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Girls Hockey: 'Jacks have rough start to season

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The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey team has opened a difficult schedule with two difficult contests -- being shut out on home ice in each of its first two games.

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A 5-0 loss to Stillwater Saturday followed by a 2-0 loss to White Bear Lake thanks to a pair of third-period goals has second-year coach Lance Horvat looking for scoring, but still optimistic for the future.

"Of course, we're still looking for that first goal, but once we pop one the idea is for a lot more of them to come," he said. "Right now we are seeing what we have, but we are emphasizing getting the puck on net."

CEC managed just 14 shots in goal against the Ponies, who led 2-0 within the first 10 minutes of the game.

Goaltender Stacy Nelson made her varsity debut and Horvat said that, after some jitters, the junior played well.

"The first five to 10 minutes were shaky and I think Stacy would tell you that," Horvat said. "But she settled down well. We didn't match [Stillwater's] intensity in the first period. We did a better job of that later in the game."

Stillwater got two goals from Ali Biagini and goaltender Brianna Hersom made 14 saves to earn the shutout. Nelson stopped 19 of 24 Stillwater shots in the game.

Tuesday's game against the Bears was better in almost every respect, with the teams battling through two scoreless periods and the 'Jacks enjoying much more of the play.

Kelly Lanigan gave White Bear Lake the lead at 6:53 of the third period, though, and Lexi Englund hit an empty net with 17 seconds to play with Nelson on the bench for an extra skater.

"We came out with more intensity, and we switched up the lines," Horvat said. "We saw some different combinations. We also had more of the puck, especially on our power play."

CEC had 26 shots on goal, with Angie Hall earning the shutout for White Bear Lake. Nelson stopped 25 of the 26 shots she faced on the night.

"We controlled time of possession in their zone a lot better and we are getting there," Horvat said. "We are still looking for a goal though, and we just want the kids to get the puck and get it on net. We want tips and rebounds."

The team will also have to find a way to replace the offense and steady play of Carley Esse and five other graduated seniors.

Defenseman Jade Alvillar and forward Kaitlyn Miller are this year's co-captains, leading seven seniors.

"Obviously, there is a framework set from years past in the tradition of this program," Horvat said. "We know what this program is expected to do. The girls know I am expecting the captains and the rest of the seniors to step up big. We also had some freshmen who got meaningful ice time last year and we are expecting them to step up as sophomores."

As is traditional, the team plays a difficult Metro schedule early on in the year, with the team's first local game not until Nov. 26 against Grand Rapids-Greenway.

Roseville Area (Saturday night) and Forest Lake (Nov. 21) are next on the schedule.

"We don't have the easiest schedule," Horvat said. "That's not an excuse, but we are playing a good schedule."

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