The blazing speed and scoring depth of No. 4-ranked South St. Paul came as advertised in the Friday, Nov. 19, home opener for No. 8-ranked Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.

The Packers set the tone with two goals in rapid succession in the opening minutes of play, before adding two additional markers in the second and third periods for a 4-0 shutout win.

After opening their season on the road with a 4-2 road-triumph over Anoka, CEC coach Courtney Olin acknowledged that nerves played a factor in their long-awaited return to their home rink.

“I think there was lots of excitement and nerves going into tonight knowing that it’s our first home-opener and to have fans back in the arena after a year,” Olin said. “And then the second scenario is playing a top-team with a lot of depth. I think both of those scenarios worked to our disadvantage, but after the reset (timeout) we battled back and at least competed.”

The skating ability of SSP offered teachable moments that Olin hopes her team can apply moving forward through their daunting regular season schedule.

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“It was definitely a learning opportunity for us, and there’s things we need to work on,” Olin said. “I think tonight showed that if we’re not in the best position, a team with speed is going to take advantage of that, and you can see on the scoreboard that that obviously hurt us.”

The energy and buildup preceding the puck drop at Northwoods Credit Union Arena evaporated in what seemed like an instant during the first period of Friday’s tilt. The Packers struck twice in the opening three minutes of play as junior forward Aliyah Danielson buried a loose puck near the crease 38 seconds into the game before junior Sarah Wincentsen added the team’s second goal at the 2:23 mark. The quick start for the visitors forced Olin to call a timeout to regroup.

For the remainder of the opening frame and into the second, the speed of SSP across all four lines continued to wreak havoc — forcing CEC’s Araya Kiminski to be at the top of her game with big saves on odd-man rush opportunities. The junior goaltender finished the game with 18 saves for the Lumberjacks on 22 shots faced.

After having numerous scoring chances denied by Kiminski, the Packers added a back-breaking third tally at the 7:29 mark of the second period by freshman defenseman Lily Pachl on a rebound to make it 3-0. Seventh-grade forward Paige Johnson added the fourth and final goal for SSP 11 minutes into the third period with a wrist-shot on a breakaway.

The Lumberjacks ended the game with 12 shots on goal which were all steered aside by SSP junior goaltender Delaney Norman for the shutout. Norman stood tall in net throughout the third period as CEC was able to generate the bulk of its scoring opportunities, including a few good looks on the power play. Senior forward Dana Jones was the most active scoring threat for the ‘Jacks with four shots on goal, followed by senior forward Brynn Martin with three.

The ramped up offensive zone time and pressure came as the team made some adjustments between periods that moved senior defenseman and captain Tenley Stewart to forward in order to provide a sorely needed spark.

“We moved her up as a forward just to try and create something and make some changes happen,” said Olin. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do much with that, but at least we created some chances and got better I think as the game went on.”

Following another ranked matchup against No. 3 Orono on Saturday, Nov. 20, the Lumberjacks will conclude their three-game home stand on Tuesday, Nov. 23 with a game against Moose Lake Area at 7:30 p.m.

South St. Paul 2-1-1—3
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 0-0-1—0

First period — 1. SSP, Aliyah Danielson (Sarah Wincentsen, Kayla Matuzak), 0:38; 2. SSP, Wincentsen (Kayla Matuzak, Lilie Ramirez), 2:23.

Second period — 3. SSP, Lily Pachl (Cate Dwelle, Ramirez), 7:29.

Third period — 4. SSP, Paige Johnson (Kylie Evazich, Bailey Vesper), 11:33.

Saves — Araya Kiminski, CEC, 19; Delaney Norman, SSP, 12.