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'Jacks win in sweet revenge match over East

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It was only one win and only one game, but for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team, it sure felt sweet.

Hunter Roberts’ goal at 6:28 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and Zack Strom made the lead stand up in goal as the ’Jacks snapped a 12-game losing streak against Duluth East, beating the Greyhounds 2-1 at the Heritage Center in Duluth on Monday night.

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“I can’t even say how proud I am of these players,” CEC Coach Dave Esse said. “The coaching staff, everyone, they have worked very hard. We gave up a first goal that wasn’t good but we bided our time and relaxed. We played better and better as the game went on. I’m really happy for the guys.”

The game marked the first win for CEC over Duluth East since the 2008 section semifinals, a 6-5 win that saw defenseman David Brown score four times.

That kind of offense was nowhere to be found on Monday night for either team, as the ’Jacks shut down a skilled Greyhounds team with a patient, defensive style of play.

CEC outshot the Greyhounds 25-23 for the game but fell behind 1-0 after only 4:36 of the first period when defenseman Alex Trapp’s shot skipped off the top of Strom’s glove and into the net.

That lead held up into the third period, when the ’Jacks struck back.

Kyle Klatt had the business end of a two-on-one early in the period, racing down the left wing and snapping a wrist shot over the blocker of East goaltender Gunnar Howg at 2:24 to tie the game.

That set the stage for Roberts, and then for Strom, who held off the Greyhounds the rest of the way.

After Roberts’ goal, the senior stood tall to deny East center Brian Bunten on a breakaway midway through the period, and then made a remarkable pad save to rob East defenseman Phil Beaulieu with 1:22 left in the game.

“That was one of the highlights,” Esse said of Strom’s save. “If I quit coaching after this year, I will never forget that save. It was tremendous. Strom made the big saves when he needed to, and in the clutch that’s the goalie you see.”

The win was a great team triumph for the Lumberjacks (7-12-2), and reinforced some key truths in Esse’s mind, especially in the third period.

“What I loved is that the players moved their feet and went to the net on both goals,” Esse said. “I can’t wait to show that period to the kids on tape and show them that when you move your feet and go to the net good things happen.

“We really passed a gut check after the first goal,” Esse continued. “I’m so happy and so proud, [the players] finally got a reward. We lost games where we outplayed opponents but didn’t score. If we get a bounce or two, we might win five more games this season.”

The ’Jacks looked quite different from the team that lost 3-1 to East earlier this season in Cloquet. Younger players like Tyler Chicos and freshman Dylan Johnson got extended ice time in the rematch.

“People said that the little Johnson (Dylan) would never play on the varsity and here he is, on the first line, killing penalties and getting time on the power play,” Esse said. “He’s an energetic player with puck savvy. I think he’s a hockey player. I’m excited for his future and he comes from a good hockey family. He’s going to get better and better.”

The ’Jacks have three games remaining, all at home, beginning with Friday night’s game against Superior in Cloquet. Obviously, Esse hopes the East victory will give the team a spark and help them peak for the playoffs.

“It’s only one win, but it’s a memorable one,” he said. “The seniors here never beat East, none of us had since 2008. This team won on Hockey Day, it beat East and hopefully those things propel us to get back on track and confident. No matter what, it’s been a special season.”