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From the Catbird Seat...Hockey Day in Minnesota

Back in the day, every hockey game in Cloquet was played outdoors. Now, it’s a much bigger thing to play in the great outdoors.

Outdoor hockey is all the rage now, and the Lumberjacks boys team will play on Minnesota’s ultimate outdoor stage on Saturday, taking part in the annual Hockey Day in Minnesota event in Elk River.

The team’s game against Rochester Lourdes on Saturday morning will be televised on Fox Sports North from Elk River’s famed Handke Pit, and Coach Dave Esse says the ’Jacks will be loaded for bear.

“We’re looking forward to having some fun,” Esse said. “It’s going back to the old-school style of hockey.”

According to accounts of the day, the first game played by the Cloquet hockey program was outdoors, at the 14th Street Rink (now Athletic Park) against Duluth Cathedral in 1947.

Esse said reports were that a few varsity games were played outside in the early 1970s, during the time the Pine Valley Recreation Center was being built. Cloquet played some home games at the old Duluth Arena from its construction in 1966 to the building of the Pine Valley shelter.

Now the team is headed back outdoors for one day.

The result is going to be a great day for the program, as part of hockey’s greatest day in the state.

“Add to all this, the television and the banquet before it and the people asked us to play in it,” Esse said. “It will be a great weekend.”

The team will play the second of three games scheduled for Handke Pit on Saturday, with everything televised regionally. That will add spice to the event.

“Of course, you record something like that and you keep it,” Esse said. “The kids know they are on television and they know this is a big thing. They will rerun it and it’s part of the history.”

CEC will face a Rochester Lourdes team that lost the state Class A consolation final last season but has struggled to a 3-11-1 record this season.

“They are like us in that they lost a lot from last year,” Esse said. “But we will throw all that aside. They will be hyped up and their players will be hyped to play us. We know it will be a tough game.”

As far as winning the game, Esse says he simply wants solid effort.

“Anyone can beat anyone on a given day,” he said. “Look at the Eden Prairie game (a 4-2 loss last week). That was our most complete 51 minutes of the season, and they got an open net goal to put us away. [Eden Prairie was] a lot more skilled than us but we worked our butts off and I was proud of the players. That’s all I can ask. As long as we play well, the effort is the most important thing.”

But for viewers, the spectacle of Hockey Day will be the most important thing.

“I told the kids earlier that they are fortunate to be doing this,” Esse said. “We don’t know how long they will keep having an outdoor day lik