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Lumberjacks squeak by Hilltoppers in double OT

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton hockey players celebrate with their student section following No. 8 Jon Baker's double-overtime goal to defeat Duluth Marshall 2-1 in the Section 7AA quarterfinal game at Northwoods Credit Union Arena Tuesday night. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com1 / 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Brendan Durand shoots a backhand shot during Tuesday's Section 7AA quarterfinal game vs. Duluth Marshall. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com2 / 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton defenseman Andy Acers shoots the puck during Tuesday night's Section 7AA Quarterfinal game vs. Duluth Marshall. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com3 / 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Ryan Nelson shoots in front of Duluth Marshall's John Ribich during Tuesday night's Section 7AA quarterfinal at Northwoods Credit Union Arena. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com4 / 4

One of the fun things about basketball is that it's said the last three minutes of the game are the most exciting part. Yet that adage has nothing on Tuesday night's Section 7AA playoff quarterfinal between Duluth Marshall and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.

The game was scoreless until the final minute of regulation — when Marshall's Peter Hansen scored with 45 seconds left to give the Hilltoppers a 1-0 lead.

Things were just getting interesting.

Coach Dave Esse took his time out and gave his players a short speech.

"I told them we had plenty of time and that if we played smart, we had time to get into the game and force overtime," Esse said. "And then they went out and showed that they could do it."

And how. With 13 seconds left in regulation time, Branden Matteen tied the game off a scramble in front of the Marshall goal, beating Hilltopper goaltender Cam Brandt and forced the game into overtime.

Once there, the 'Jacks held Marshall without a shot for the first eight-minute session and then won the game at 6:31 of the second overtime through a goal by Jon Baker.

Andy Acers took the original shot from the point, and Baker put the puck into the Marshall net. He literally followed his shot, pushed into the goal by a Marshall defenseman.

"We didn't start well but we got stronger as the game went on," Esse said. "It was a great way to end the game, that's for sure."

CEC did start slowly, even though it didn't necessarily show on the shot board. The Lumberjacks (16-8-2) started to find their feet as the game went on, but it took Hansen's goal on a fluttering shot from the point to really rev up their engines.

"After the first period I talked to the seniors about this being their last game in the building," Esse said. "I was very calm about it but I asked them if this was the way they really wanted to go out."

It turned out that their answer was "no".

The win was the third for CEC over the Hilltoppers this season and it's hard to beat a team three times in a year. They'll be hoping that's the case on Saturday as they face Duluth East in the 2 p.m. semifinals at Amsoil Arena. The Greyhounds have beaten the Lumberjacks twice this season so, obviously, the purple are hoping to break the skid Marshall couldn't break against themselves.

"We came out flat the last time we played East and there was really no reason or excuse for that since if you can't get up to play Duluth East you can't get up to play anybody," Esse said. "We're going to have to move our feet against them and 'gap up.' If we do that I like our chances."

The second-seeded Greyhounds have 5-0 and 5-1 wins over CEC this season but Esse says a total effort from his team might well lead to a different result on Saturday.

"We showed we could go out and do it against Marshall," Esse said. "I'm very proud of these kids for that and the momentum we gained with some of our recent wins down the stretch might mean a lot to us on Saturday. But we know East is very good; they've shown that to us twice, and we'll need to be ready."