Lumberjacks make Greyhounds work for section win
BOYS HOCKEY PLAYOFFS
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team faced a daunting task Saturday in the Section 7AA semifinals: find a way past Duluth East, which had beaten them twice during the regular season.
The Lumberjacks didn't find a way to get that done, but they did give the Greyhounds a real run for their money in a 1-0 loss that has players and coaches alike looking forward to next season.
"We played very well at times but they made more plays than we did," coach Dave Esse said. "We know we have to get bigger, we have to get stronger, and we have to work very hard in the off-season to be able to contend for the next level."
The only goal of the game came off the stick of Garrett Worth at the 13:16 mark of the second period — and despite outshooting the Greyhounds 14-6 in the third period, CEC couldn't find a tying goal.
"I thought we played a very good third period but in the second East kind of took it to us," Esse said. "They got the goal they needed there and they won the game."
CEC had two power plays in the second half of the third period as well, but couldn't get a tying goal.
"It was a little disappointing that we had back-to-back power plays we couldn't do anything with," Esse said. "But the kids played much better than in either of the first two games against East (5-0 and 5-1 regular season losses)."
That wasn't enough to earn the win, though, and the team's season ends with a record of 16-9-2.
"We were 13-14 last season so the trend is definitely in the right direction," Esse said. "But we still have a very young team and these players are used to winning at Pee Wee and Bantam levels so we have to keep the idea in them that they need to improve all year long to keep winning."
The team that defeated Grand Rapids and Roseau late in the season and won a dramatic quarterfinal playoff game over Duluth Marshall is the team that Esse wants to see head into the offseason.
"The kids got the idea that they could do it, and that's what they need," he said. "Their mindset is about winning but also about doing it the right way, and that is the thing that leads to success."
The team graduates nine seniors, and it's a class Esse is proud of.
"They were the leaders while the program builds up again," he said. "It's been fun watching this class grow up. They've gone from young players to young men and the thing I enjoyed the most about them was how gracious they were in everything, winning and losing. These kids are going to be successful in life because of that attitude."
Two of the seniors were the team's primary goaltenders, Dylan Langenbrunner and Eric Newman, who Esse said saved his best for last.
"Eric played his most complete game for us against East," Esse said. "I think that's a pretty good way to go out."
But in the end, the hunger is there for next season, and it didn't take long for the pangs to begin.
"We have a goal to represent Section 7AA in the state tournament again," Esse said. "The work starts now, the players exit meetings are underway and we're getting a handle on what we need to do to get there."