'Jacks shut out Storm
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls' hockey team knows how to end on a high note.
The Lumberjacks (9-13-1) have endured a brutal stretch of schedule that saw them face Class AA powers Forest Lake and Andover in a four-game stretch that also saw them fall 3-2 against Proctor-Hermantown.
So the visit of North Shore gave the team a chance to shine, one that wasn't wasted.
"We were really happy with the game," coach Courtney Olin said. "We played a solid game, things are starting to click offensively, and as coaches we saw a lot we liked."
To call the season a growing experience for the young Lumberjacks would be an understatement, but items drilled in practice are now starting to show on the ice — and that's great news.
"It's such a confidence builder when the kids see that what they are working on works in games too," Olin said. "We're seeing cycling, give and go passes, one-timers, things transferring from practice."
These are important things, especially given the difficulty of CEC's schedule.
"We have a lot of teams up a class on us," Olin said. "Forest Lake and Andover were tough games. But to see the defense, which has been outstanding, leading to chances in transition is great."
CEC didn't score against either Class AA power, but played solid defense. "If this is going to happen, now is the time of year when we want to see it," Olin said. "I'm proud of how the girls are playing right now."
Yet, there's always room for improvement.
"I think we can improve our finishing, which has been our Achilles heel all season," Olin said. "We've had trouble burying the puck but we have the ability to do that. We have some very good athletes and it will come."
CEC has two games remaining in its regular season — Thursday, Feb. 1, against Duluth Marshall and Saturday, Feb. 3, against Thief River Falls. The team is battling for third seed in its QRF-ranked section.
"We were behind International Falls for third place entering the North Shore game," Olin said. "The last two games are big. Marshall is a section opponent and Thief River Falls is a common opponent with International Falls. I would expect us to be a third or fourth seed, but we need these games for momentum heading into playoffs.
"All we were looking for against the bigger teams was work ethic and improvement," Olin said. "We got it. Our goal is to be competitive in playoffs. We're peaking now and it's the right time."