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Lumberjacks fall hard in playoffs

Over the last six weeks of the high school hockey season, fans watching the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys team saw a rapidly-improving team capable of hanging with the top teams in the area.

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Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Derek Bloom goes to a knee to block a shot attempt by Elk River's Reggie Lutz during Saturday's 7AA Semifinal at Amsoil Arena. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com

Over the last six weeks of the high school hockey season, fans watching the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys team saw a rapidly-improving team capable of hanging with the top teams in the area.

Sadly, in last Saturday’s Section 7AA semifinals, those ’Jacks couldn’t be found.

Top-seeded Elk River-Zimmerman dominated the Lumberjacks from start to finish in a 9-1 thrashing at Duluth’s Amsoil Arena that had just about everyone in purple scratching their heads.

“It was disappointing,” Coach Dave Esse said. “All the things we did when we were playing so well, we just didn’t do against Elk River. They’re good and they ran over us.”

Did they ever.

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After a scoreless first seven minutes, the Elks jumped on the ’Jacks for three goals in the last half of the session. Dylan Bouten scored the first goal of the game at 7:04 and just 19 seconds later, Reggie Lutz scored his 39th goal of the season to make it 2-0. Peter Jones scored from high in the slot at 10:11 to make the score 3-0, forcing Esse to call a Lumberjacks timeout to settle his team.

In the second period, things quickly went from bad to worse.

Defenseman Matt Kiersten caught the defense flat-footed to score 36 seconds into the second period and goals by Noah Hallbeck and Jax Murray forced a goaltending change, with Eric Newman giving way to Casey Holshouser.

But the Elks pelted Holshouser for four goals on just 11 shots in the remainder of the period. Playing with little support from his defense, Holshouser gave up goals from Jax Murray and Ben Johnson, who scored 52 seconds apart midway through the period, Benton Maass made it 8-0 at 14:30, and Alex Schwab scored a bizarre short-handed goal with less than one second remaining in the period, with the puck appearing to somehow slide underneath a prone Holshouser in the ’Jacks goal.

“Everything they shot went in,” Esse lamented.

Newman returned to play the third period in goal, and the ’Jacks picked up their only goal of the contest when Christian Pritchett deflected Dalton Johnson’s point shot into the air and behind Elks goaltender Ben Meyers 35 seconds into the third period. It was a power-play goal, with CEC’s man-advantage unit finishing the season 7-for-12 in the playoffs.

When the smoke finally cleared, the ’Jacks (12-12-3) had seen their season ended decisively.

“Positionally, we were not good. We watched pucks. We stood around. We didn’t help our goaltenders and the goaltenders had trouble making big saves,” Esse said. “And Elk River was very good.”

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The loss puts a damper on a very strong end to the season, which saw the team reach the semifinals against higher-seeded opposition and forge a 3-3 come-from-behind tie against Class A’s top-ranked team, Hermantown, partially avenging an earlier 8-0 loss to that team.

“The team that tied Hermantown had a chance to beat Elk River,” Esse said. “The team that actually played Elk River looked like the team that lost 8-0 to Hermantown, and that’s a shame. I feel bad for the seniors who ended their careers that way. They were a good, hard-working group of players.”

The Elks have now eliminated the ’Jacks from the playoffs the last four times the teams have met.

“Elk River’s coach (former Minnesota North Star Gordie Roberts) had a lot of nice things to say about how classy our kids were even in defeat so we can take something from that,” Esse said. “But we aren’t about moral victories. We didn’t play well; they played very well and they beat us.”

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Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Kyle Klatt takes a shot while being chased by Elk River's Benton Maass during Saturday's 7AA semi-final at Amsoil Arena. Dave Harwig/news@pinejournal.com

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