Shea Walters is the new Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey coach, effective immediately.
Cloquet School Board members unanimously appointed Walters as part of the consent agenda at their meeting Monday, Aug. 13, with no discussion and only a couple of hockey parents in attendance.
It was a very different scene than the previous Monday, when 30 players, parents and others gathered during a special 7:30 a.m. board meeting to show support for Kevin Smalley, who coached the Lumberjacks last year with Walters as his assistant. The former Denfeld coach guided CEC for one season after succeeding longtime coach Dave Esse last July.
However, Smalley had resigned in July - citing work commitments and denying it had anything to do with a DWI arrest (he has yet to be charged) - then rescinded his resignation and asked for his job back. The board voted Aug. 6 not to renew his contract.
A committee subsequently interviewed Walters and Duluth East Bantams coach Steve Pitoscia for the position.
"Both candidates had great job interviews so I don't think we could have gone wrong," said board member Duane Buytaert, one of three board members on the interview committee.
He told the Pine Journal that the board received many letters from the community recommending Walters. Cloquet High School Principal Steve Battaglia and Activities Director Paul Riess also recommended the board hire Walters.
"Last year was a really good season," Buytaert said. "The kids enjoyed playing, they had a good season, all the parents got along. I think a lot of parents felt that Shea was part of that culture and they wanted that to continue."
Walters, 31, graduated from Hibbing High School after helping the Bluejackets to a third-place finish at the 2004 Class A state tournament. He went on to play forward for Bemidji State, where he scored 20 goals and assisted on 50 others during his four-year collegiate career. He also served as an assistant coach at Hibbing-Chisholm in 2015-16.
Buytaert said Walters applied for the head coach position last year, but withdrew his name because he and his family were living in Hibbing and it would mean a lot of travel time. Since then, he was hired as assistant coach and moved to Cloquet with his family, and transferred from Hibbing to Duluth for work, Buytaert said.
Walters will become CEC's third coach in as many years, and inherits a talented roster that could spark the Lumberjacks to contention in what again figures to be a deep Section 7AA. Landon Langenbrunner, who notched 25 goals and 23 assists a year ago, headlines a strong senior class that also includes Gavin Rasmussen, Dane Stoyanoff and Jon Baker.
CEC finished 17-8-1 in 2017-18, bowing out of the section playoffs in the first round.
Duluth News Tribune sports reporter Louie St. George contributed to this story.