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How to win at hockey without really shooting

Cloquet's Jon Baker had the hot hand against Roseville, finishing off a hat trick with multiple goals in the third period of the Thursday, Dec. 28, consolation game, which Cloquet won 5-1. Matt Moses/Pine Journal1 / 3
Roseville’s Nathan Bifulk body checks the Lumberjack’s Aaron Moore to break up a three-on-two rush on the Roseville goal early in the first period of the consolation game at Mars Arena on Thursday, Dec. 28. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton beat Roseville 5-1 after losing its first game against Wayzata in the opening round of the Hilltopper Holiday Tournament. Matt Moses/Pine Journal2 / 3
Roseville goalie Jakob Bakken watches as Cloquet's Jedd Anich lines up a shot early in the first period of the Thursday, Dec. 28, game at Marshall. Matt Moses/Pine Journal3 / 3

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys' hockey team is learning there are lots of ways to win hockey games. They also learned a tough way to lose one.

After consecutive wins over Virginia-MIB and defending state Class AA runner-up Moorhead before Christmas, the 'Jacks went 2-1 at the Hilltopper Holiday Classic thanks to six bad minutes in the quarterfinals.

"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."

That came in a 5-1 loss to Wayzata in the quarterfinals, in which the Lumberjacks surrendered three breakaway goals in a disastrous six-minute stretch of the first period.

"We just didn't know where we were on the ice, and climbing out of a hole like that against Wayzata isn't easy," Smalley said. "We had a good discussion about that."

But that was the only bad news of the holidays for CEC (9-4-1), which beat Roseville 5-1 and Anoka 8-1 in the tournament's last two games.

"I'm very happy with the bounce back," Smalley said. "I remember watching Elk River play in the (section 7AA semifinals) at Amsoil last year, when they had the game in hand and fell asleep. The game turns that quick. It's hard to regroup when you are out there, but once the players got over it, they came back the next two days very nicely."

A third-period natural hat trick from Jon Baker was enough to sink the Raiders in the Marshall tournament second round. Landon Langenbrunner assisted on all three goals and also scored in the second period as CEC outshot Roseville 52-12.

The next night, another big third period helped CEC bury the Tornadoes by an 8-1 score. This time it was Langenbrunner's turn for a hat trick, scoring a goal in each period. He leads the team in scoring with 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points.

Owen Carlson stopped 19 of 20 Anoka shots in the game. He and Reid Sunnarborg have allowed only 29 goals in the team's 14 games to date.

But a key talking point came the previous Friday in Moorhead, when the Lumberjacks won 3-2 on Jedd Anich's overtime goal — despite being outshot 38-14 for the contest.

"We didn't do a very good job of getting the puck to the net," Smalley said. "And, Moorhead was good at keeping us away from the net, too. We didn't attack a lot, but obviously, we had quality shots. They were a better team than we were that night but we had things go our way at the right time. Credit the kids for that."

"We didn't have a lot of opportunity with the puck," Smalley added. "But when we did get our chance, we turned the tide. We have to learn to put the puck in the net with the Grade A chances we do get."

Amazingly, the season is already at the halfway point.

"I think it feels fast for us," Smalley said. "We only got to see these kids in November (the 11th, the first day of practice), so it's less than two months. We're starting to get to know everybody now."

Smalley is impressed with the team's closeness.

"I really think that this group of guys are really close," he said. "It's a neat bond they have. They're eager to learn."

And eager to perform. After games at Andover, the team's first home game in nearly a month Tuesday, Jan. 9, against Marshall and then a trip to Eden Prairie, the 'Jacks will face the other Class AA state finalist — state champion Grand Rapids — in a special game Jan. 16.

Continuing a recent tradition, the game will be played in the "Old Barn" — the Pine Valley Ice Shelter.

"It's a throwback day," Smalley said. "Grand Rapids was willing to play us there and bring back the old memories of Cloquet hockey. I remember playing there with the chicken wire fences behind the goals instead of the glass. It's going to be fun."