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Lumberjacks play is inconsistent, but shows promise

CEC’s Derek Bloom (2) and James Newgren crash the net with Duluth East’s Phil Beaulieu looking for a rebound from goaltender Gunnar Howg Thursday night at Northwoods Arena. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
CEC’s Hunter Roberts fires a wrist shot from the blue line against Duluth East on Thursday at Northwoods Arena. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2

The young Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team got two tests last week in its search for improvement. One went better than the other.

And although both games were home losses — 3-2 to Duluth East on Thursday and 2-1 in overtime to Hopkins on Saturday — the game against the Greyhounds was much more positive.

“The third period against East was the best period we played all year,” Coach Dave Esse said. In that session, the ’Jacks outshot the Greyhounds 12-6 and dominated long stretches of play in the East zone.

However, East grabbed a 2-0 lead in the first period on a power-play goal by Nick Altmann — the Greyhounds’ first power-play goal of the season — and a later goal by Bryton Lutzka, who took advantage of a turnover in front of CEC goalie Zack Strom to score his first varsity goal.

“The first period was not good,” Esse said. “After watching the tape, East could have been up by a lot more. We kind of stood around, afraid to make a mistake. We challenged the players after the first period and they responded well, playing more as a team. From then on we regrouped and played well.”

Kyle Klatt scored at 3:47 of the second period to cut East’s lead to 2-1 but Auston Crist’s first varsity goal for East at 8:55 restored the two-goal lead. Derek Bloom scored at 8:24 of the third period to make it 3-2 and from there the ’Jacks pressed for a tying goal that never came.

“We had quality chances in the third period,” Esse said. “We made them call time out with 11 minutes left and I can’t remember the last time they called a time out in a non-crucial situation.”

However, the Greyhounds had a masterful shift with two minutes left that allowed them to keep the puck for 1:20 in the CEC zone, running down the clock and denying the ’Jacks a chance to use their time out and pull Strom from the nets until very late in the game.

“They deserved to win after that sequence,” Esse said. “It was the old East, where they controlled the puck all the time. Give them credit.”

CEC outshot East 33-28 for the game with Strom making 30 stops in goal.

The first-ever visit of the Royals to Cloquet on Saturday, though, didn’t go so well.

“The first period made me sick,” Esse said. “It was a really poor game for the most part and the first period and part of the second wasn’t good. We looked tired and sloppy and we weren’t emotional either.”

The ’Jacks wasted two first-period power plays, in their coach’s eyes.

“Our power play was disappointing,” he said. “We couldn’t break out, couldn’t get the puck deep and it was one of those games we just want to forget.”

Hopkins’ Austin Fisher gave the Royals a 1-0 lead at 14:49 of the second period before James Newgren tied the game with 34 seconds left in regulation forcing overtime. Once there, though, Jimmy Copouls won the game for the visitors with 40 seconds to play.

The ’Jacks outshot Hopkins 34-29 for the game but the team’s third game of the week eventually tolled on them.

“Our mental and physical fatigue showed,” Esse said. “Staying mentally sharp is important and it sometimes really is a case of mind over matter. We had a tough game against Hopkins and we want to rebound from it.”

CEC (2-4-1) is at Virginia on Thursday and hosts Forest Lake in a section seeding game on Saturday night.

“Virginia wants to beat us and will work hard,” Esse said. The Blue Devils lost 6-1 to Grand Rapids on Tuesday night. “Forest Lake is a big game for seeding purposes and we need it. We only play them once. Besides that barrage in the third period against Cambridge, nothing has come easy for us. We need to play well.”