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Hockey: CEC girls win season opener

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Taylor Nelson scores a breakaway goal past Brainerd's Olivia King during the Tuesday, Nov. 13, season opening 3-2 win at Northwoods Arena. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Lauren Cawcutt (center) celebrates her first goal of the season with teammates during the Lumberjacks' 3-2 win over Brainerd on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton goaltender Elise Lund makes one of her 38 saves Tuesday, Nov. 13. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 4
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Dea DeLeon takes a backhand shot for a goal during the Tuesday, Nov. 13, girls hockey opener against Brainerd at Northwoods Arena. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal4 / 4

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's girls hockey program is a cooperative — and nowhere is that more apparent than in what might be the team's top line this season.

The troika of Kiana Bender of Cloquet, Dea DeLeon of Esko and Taylor Nelson of Carlton played a pivotal role in a big 3-2 season-opening win over Brainerd at Northwoods Credit Union Arena on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

The line scored two of the team's three goals, with DeLeon and Nelson each finding the range against Brainerd goaltender Olivia King.

"Yes, it's a cooperative line, now that you mention it," CEC coach Courtney Olin said. "We couldn't be more proud of them and the job we did as a team."

Last year, Brainerd took CEC to running time in a 7-1 rout to open the season and the "other" Lumberjacks were ranked in the Class AA top 10 by Let's Play Hockey magazine's preseason poll.

"That's a good team, a skilled team, and we turned it around against them with the teams having most of the same players," Olin said. "That was great and we had a great atmosphere and crowd, too."

Olivia Wiskow's shorthanded goal three minutes into the second period gave the visitors the lead, only to see DeLeon tie the game with a power play goal at 14:54 of the middle session. Nelson scored 2:13 into the second and Lauren Cawcutt's goal at 9:18 of the third period proved to be the game winner.

Then CEC rode the brilliance of goaltender Elise Lund to the victory. She made 21 saves on 22 Brainerd shots in the third period and finished with 37 saves on 39 shots for the night.

"She (Lund) had a great opening night," Olin said. "She's one of our captains and leads on and off the ice. She kept us in the game and the team gave her the puck afterwards. It was well-deserved."

Olin liked how her team played right out of the chute, and its spirit was exemplified by Nelson, who starred on Carlton's volleyball team this fall.

"On Saturday, she played in the state consolation final at 9 a.m. while the hockey team was scrimmaging in Hibbing," Olin said. "When we got back, there was Taylor, in the barn, shooting pucks and skating to get ready for hockey season."

Nelson's spirit rubs off.

"That story shows her dedication," Olin said. "We were happy to have her back tonight and that's just one reason why. She has such a good sports IQ. One of her strengths is that she reads the ice so well and she works well with her linemates."

Nelson and DeLeon played volleyball this fall and Bender played soccer, but they picked up like they hadn't missed a beat on Tuesday night.

"They are dedicated to the sport, all three of them," Olin said. "Players rent ice in the off-season and they all stay together, and are friends off the ice as well. In the fall, they're competitors and have the edge and will to win, but this winter, they're teammates and they all have the team mentality."

Defensemen Keagan Anderson and Lexi Cooke join Lund as tri-captains this season, and the still-young Lumberjacks benefit from playing their first five games of the season at home.

"We make up for it because we're on the road almost every game in January," Olin said. "But, it's nice to start the year at home, where things are a little more relaxed and we can build our foundation.

"The Brainerd game shows what a difference a year's hard work can make," Olin said. "The girls bought into the program. They're getting competitive and not backing down to anyone."