Cloquet U-12 girls win tourney, continue amazing season
CLOQUET—Not long after she emerged from the bottom of a dog-pile of joyful teammates following her game-winning goal Sunday, Haley Adkins admitted she usually likes to shoot the puck to the top left of the net.
"But this time I went top right," she said.
It turned out to be the right spot at the right time, as Adkins' netter earned the Cloquet girls U-12 youth hockey team their Heartbreaker Tournament title trophy with a wild 4-3 win over Hibbing-Chisholm in double-overtime.
Adkins, a left-winger with a knack for the puck, started her game-ending play down the left boards. Just past the blue line, the left-hander stayed wide and fired a wrist shot across her body toward the cage. Honest afterward about not being certain if it would go in, Adkins said the puck flew over the goaltender's left shoulder and sent her teammates, coaches and the couple hundred fans in Northwoods Credit Union Arena into a frenzy.
"Everyone just piled on top of me. I think [teammate] Brynn Martin knocked me over," said Adkins of the celebratory body-piling that commenced within seconds of winning the championship. "I was at the bottom. It kind of hurt."
Yet, no victory has been sweeter for the Cloquet U-12s. Sure, they are having an unforgettable season sitting with a 30-1-2 record, winning all of the invitational tournaments in Mora, Cambridge, Two Harbors and now their own, but they've never been able to get by Hibbing-Chisholm.
Last winter, Cloquet coach Mick Maslowski, now in his fourth year with the program, said they lost five one-goal games to their biggest rivals, none more stinging than last year's home tourney title tilt in extra minutes.
"They took it to us last year," said Maslowski. "We just never could get over the top."
On Super Sunday they did. In addition to Adkins' heroics, teammate Marina Dostal marked a hat trick for Cloquet, scoring two goals in the first period and another in the third. The Cloquet Middle School seventh-grader raised both arms after her first mark — but following her second, the center got airborne, jumping on her skates in excitement.
Adkins, a 13-year-old Carlton eighth-grader, assisted on Dostal's second tally, while CMS sixth-grade right-winger Macie Hoffmann helped on the other two.
Hoffmann's goaltending classmate, Araya Kiminski, made 23 saves for the hosts.
No period was harder, however, than the third.
Trailing 2-0 and being outshot 20-9, Hibbing-Chisholm created a multitude of chances and nearly won in the final frame with three goals by three separate scorers, outshooting Cloquet 14-2.
"We turned it on," said fifth-year Hibbing-Chisholm coach Paul Gherardi.
"We knew they were coming," added Maslowski.
Being each other's only tie-games all season, it was no surprise that 45 minutes wasn't enough hockey for these two competitors. A scoreless, five-minute, sudden-death overtime led to 4-on-4 double OT, in running time.
With blanket-covered fans on the edge of their seats and some hardly able to watch, Adkins made her strike with just a couple minutes left until a shootout.
"I was jumping up and down and screaming super loud," said Hoffmann, who has now won the tournament twice, after winning with Cloquet's U-10 team a year ago. "I think I jumped on a player's foot, I was so happy."
"It was just exciting when I saw it go in," said Dostal, who was in the penalty box for one of Cloquet's six penalties, hers called for roughing. "We have always lost to them by a goal, so it feels good. It's something I'll remember for a long time."
"I cried," added Gabby Meyen, a CMS seventh-grader, as she left an excited locker room and was greeted by a jubilant mob of Cloquet parents, grandparents and fans in the lobby.
One of those parents was Jen Dostal, Marina's mother. Sitting to the left of good friend — and CMS seventh-grader Eve's Eugenis' mom — Steph, Dostal didn't watch the closing minutes, nor Adkins's winner.
"I was too scared," said Dostal.
That doesn't mean a shortage of support for the program, one she's been a part of for five years now. Dostal admitted she and her husband, Andy, do raise their voices sometimes during games. Many youth sports fans can relate.
"I'm very loud," Jen said with a laugh.
But it's only in encouragement for her daughter and her teammates, who have been so enjoyable to watch. Especially this season, when Cloquet has lost just one game — to Moose Lake — in 33 tries and is currently ranked No. 2 in the latest girls Class B state polls.
Stats aside, it's the girls' connection and chemistry that Dostal sees and cherishes most. Others would agree.
"They have learned how to play and work well together," she said. "They have a really good bond."
As do the parents. Often traveling across the state, it's rare not to see plenty of purple colors cheering — and celebrating — with our future Lumberjacks.
"We've been together for years," said Dostal. "They're my best friends."
The same can be said about the girls, ranging from Cloquet to Carlton, sixth grade to eighth. Marina Dostal said many of them are constantly in contact on Instagram and Snapchat, plus they often skate together indoors and out, keeping hockey a part of their many friendships.
"It's been really fun because we all get along," Marina said outside the locker room. "We just stick together, work as a team and encourage each other. We all just have a lot of fun together."
"This is a good group," added Adkins, the only girl from Carlton on the team who is now in her fourth season with the program. "I'm very excited to see where times can take us and where we're going to get by the end of the season. We just have to keep working. Like coach says: 'Good teams find a way.'"
"I don't really know what else to say," said Maslowski. "It's not the first time we've had our backs against the wall. Sometimes I don't know how they do it, but they just find a way."
Maslowski and assistant coaches Steve Martin, Justin Harriman and former Cloquet-Esko-Carlton goaltender Sarah Gustafson are hoping the team will find their way to the state tournament in St. Cloud come March. That would happen after advancing through districts in Moose Lake and regionals near the Canadian border in Warroad, in the coming weeks.
"Our goal this year has been to make it to state," said Maslowski. "This is probably our best crack at it.
"But it's never been about the wins, it's always been about the process," he continued. "These girls just come in every day with positive attitudes, and work hard. That's all I've ever asked. And now they're starting to see that pay off."
And if you think this is the final round with Hibbing-Chisholm, think again. Friday, they travel to Hibbing, because the Bluejackets are in the same region. To their credit, Hibbing-Chisholm is rated No. 6 in the state polls, sitting now 18-1-2. Sunday was their first defeat.
"Our one loss and both ties are to Cloquet," said Gherardi. "They have a great team with some big players who can move. We enjoy the competition between the two. It's some fun hockey."
Gherardi, who played hockey semi-professionally in Louisville, noted both should have postseason success. They may even meet in a potential regional final.
Both teams also whizzed by their competition last weekend, with Hibbing shutting out Duluth 3-0, Thunder Bay 6-0 and Eagan 1-0, while Cloquet counted 1-0, 9-1 and 6-0 wins over Fort Frances, North Shore and Forest Lake before meeting in the tournament final.
"The coaches were joking before that we wished we were in different regions," Gherardi said.
"This is not the last we're going to see each other," added Maslowski.
With these two traditions, one can only assume it may go down to the final shot again.
And hopefully for Adkins and Co., it's at the right time — and maybe the right side — again.