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Pair of wins snap CEC losing skid

A couple of wins were just what the doctor ordered for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls' hockey team.

Solid performances in a 3-2 win over Hayward in Cloquet on Friday, Jan. 5, and a 4-1 win at Superior on Monday, Jan. 8, snapped a five-game losing skid and put the Lumberjacks (7-8-1) firmly on the right track.

"We can be very pleased with those wins," coach Courtney Olin said. "The players performed very well in both games and we beat a couple of quality programs."

Against Hayward, Taylor Nelson scored a shorthanded goal with 1:35 left in regulation to complete a victory that meant a lot to the team. Kiana Bender scored the team's other two goals and Elise Lund stopped 25 of 27 shots in goal.

"That was a good win for us for a number of reasons," Olin said. "First, that team (Hayward) is always around the state tournament in Wisconsin, so they are a good program. The second thing is that we got balanced scoring and play from our lines and our goaltender played very well."

CEC followed up that win with a razor-sharp 4-1 win at Wessman Arena in Superior on Monday. The Lumberjacks outshot the Spartans 40-19 and got two goals from Dana Jones, plus tallies from Nelson and Dea DeLeon to cruise to the victory. Lund stopped 18 of 19 Spartan shots.

"Another solid win for us," Olin said. "Games like that are good for the confidence (of the players)."

During the losing streak, which lasted from Dec. 15 to Jan. 4, CEC wasn't blown out of any game. "With the exception of the Brainerd game (a 7-1 loss in the season's second game), we've been in every game and we've competed hard in every single game," Olin said. "Our kids come ready to work and ready to play a good 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."

Add in games against Forest Lake (13-2-2), Marshall (13-5), Dodge County (12-5) and the season-ending game at home versus Thief River Falls (13-1-2), and you get an idea of the size of the challenge CEC faces.

Of the team's last nine opponents, seven have winning records and all have won at least five games.

But Olin is optimistic about her team.

"They work so hard," she said. "And they all get along well on and off the ice. This is a fun group of players to be around and they are anxious to learn and get better. As these kids gain experience and improve it should be even more fun."

Ah, fun. A word that sadly isn't seen much these days in youth sports.

"If the kids show up and they aren't having fun, we're doing it wrong," Olin said. "It has to be fun. It makes for a better learning environment and it's obviously better for the players."

But 16 games into the season, Olin's team is on the cusp of the break-even mark, which is pleasing.

"If you had told me that at the beginning of the season I'd have taken it," Olin said. "But we have a lot of tough games ahead."

It starts Saturday, Jan. 13, with a 5 p.m. home game against Cambridge at the old Pine Valley Ice Shelter. The team is then at Dodge County and Forest Lake before playing five of its final six games on home ice.