CEC has two games remaining in its regular season — Thursday, Feb. 1, against Duluth Marshall and Saturday, Feb. 3, against Thief River Falls. The team is battling for third seed in its QRF-ranked section. "We were behind International Falls for third place entering the North Shore game," Olin said. "The last two games are big. Marshall is a section opponent and Thief River Falls is a common opponent with International Falls. I would expect us to be a third or fourth seed, but we need these games for momentum heading into playoffs. "All we were looking for against the bigger teams was work ethic and improvement," Olin said. "We got it. Our goal is to be competitive in playoffs. We're peaking now and it's the right time."
Esko led Minnesota Class AA teams in defense last year at 39 points per game playing Devney's preferred man-to-man style. But the Eskomos have had trouble defensively this year, which led to Devney's decision to switch to — gulp — a zone defense three games ago. It's worked. The Eskomos (13-4) held Denfeld, McGregor and Cloquet to 33, 38 and 29 points, respectively, in a modest three-game winning streak. "The way we were guarding people, it was time for a change," Devney said. "The kids have responded well." In most man-to-man situations, opposing teams have tried to pull Trapp away from the basket, especially in the so-called "positionless basketball" craze. Sometimes, that has worked.
"Kade Bender has been out for awhile and he's a big bull for us," Smalley said. "(Dru) Senich has been out for about six weeks with a broken jaw. We've lost guys for long periods, and now Gavin is out. But on the positive side, there have been kids who have stepped up."
> "Our numbers were smaller than usual," coach Ryan Zimny said. But there's an upside to the smaller numbers.
The CEC boys took third place in a loaded field that also featured section powers Grand Rapids and Ely. "If I had to pick, I would say Grand Rapids is the favorite," coach Glen Sorenson said. "But Ely is very good, too, and we aren't too bad." CEC took third place even while giving star skier Aiden Ripp what amounted to a day off.
Overall we played OK, but we didn't win the game."
With nine games to play in the regular season and six of them at home, Olin still knows that nothing will come easy for her team. "We have a tough stretch of schedule against some good teams," she said. "We play Cambridge (13-4); we play at Andover (10-5-1); we play Proctor-Hermantown (10-9). It's going to be tough."
"Everyone is contributing," Madsen said. "We don't have anybody in the top 25 in the league in scoring and no players with a point per game. That doesn't happen often, but it really impresses me. We have depth, we're balanced and rolling four lines and six defensemen each night. Some teams have horses that are going to score 60-70 points, but we're winning as a team."
"If you take away those minutes, we're on a winning streak," coach Kevin Smalley said. "But you don't take away those minutes, of course, so the players learned a painful lesson."
Sorenson, who spent much of 2015-16 battling aggressive prostate cancer, has returned for a 38th — and this time, final — season as a high school Nordic skiing coach. He's coaching at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at the personal request of his top assistant.