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Girls hockey: Lumberjacks skate past Rebels

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Dana Jones fires a shot in front of Moose Lake Area's Abby Painovich during the Tuesday, Nov. 20, hockey game. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 5
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Kiana Bender fires a shot during the Tuesday, Nov. 20, hockey game vs. Moose Lake Area. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 5
Moose Lake Area girls' hockey head coach Chris Gamst shouts instructions during the Rebels' game vs. Princeton on Saturday, Nov. 24, at Riverside Arena. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 5
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Jenna Zdebski shoots the puck during the Tuesday, Nov. 20, hockey game vs. Moose Lake Area. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal4 / 5
Moose Lake Area goaltender Jo Wekseth makes one of her 50 saves during the Rebels' game at Cloquet-Esko-Carlton. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal5 / 5

CLOQUET — When looking at Courtney Olin's starting lineup for her Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey team, it doesn't take long to notice her balance of players.

Some shoot right, others left, and in return, the wins for the Lumberjacks have be coming from right and left.

CEC (5-2) is off to its fastest start in Olin's now fourth year at her alma mater, much in part by taking advantage of offensive opportunities created by their vast array of skilled skaters shooting from all angles.

And never was that more evident than Tuesday, Nov. 20, when the No. 15 ranked Lumberjacks skated past neighboring Moose Lake Area 7-2 before a well-attended Northwoods Arena in Cloquet.

There, during a game that CEC controlled throughout the evening, five different Lumberjacks lit the lamp, including goals via the slap shot, wrist shot, wrap-around and between the legs of busy Rebels' junior goaltender Jo Wekseth.

"Our team is filled with multi-sport athletes, and they're all competitive," said Olin, a three-sport prep star herself who went on to play women's hockey at St. Scholastica. "Over the last year, our focus has been on improving our shots. We're taking advantage of those opportunities when we get them."

"We do our best to put the puck in the net," said left-winger Kiana Bender, who scored two goals to go along with a pair from teammate Dana Jones and one each from Jaxie Pogorelc, Taylor Nelson and Lauren Cawcutt. "We really work hard in the offensive zone."

Such was the case last week, evidenced by their distinct 57-17 shot advantage. CEC countered MLA's early lead — on Savannah Gamst's deflected-in goal just 59 seconds into the contest — by scoring once in the first period, twice in the second and four times in an effective third frame to back goaltender Elise Lund's 15 saves.

Amongst them was Nelson, a Carlton junior, already committed to NCAA Division I Bemidji State, who went over Wekseth's shoulders in the third. Bender meanwhile, a Cloquet junior, is also seeking Division I interest in the future, and slapped the puck past the Rebels' netminder to cap a flurry of scoring.

The win adds with victories already over Brainerd, Orono, Princeton and Spring Lake Park. Chip in in their 3-2 overtime loss to Class AA's unbeaten Grand Rapids/Greenway and the Lumberjacks are quickly showing this winter that they are a team not to mess with in Class A.

"It's the first time, in a long time, where the girls aren't young anymore," said Olin. "These young girls have gotten older."

Then again, so have most, with third-ranked Proctor/Hermantown, No. 11 Duluth Marshall and No. 17 Hibbing/Chisholm all among a Section 7A gauntlet of contenders.

In fact, it was the Bluejackets that ousted CEC 1-0 last year in a playoff opener that went a dizzying four overtime periods and still settles unpleasantly with the Lumberjacks today.

"It's the motivation and momentum for this whole season," said Olin.

"It stings still," added Pogorelc, a junior right-winger. "We're just going to keep battling and hopefully make it past that first round."

Or, the way they're playing now, even further.

CEC hasn't been to the state tournament in a decade — back in 2009, when Olin was a then-junior for the Lumberjacks. Now however, the 24-year-old's squad wants to make that change.

"We definitely want to make that change," said Pogorelc.

"Going to state is everyone's dream," added Bender.

If that dream comes true, it could be be planned just right. Olin is currently pregnant with her and husband Tyler's second child, who — fittingly for a hockey family — is due on Feb. 28, or two weeks following the state tournament.

That's where Olin's father, Dave Esse, comes in handy, serving as her assistant, just two seasons removed from coaching within the CEC boys' program for 26 years prior.

"It's the best thing I could ever ask for — I get to come to work everyday with my dad," said Olin. "In my opinion, he's one of the most knowledgeable coaches in Minnesota."

"To see what happens over these next two months will be fun," continued Olin. "I believe in our girls. I truly believe we can play with anybody in our section."

"They're definitely a contender," added MLA coach Chris Gamst.

Hockey families like Olin's — her mother, sister and grandparents were all in attendance last week — are common in this state. Gamst can relate.

The first-year Rebels' coach taking over for Joe Mohelsky has a daughter on the team — junior, Savannah — as well as two other relatives in junior Chloe Gamst and freshman Gabby Gamst.

Coach Gamst said his family tree is filled with hockey, including youth coaching, time in juniors, collegiate stints and even the Olympics. Gamst's daughter, Maddy, is also the goaltender at Wisconsin-Superior currently.

Thus, there was no surprise when the 45-year-old admitted he has artificial ice to skate on — in their garage.

"This is pretty much what we do," Gamst said. "We're at the rink pretty much everyday."

Gamst only had a mere 10 skaters last week, as the Rebels (1-5) — with a lone win over North Shore — are currently battling the injury bug and have a handful of new kids still learning the game on ice.

Still, Wekseth was impressive, shoving aside 50 CEC shots last week, while the Gamsts' — Savannah and Gabby — got MLA's lone goals.

"We're not there yet," admitted Gamst, yet remaining positive in his team's efforts. "We'll be all right. They're a fun bunch that come work hard everyday. They make if fun to go to the rink."

Moose Lake Area 1-1-0—2

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 1-2-4—7

First period — 1. MLA, Savannah Gamst (Abby Painovich, Ellie Anderson), 0:59; 2. CEC, Jaxie Pogorelc (Keagen Anderson, Dana Jones), 10:31.

Second period — 3. CEC, Jones (Lauren Cawcutt, Pogorelc), 1:38; 4. MLA, Gabby Gamst, 12:18 (pp); 5. CEC, Kiana Bender (Taylor Nelson), 15:02.

Third period — 6. CEC, Nelson (Bender), 0:29; 7. CEC, Jones (Emmie Ellena), 5:20; 8. CEC, Cawcutt (Pogorelc, Anderson), 10:11 (pp); 9. CEC, Bender (Nelson, Tenley Stewart), 9:56.

Saves — Jo Wekseth, MLA, 50; Elise Lund, CEC, 15.