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'Jacks are on a win streak

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team is one of the hottest in the state, and their improved play is coming at the right time. Last Saturday, the 'Jacks steamrolled Duluth Denfeld 8-2 at Amsoil Arena to run its unbeaten streak to nine games -...

Strom
CEC goaltender Zack Strom dives across the crease to keep the puck out of the net in front of Duluth Denfeld's Alex Cowan during the Perkins' Frenzy at Amsoil Arena Saturday. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team is one of the hottest in the state, and their improved play is coming at the right time.

Last Saturday, the 'Jacks steamrolled Duluth Denfeld 8-2 at Amsoil Arena to run its unbeaten streak to nine games - including seven wins and two ties - while improving to 11-4-2 on the season.

Karson Kuhlman had a hat trick against the Hunters (12-5-0), who entered the game ranked 10th in the last Associated Press Minnesota Class A hockey poll. CEC snapped a 2-2 second-period tie with six unanswered goals and took a solid, veteran Denfeld team into running time.

"I hear people talking about how the Denfeld goaltender (Zach Thompson) didn't play very well," CEC Coach Dave Esse said. "But we made some really good plays. I think we should give ourselves some credit."

CEC scored eight times on 28 official shots on goal, though Esse's review of game tape suggested there were more than credited. But the 'Jacks looked like a different team after Kuhlman was moved off the second line and onto the first between Dylan and Westin Michaud. Team captain Beau Michaud shifted to the second line between James Newgren and Koby Bender and the fleet-footed 'Jacks took off offensively.

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"We have two very good lines and I like the improvement on our third line," Esse said. "As a team we don't throw all our eggs in one basket. All three lines contributed against Denfeld."

Besides Kuhlman's hat trick, Beau and Westin Michaud each scored twice and defenseman Dalton Johnson added a power-play goal.

"I like Karson's chemistry with Westin," Esse said. "But the lines have some good balance to them now."

Zack Strom played well in goal for the 'Jacks, making 20 saves on 22 shots. One of Denfeld's goals came on a five-minute major power play in the first period and the other came early in the

second.

After that, though, the 'Jacks zoomed off to a big win.

"What I love about Zack is that he's not beating himself," Esse said. "He's making the simple plays and that's the most important thing about a goaltender. Don't give up soft goals, play good position and be mentally strong."

The 'Jacks needed all their mental toughness to grind out a 5-5 tie at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids last Tuesday night - the second tie between CEC and the Thunderhawks in 12 days.

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Kuhlman scored two goals and added an assist in that game, with Derek Bloom joining Beau and Westin Michaud on the score sheet.

CEC gained, and lost, a 3-0 lead in the second period, with the Thunderhawks scoring three times in a 3:13 span to tie the game, and the 'Jacks also lost leads of 4-3 and 5-4 in the third period before settling for the tie.

"I'm disappointed in myself, actually," Esse said. "I shortened the bench too early in the Rapids game and that made us tired at the end of the second period and carried over to the third. It was a very entertaining high school hockey game, though."

"We always play each other tough," Esse added. "Even if it's a 5-1 or 6-2 game we have had good battles. We took extra penalties on that game which put us behind the eight ball but there was a great crowd, a great atmosphere, we never hung our heads and we kept battling. These kids are determined and they won't quit."

The team's Tuesday night game against Andover was postponed due to frigid temperatures, with no makeup date set as of press time. The game has huge implications for the section tournament.

"We play East, Andover and St. Francis late in the schedule and that's huge for seeding," Esse said. "We've tied Rapids twice and lost to East which doesn't help us but, hopefully, we play well. The high seed is so important because there's the most parity in our section this year than I can ever remember. The top seed down to seed five or six can all beat each other on any given night."

The team's next scheduled game is Monday night at home against Eden Prairie, ranked 15th in the last Class AA Associated Press poll.

AREA ROUNDUP

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The Moose Lake Area boys hockey team (0-16-0) lost three games last week and is still working toward that elusive first win of the season.

On Jan. 17, the Rebels fell 9-1 to Proctor at Riverside Arena, with Zach Paull scoring the goal and Gage Mohelsky making 48 saves. On the 19th, North Branch defeated the Rebels 4-1, with Cole Lower scoring the goal and Mohelsky stopping 23 shots.

On Tuesday night, the Rebels lost 9-0 to the WSFLG Blizzard in

Grantsburg with Mohelsky making 65 saves on 74 Blizzard shots. The team hosts Greenway on Thursday night and Mora next Tuesday.

On the girls' side, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton saw its shutout streak end in a 4-2 home loss to Grand Rapids-Greenway last Thursday night. Rachael Macaulay and Carley Esse helped the team rally from a 2-0 deficit with goals before two late goals including an empty-netter gave the visitors the win. Alyssa Acheson made 21 saves in goal.

The team rebounded Saturday with a 4-0 win at Cambridge-Isanti. Emily Gustafson, Kaitlyn Miller, Mikayla Baker and Courtney Ketola scored the goals to back Katie Beckman's 28-save effort in goal.

On Monday, the 'Jacks picked up a key section and conference win with a 3-1 home win over Proctor-Hermantown. CEC outshot their visitors 48-25 and got goals from Esse, Kristi Konietzko and Macaulay while Katie Beckman made 18 stops in goal.

CEC (13-7-2) plays the Duluth Northern Stars at home on Thursday and is at Hibbing-Chisholm next Monday night to close out the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Moose Lake Area girls (11-7-2) split a pair of games last week. On Saturday, the team fell 3-2 to Minneapolis at Riverside Arena. All three Minneapolis goals came in the first period, with Erin Mollberg and Jamie Bird scoring for the Rebels, as Kaitlyn Greene stopped 17 of 20 shots in goal.

On Tuesday night, the Rebels rallied from 1-0 down in the third period to beat Eveleth-Gilbert 2-1.

Andrea Youngberg tied the game at 1-1 with 7:34 to play in regulation, and Jessica Bird won it with 5:01 to go. Greene stopped 16 of 17 shots in goal while the Rebels put 35 shots on Golden Bears goaltender Kora Bonicatto.

The Rebels host Princeton on Thursday and International Falls on Saturday night.

Kuhlman
CEC junior Karson Kuhlman beats Duluth Denfeld goaltender Zach Thompson for a hat trick in the second period of the Perkins' Frenzy on Saturday at Amsoil Arena. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal

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