Araya Kiminski sat down to have dinner Sunday, Jan. 3, but something just didn’t feel right.
Days earlier, Kiminski had been in contact with someone who later tested positive for COVID-19, so the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton sophomore goalie had to monitor her situation, as well. She felt fine and showed no signs — no cough, no sore throat, nothing — until that Sunday.
“I went up to my kitchen to have dinner, and I couldn’t smell it,” Kiminski said. “I couldn’t taste the pickle or anything, and those are very strong, so I was like, ‘Uh-oh.’”
Kiminski went to MedExpress Urgent Care in Cloquet, where she received the last test of the day, a rapid test, and about 15 minutes later was told she had COVID-19.
The Lumberjacks began practicing the very next day, and Kiminski couldn’t join them.
“I was very upset and sad because this season is short already, and I got like another three weeks cut off,” Kiminski said. “I’m just glad I got it before I was with the team, cutting it off from them.”
The Lumberjacks open the season 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15, against Duluth at Essentia Health Heritage Center. Freshman Torrie Lane is expected to start in net until Kiminski returns.
After quarantining, Kiminski is expected to rejoin her teammates Jan. 21 and could play that night against Eveleth-Gilbert.
Kiminski’s presence could make a big difference for a CEC team that has big skates to fill.
The Lumberjacks lost 68% of their scoring from last season with the graduation of their top line from a team that went 27-4 and finished as Minnesota Class A runner-up. That line included News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year Taylor Nelson, a Bemidji State hockey recruit who had a Northland-best 47 goals and 32 assists for 79 points, as well as Minnesota Duluth softball recruits Kiana Bender (34-27—61) and center Dea DeLeon (7-34—41).
“It’s a challenge we’ve known was coming,” Lumberjacks coach Courtney Olin said. “One of the things we’ve really focused on early in practice was just shooting. We know we might not have the same skill level that we had last season, so we’re going to have to kind of adapt our game and how we play.
“We’re looking at the bigger picture and hopefully competing at the end if we’re fortunate enough to have some playoffs. The first few weeks will be an adjustment period as we have a lot of new players stepping into big roles, but hopefully we’ll continue to adjust and compete when it counts.”
Olin expects Proctor-Hermantown, last year’s Section 7A runner-up, to be the team to beat.
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton has prided itself on stout goaltending since the program’s inception and this year’s team could have that old familiar look of lower scoring contests where the Lumberjacks’ focus starts at their own net and works its way out.
That’s a good place to start when you have Kiminski, who went 17-3 last season with a .897 save percentage, 1.95 goals-against average and a pair of shutouts. Kiminski split time in net with senior Lauren Maslowski before Kiminski took over in the Section 7A playoffs, stopping 52 of the 55 shots she faced in three playoff games, good for a .945 save percentage and 1.08 GAA while leading the Lumberjacks to their first state tournament since 2009.
In front of Kiminski, the Lumberjacks have one of the area’s better defenseman in junior Tenley Stewart and up-and-coming eighth-grade defenseman Emma Parks.
“We’re definitely going to be a lot more defensive minded this year,” said junior forward Dana Jones. “It will be great having Araya back. She brings so much to the team. She was so young last year, but what she brought was amazing. It’s unbelievable what she could do in the future. She has so much potential, and knowing she has three more years, it’s crazy to think about.”
While Jones (10-7-17) didn’t put up huge numbers last year expect that output to increase as she plays on the Lumberjacks’ No. 1 line with junior winger Marina Dostal and senior center Lauren Sertich, the granddaughter of former UMD men’s hockey coach Mike Sertich.
While COVID restricted indoor training Jones said she and a couple of her teammates would kick it old school, getting in skating workouts on frozen local lakes like Big Lake and Chub. Par for the course for CEC.
“We’re just going to keep working hard, and it will come with time,” Jones said. “If we just keep working hard for each other on the ice, we’ll produce those goals. I know hard work can take you farther than talent sometimes — we can always rely on hard work.”
That is the rock the Lumberjacks have built their program on, and it will be the mantra they continue to instill in their players.
This season will feel different, no doubt about it, but on the ice, it shouldn’t look a whole lot different. Olin said everyone will wear masks at all times, walking into the rink, walking out, on the bus, in the locker room and while playing.
Since Cloquet is currently in distance learning, the team is required to come to the rink in full gear and uniform. Put the skates and helmets on and then get on the ice for practices and games. The locker room and buses will have assigned seating, and the team will be limited to 10 to 15 minutes in the locker room. They can’t keep equipment in there, either, meaning players will no longer be able to keep their gear at the rink.
“We’re essentially in and out,” Olin said.
Despite all these rules and regulations, Olin said make no mistake, her team is ecstatic to get back on the ice, as are, presumably, teams across the “State of Hockey.”
“The girls hit the ice running as if it was a game,” Olin said of the team’s first practice. “Everyone was just really excited. Everyone was just so happy to be back on the ice and have that opportunity to play. It was like waking up on Christmas morning as a little kid, and that energy hasn’t died out by any means. If anything, we’ve just continued to ramp up in excitement for Friday.”