CEC boys easily win first Section playoff gameFourth-seeded CEC rode a pair of goals from Karson Kuhlman to a 6-2 win over Forest Lake Tuesday to earn the team a third matchup of the season against Duluth East in Saturday’s noon section semifinal at Amsoil Arena.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
When the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team dismissed Forest Lake 7-1 during the teams’ regular season meeting, Coach Dave Esse knew a playoff rematch would be different.
To an extent, Tuesday night’s Section 7AA quarterfinal at Northwoods Credit Union Arena was different. But thankfully for the ’Jacks, the result wasn’t.
Fourth-seeded CEC rode a pair of goals from Karson Kuhlman to a 6-2 win over Forest Lake to earn the team a third matchup of the season against Duluth East in Saturday’s noon section semifinal at Amsoil Arena.
“The first time we played [Forest Lake], everything went well for us and fell apart for them,” Esse said. “We knew that when we played them this time, it would be more difficult.”
It was hard to tell that from the scoreboard. CEC raced off to a 4-0 lead in the second period before the visitors climbed back into the contest.
The ’Jacks opened the scoring with a pair of first-period goals. Team captain Beau Michaud beat goaltender Jesse Garcia at the 8:04 mark of the period and Nate Niemi followed with a second goal 1:26 later to stake goaltender Justin Ketola to a 2-0 lead.
“We played fairly well,” Esse said. “But after the next goals we went into a defensive shell.”
Weston Michaud made it 3-0 at the 4:19 mark of the second period and Kuhlman’s first goal of the night at 11:05 made it 4-0. From there, though, the ’Jacks sat back a bit. Trevor Thompson scored for Forest Lake 41 seconds after Kuhlman’s goal and John Suess scored with 35 seconds left in the period to give the visitors some hope after two periods of play.
In the third, though, CEC restored some order as Koby Bender made it 5-2 at the 1:27 mark. Kuhlman closed out the scoring with 1:08 to play by hitting an empty net for the final margin.
Forest Lake had 36 shots on goal to 23 for CEC but the quality of shots made all the difference.
“They had nine shots on goal on dump-ins,” Esse said. “Lots of stuff from the red line. It was a game where shots on goal were deceiving as a statistic.”
The ’Jacks didn’t get a chance to work on their power play in the contest as no penalties were called on either team.
“I thought there could have been a few penalties but [the referees] just let them play,” Esse said. “It was a quick game and Forest Lake’s goals were good goals.”
The goaltending tandem of Ketola and Zack Strom has been good over the last few weeks, with Ketola playing the lion’s share of games down the stretch.
Esse has a choice to make heading into Saturday’s game against the Greyhounds. Ketola played in goal in the team’s 5-2 loss to East at the Heritage Center on Dec. 13 and Strom played in the 3-2 setback at home on Feb. 13.
“[East forward] Hogan Davidson killed us in the first game with a hat trick and we gave up so many odd man rushes,” Esse said. “The second game we got up 2-0 in the first period and we couldn’t score another goal. They got a couple of power-play goals and that killed us in that game.”
Esse knows that knocking off the Greyhounds, ranked third in the state in the last Class AA poll, will be a tall task. East routed St. Michael-Albertville in an embarrassingly easy 15-0 win on Tuesday night.
“They are the top seed and the defending section champ,” Esse said. “They are good. They have the best defensive corps we’ve seen and their forwards don’t get enough credit. Their schedule is second to none and really there’s no doubt they have better skill.”
That will bring the game down to the nuts and bolts: special teams and goaltending.
“It gets down to discipline,” Esse said. “We can’t give up power-play goals and we’re probably going to need [a power-play goal] ourselves to win the game. We can’t get in a run-and-gun game with them because their defensemen shut you down. We have to be smart and methodical. We can’t go up and down the rink with them and make unforced errors.”
Yet, Esse notes, Section 7AA is more balanced among the top six teams than in years past.
“The section is wide open,” he said. “[Grand] Rapids has a great schedule, a great record and a good goaltender. They can beat anybody. Elk River is a formidable opponent. Andover didn’t get the right breaks this year and had a lot of injuries. Anybody can win, but give the respect to East. They deserve it.”