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Lumberjacks shine at Hockey Day Minnesota

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Playing before a regional television audience, the team’s senior captain scored a pair of third-period goals, the second into an empty net, as the ’Jacks subdued Rochester Lourdes 4-1 at Elk River’s Handke Pit as part of “Hockey Day in Minnesota.”

“It was an awesome game,” Newgren said. “There’s a lot of history there and it’s a weird feeling knowing you played on such a great day. You think about the other players that have done it.”

Coach Dave Esse wanted a solid effort out of his team and got one, but the size of the Hockey Day stage made it special.

“It was just an unbelievable experience for the kids,” Esse said. “Fox Sports, the Wild and Elk River did an outstanding job. The rink was as-advertised and then some. When you talk with people, they say Handke Pit is one of the coolest places they’ve ever seen and the players loved it.”

For the time being, though, one of the players people will think about is Newgren, who helped key a comeback from 1-0 down early in the third period.

Lourdes opened the scoring early in the third period — while Esse was being interviewed live by Fox.

“Some people think you sit there and watch the game, but really the coach is evaluating all the time,” Esse said. “But they scored while I was being interviewed so I had to be calm and collected. And I promised my wife I’d have fun and not be too intense.”

So, the ’Jacks got back to work. Ryan Lind’s wrist shot from the blue line 14 seconds into a CEC power play tied the game at 1-1 at 5:52 of the third period.

“[Rochester Lourdes] scored first in the third period, and that set us off,” Newgren said. “Any time that it happens, it will light a fire under you, but that whole power play was big for us. Christian [Pritchett] had a screen up front and Ryan found a spot with his shot.”

“It was a big play by Ryan,” Esse added. “He can shoot with his head up from the blue line and he’s got a great snap shot. Christian had a good screen and it was a perfect shot.”

Less than two minutes later, Lourdes’ Nick Roth took a penalty for interference and again the ’Jacks capitalized on the power play. Jack Kuhlman muscled in a loose puck at the left edge of Aaron van Galder’s goal to make it 2-1 and give CEC a lead it wouldn’t lose.

“Power plays did it,” Newgren said. “Being able to bring it on the power play and taking advantage of what they gave us was huge.”

Then Newgren put away the game with two consecutive goals. The first came from a sharp angle at 11:47 off a fine play by Dylan Johnson.

“I turned in the slot and Dylan was there battling and the puck came off him,” Newgren said. “I turned and shot from a sharp angle.” Newgren’s shot came from the bottom of the right faceoff circle as van Galder looked at it, but Newgren’s surprise shot eluded the goalie for a 3-1 lead.

“It was a great goal and it tells you everything about James Newgren,” Esse said. “He’s the hardest working player on our team and to see him get a bounce like that was a good reward.”

Newgren added an empty net goal with 46 seconds to play, skating the puck into the Lourdes goal with an assist from Koby Bender. “Koby did a good job beating his man and getting the puck in front,” Newgren said.

But in the end, the 4-1 victory provided other memories. The morning game was played in bright sunshine, forcing the players to wear eye black to cut down on glare.

“It was very bright,” Newgren said. “If the sun hit the ice right, seeing the puck was very hard. The eye black helped — it was a first for me, having to wear that stuff.”

It’s all part of a day of memories for the ’Jacks captain.

“Obviously, playing on Hockey Day was a big thing,” he said. “Not just the day of the game but building up to it, the nerves were going pretty good. The first period was nerve-wracking, but we shook it off and found our groove.”

Being a captain, Newgren knows that such a big win may well impact the rest of the season for the ’Jacks (6-11-2 after the flu-depleted team lost 7-0 at Andover on Tuesday night).

“It’s a spark,” he said. “It was a big win for us. We had a rocky start to the season, up and down, and winning on a day like that and on a stage like that will help us finish the season strong.”

Personally, though, the day will be memorable.

“Being able to score in that game was great,” he said. “You don’t realize how big a day it is until you’re playing in it and watching on television. That makes it better. Years down the road, I will