Prep boys hockey: Competition breeds excellence for CEC goalies
A near 50/50 split in goaltending duties for Cloquet-Esko-Carlton has brought out the best in senior standouts Kyle Abrahamson and Jacob Walsh.
From teammates to friendly rivals for a brief moment in time, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton goaltenders Kyle Abrahamson and Jacob Walsh found themselves in the unique position of backstopping opposing clubs this past fall during an Elite League showdown at IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids.
Walsh, representing Team Kowalski’s, got the better of Abrahamson’s MAP South Team in a 31-save, 3-0 shutout win, which offered plenty of opportunity for some friendly banter between the two friends.
“When we played against each other, we always gave each other crap, joking around and having a lot of fun,” Walsh said. "He did really good which was really cool to see."
Both players were later selected to compete in the International Invitational Tournament after standout performances during the short Elite League season.
The experience of getting to represent the Lumberjacks in a league comprised of some of the top talent in the upper midwest was a thrill for Abrahamson.
“I thought it was cool. It’s very rare for two goalies from the same school to be competing in the Elite League. We both did very well,” Abrahamson said. “We both pushed each other in the past making us better, and we were able to play at that high caliber.”
With the regular season now in full swing, the goaltender tandem has since been reunited for CEC, where they have alternated net duties over the course of 14 games thus far. Lumberjacks coach Shea Walters is confident the team will be put in a position to win regardless of who gets the nod on any given night.
“I think we’re so fortunate in that regard, where some teams struggle to have a really good goaltender and we’ve had two,” Walters said. “In my five years here, we’ve had great goaltending, and especially this year to have the tandem.”
“It gives you a confidence boost for sure. If one gets banged up or one doesn’t have such a good game, the next one can come in, and it’s basically like having two starting goalies,” he added.
The two seniors, despite occupying the same position, employ vastly different styles in their approach to keeping the puck out of their net. Lumberjacks' captain Walsh is a risk taker, who revels in the opportunity to challenge a play and advance the puck as a “third defenseman.” Abrahamson, utilizing a far more conservative style, is a technician with his movements and methodical in his approach to guarding the crease.
The contrasting methods are often on full display during Lumberjacks practices, where the two go head-to-head in scrimmages hoping to get the upper-hand. The desire to take over as the No. 1 goalie has bred friendly competition between them, according to Walters.
“The good thing about that is they push each other. The internal competition between the two is good. It’s a healthy competition, and they’re their biggest advocates,” Walters said.
The team-first mentality was exemplified at the conclusion of a recent game against Brainerd, in which Abrahamson made an improbable game-sealing save for the Lumberjacks in the waning minute of the third period.
After the contest, Walsh praised his teammate for the remarkable save that helped end CEC’s six-game winless skid.
“I was shocked when I saw it. I didn’t think he was going to make it,” Walsh said. “I was really impressed, and that was huge because that did secure the win and we needed that win really badly.”
As the two remain in lock-step for complete control of the CEC net, the competition for the starting job will continue to serve as a tool for improvement as they push each other to get better.
“We’re both good goalies, and we both want that starting spot. We both like to push each other,” Walsh said. “In the end, it’s just going to make us both better and develop us ... that’s what makes us the top duo in the state.”