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HOCKEY: Marshall stops CEC in quarterfinal

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton defenseman Dane Stoyanoff fire a shot during the Section 7AA quarterfinal vs. Duluth Marshall.1 / 3
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Aaron Moore moves the puck while being chased by Duluth Marshall's Willy Stauber during the Section 7A quarterfinal game Tuesday, Feb. 20, at Northwoods Arena. Photos by Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 3
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Landon Langenbrunner shoots the puck past Duluth Marshall defenseman Nolan Krenzen.3 / 3

In a way, you could almost turn back the clock.

In 1990, the then-Cloquet Lumberjacks lost a bitterly contested section final to Duluth East at a jam-packed Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center on an overtime goal by Rusty Fitzgerald, who went on to play in the NHL.

That Jacks team was loaded with underclassmen, including freshman Jamie Langenbrunner. The next year, the team reached the first of two consecutive state tournaments. They learned from the setback.

That's the bright side. For now, though, the 2017-18 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hockey team is in a state of shock.

Despite outshooting Duluth Marshall 30-19 and being the better team for long stretches of play, the 'Jacks lost 6-4 to the Hilltoppers in the quarterfinals of the Section 7AA tournament.

"I feel bad for the kids," coach Kevin Smalley said. "We got off to a slow start. When you give up some goals you probably shouldn't, they took advantage of every opportunity they had."

The Hilltoppers, who were playing at Cloquet in the quarterfinals for the third consecutive year, raced off to a 3-0 first period lead and led 6-2 after two, with Aaron Moore and Landon Langenbrunner scoring the goals.

The third period, though, belonged to the home team, which outshot Marshall 18-2 in the session and got goals from Branden Matteen and Langenbrunner, but could draw no closer.

"We asked them (the players) for everything they had in the third period, and they gave it to us," Smalley said. "How can you not be proud of that?"

But the hill was too steep to climb.

"They (Marshall) are a good team. I'm not taking anything away from them," Smalley said. "They scored the goals; they won the game. But I thought we were the better team for most of the game, and sometimes the better team doesn't win."

That left Smalley with a need to be philosophical after the game — a role no coach wants.

"I told the players thank you for the effort and I hope we taught you something about life," he said. "You never point fingers at kids, but lots of good teams don't make the tournament when they are capable of it."

The loss will lead to a summer of soul-searching for players.

"It's a reality check," Smalley said. "These kids won at every level, but in pee wees and bantams you can play fewer kids. In high school, you have to have some depth and hope things go your way. They learned a lesson."

But it's a lesson that, while harshly taught, needs to be gently absorbed.

"It's hard on the kids — hard to fathom it," Smalley said. "You feel bad for the seniors. We won the Lake Superior Conference and that was a goal for us, and we had a fun year where we beat some good hockey teams."

Now, the growth process begins.

"The underclassmen got to feel some pressure and pain," Smalley said. "They want to go back to work and get better. That starts tomorrow. Next season starts tomorrow."

Smalley, who finished his first season as coach with the loss, looks forward to a dryland program this summer which will give him a chance to spend more time around his players.

"I'd like to base some things on a good solid summer program," he said. "It's different when your coaches and staff have the chance to be with the players, learn about them and what they're made of. These kids accepted us as coaches and went to battle for us every day. I'm proud of them."

Smalley also thanked the community.

"Supportive parents, supportive players," he said. "When you have the kids stand up after a lost playoff game and thank the coaches, that's amazing. I want them to not look backward, but to look forward. The kids gave me energy and the community supported that."

But in the end, the pain and tears associated with an upset playoff loss are what will stay with the team, at least for the short term.

"You can't bank all success off wins and losses," Smalley said. "We didn't get to where we wanted to go. But the underclassmen felt the seniors' pain and want to do something about it. That's good news."

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