’re at,” Jago said.

Denfeld (8-2) will play Hermantown (8-1) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Hermantown.

Anoka 0-0-0—0

Denfeld 1-7-0—8

First period — 1. DD, Andy Larson, 7:29.

Second period — 2. DD, A. Larson (Connor McClure, Brady McGinn), 0:57; 3. DD, A. Larson (McGinn, Connor McClure), 7:37; 4. DD, Simon Davidson (A. Larson), 8:30 (sh); 5. DD, Davidson, 9:26 (sh); 6. DD, Whittaker Heart (Connor McClure, Nate Larson), 11:05; 7. DD, Cooper McClure, 11:22; 8. DD, A. Larson (Heart, Connor McClure), 16:38.

Third period — No scoring.

Saves — Parker Haglund, A, 43; Austin Wick, DD, 16; Connor Doyle, DD, 2.

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