’Jacks end season too soonAfter an impressive 4-0 win over seventh-seeded St. Francis/North Branch in the first round of the Section 7AA playoffs Thursday, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls’ hockey team dropped a heartbreaking 6-5 double-overtime decision to Elk River/Zimmerman in the semifinals on Saturday night.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
It wasn’t the way the season was supposed to end.
After an impressive 4-0 win over seventh-seeded St. Francis/North Branch in the first round of the Section 7AA playoffs Thursday, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls’ hockey team dropped a heartbreaking 6-5 double-overtime decision to Elk River/Zimmerman in the semifinals on Saturday night.
The loss ended CEC’s season at 15-9-2 and sent first-year head coach Lance Horvat and his team into the off-season at least one game too early.
“It was a wonderful year,” Horvat said. “I inherited a great team from the other two coaches and these kids did everything asked of them. It was wonderful to be around and coach these kids and be around every day. It was a pleasure.”
Unfortunately, the good times ended one game short of the state tournament.
Against the Fighting Saints, the ’Jacks exploded for three goals in a span of 1:27 late in the first period.
Kaitlyn Miller, Kailey Buhr and Cassie Inman all scored between 12:08 and 13:35 of the first period, with Miller’s goal coming on the power play.
Courtney Ketola scored the final goal of the game at 9:06 of the second period for CEC.
“They (St. Francis) came out with a flurry on us which surprised me,” Horvat said. “I don’t know if we had early nerves, but we scored quickly on them. They (St. Francis) looked good, they did a good job, and they’re a good team. Still, it was a game I thought we could win. Our kids played as expected and finished the job.”
CEC outshot their visitors 48-19, with pint-sized Fighting Saints goaltender Dakotah Bullen making 44 saves in the St. Francis goal.
“A win is a win, by 15 goals or four,” Horvat said. “It was a good win.”
That set up Saturday’s semifinal matchup against third-seed Elk River, and even days later, it was still hard for Horvat to talk about the contest.
“Man,” he said. “You get a three goal lead and you end up losing the game. That killed me personally. I felt very bad for the kids.”
Horvat said he wasn’t secure regarding the team’s 3-1 lead after the second period, built on first-period goals by Courtney Ketola and Carlie Esse, and a second-period goal by Cassie Inman.
“We played them in December, and we had a 4-2 lead with five minutes to go and they tied us,” Horvat said.
The Elks scored four times in the third period of the playoff game, but the ’Jacks scored twice as well.
Samantha Westgaard and Maddie Gregersen scored to tie the game at 3-3 before Mikayla Baker’s shorthanded goal gave CEC a 4-3 lead. Kaylee Forster retied the game at 4-4, but Baker’s second goal of the period gave the ’Jacks their third lead of the game at 5-4.
Abbie Canton’s power play goal tied the game at 5-5 and forced overtime. The Elks received four power plays in the third period of the contest.
After a scoreless first overtime, Chelsey Petrich won the game for the visitors in the second.
“They (Elk River) were a fast-skating team and very aggressive,” Horvat said. “In the third period they came out with determination and fight and capitalized on their power plays. Give them credit. I wouldn’t be surprised if they win the section.”
Plaudits aside, Horvat then had to say goodbye to his team’s six seniors.
“It was tough for me to see the tears (in the locker room),” he said. “I told the kids that it was a tough game, but they never gave up and that’s something to be proud of. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I felt bad for the team, but those six seniors who won’t play high school hockey again, that’s hard,” Horvat added. “That’s a magical thing, to keep playing. Carlie (Esse, Bemidji State), Katie (Beckman, Hamline) and Emily (Gustafson, Gustavus) are going to play college hockey, but high school is high school.”
Horvat will take one other lingering memory into the off-season.
“Forty-five minutes after the game (assistant coach) Pat Meisner and I went back into the locker room,” Horvat said. “We saw Alyssa (Acheson), Carlie, Emily and Kristi Konietzko still in their uniforms and Mackenzie Roy, who was injured, had her jersey on. There was still laughing and crying in that locker room.”
Horvat said his first CEC team will always be special to him.
“We have three seniors going to college, but we have 11 forwards coming back and we’ll have two junior goaltenders,” he said. “We also have three other seniors who will do wonderfully. Those kids are going to be doing something with their lives and we’ll be reading about them.”