’Jacks fall to East in playoff semifinalIt was supposed to be a game of special teams – and boy, was it ever. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey Coach Dave Esse said before his team’s Section 7AA semifinal with Duluth East that his team needed to score a power-play goal and hold the Greyhounds’ power play off the board for the team to have a chance. That didn’t happen.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
It was supposed to be a game of special teams – and boy, was it ever.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey Coach Dave Esse said before his team’s Section 7AA semifinal with Duluth East that his team needed to score a power-play goal and hold the Greyhounds’ power play off the board for the team to have a chance.
That didn’t happen.
The powerful Greyhounds scored on all three of their power-play opportunities, with all three goals coming off the stick of the red-hot Ryan Lundgren, and the ’Jacks came up short on a two-man advantage in the second period.
The end result: a 3-0 win for East and the end of the season for the Lumberjacks.
“We knew it would come down to special teams and in the playoffs, it’s especially important to stop a team like [East],” Esse said. “We were proved right as far as special teams and that is what beat us.”
The teams played a scoreless, tight-checking first period with defenseman Eric Peterson saving a goal by clearing a puck off the line behind goaltender Justin Ketola, but Lundgren’s first goal, from the slot about 30 feet away at the 4:51 mark, gave the Greyhounds all the cushion they needed.
Lundgren’s second and third power-play goals in the third period were simply icing on the cake.
“The first time they beat us, they had a player (Hogan Davidson) who scored a hat trick,” Esse said. “The last time they beat us, Lundgren gets one.”
A key point in the game, however, was CEC’s inability to score on a five-on-three power play late in the second period.
“We had chances at 0-0 and we had chances, point blank chances, on that power play,” Esse said. “If we could have scored there, it’s a different game.”
But unfortunately for the ’Jacks , the goal wouldn’t come.
After that, the Greyhounds’ suffocating defense took the air right out of the Lumberjack attack, holding the team to only two shots on goal for the third period and just 15 for the game.
“They deserved to win,” Esse said of East. “Defensively they controlled the game, especially breaking out the puck. They pinned us in our end for long stretches and we couldn’t afford that.”
When the ’Jacks rushed, they would often carry the puck into a swarm of white-shirted defenders, with arguably the best defensive unit in the state waiting to swallow them whole.
“I was disappointed because we overheld the puck and did a lot of individual stuff,” Esse said. “We tried to carry it in and didn’t do what we do. [East] will drain on you when you do that because they are strong.”
The Greyhounds faced Grand Rapids in the Section 7AA final as this edition went to press.
“East is so skilled, and I thought [East coach Mike] Randolph did an outstanding job in preparation,” Esse said. “That might be the most disciplined team I’ve ever seen from East.”
The Lumberjacks (16-9-2) head into the offseason with a number of key seniors – stars and role players alike – leaving the program. Captain Beau Michaud and top-scoring defenseman Drew Dincau are lost to graduation, but there were other key players as well.
“We had unsung heroes on the team,” Esse said. “Nate Niemi played outstanding and had a great senior year. He knew his role, was happy with it and did the best he could. He tried to be a leader and was positive as possible. That is a total team player.”
Another player who earned praise was defenseman Eric Peterson.
“He knew his role and his circumstances,” Esse said. “He never complained, he had some tough circumstances with health issues in his family, and I give him credit for staying and playing and being positive.”
“I’m excited for the future of the program,” Esse said. “We have a hard-working group coming back and with kids like (junior wing) James Newgren (9-15-24) coming back who has really improved his game in addition to our other talent, I’m excited. All I ask is that you’re a good kid, you do well in school and you give 100 percent.”