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Prep girls hockey preview: Houge set to build on Lumberjacks' foundation

The former Lumberjack assistant hopes to carry the program's tradition of hard work and tenacious defensive effort into this season.

girls hockey players during practice
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey head coach Kennedy Houge talks to a group of players during practice at Northwoods Credit Union Arena on Friday, Nov. 11, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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CLOQUET — After three seasons of learning the ins and outs from former head coach Courtney Olin, Woodbury native Kennedy Houge is eager to carry the torch into the 2022-2023 season as the new head coach of the Lumberjacks.

The former College of St. Scholastica standout defenseman acknowledged the adjustment has been easier thanks to her connections with players and knowledge of the program.

girls hockey players during practice
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey head coach Kennedy Houge give instructions during practice at Northwoods Credit Union Arena on Friday, Nov. 11, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

“I probably would say my transition has been a lot smoother than some. It’s obviously been an advantage in my back pocket that I’ve been with the program for the last three years,” Houge said. “I would say so far things have worked out pretty smoothly.”

While the leadership is new this season, the Lumberjacks’ recipe for success remains the same, as the team looks to build off of a highly successful 2021-2022 campaign highlighted by an appearance in the Section 7A semifinals.

As in years past, the club utilized its strength on the back-end to form a strong defensive unit that held opponents to 1.37 goals per game. Houge said she doesn’t plan on deviating from that winning formula.

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“I think just as a program we’ve always prided ourselves on playing solid, positional hockey and obviously that starts in the D-zone,” Houge said. “You can’t create offense unless you get the puck out of your own end.”

Strong defensive play is something that Houge knows all too well from her playing days at private school powerhouse Hill Murray in high school, and later for CSS at the Division III level, where she has since been named to the All-Decade Team.

Houge said that the two teams shared a similar foundation of hard work that she hopes to carry over into her team’s identity.

“We can’t win games unless we work hard and play strong positionally,” Houge said. “I emphasize with the girls, too, that this is a team game. We’re all here for a common goal, but if we don’t mesh, we don’t gel and we don’t work on things as a team, we can’t get as far as we want to.”

Assistant coaches Scott Arntson, Hailey Raske and Emily Stunek have aided Houge as she puts her stamp on the program, along with former coach Olin, who works with Houge at Churchill Elementary School in Cloquet.

“She’s always there for me when I need to bounce ideas off of her, which is super nice and super helpful because not a lot of situations are like that where a former coach is willing to continue to help out,” Houge said.

Houge’s grandfather, Steve Houge, has even helped out this summer and in the weeks leading up to the season through his work as a volunteer goalie coach.

Steve Houge was recently named to the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame for the Class of 2021 for his success coaching the St. Paul Johnson boys program.

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“Before the boys season started this week he was actually up here ... helping prep the goalies just kind of for the season and things that they can do on their own,” Kennedy Houge said.

Steve Houge worked with senior goaltender Araya Kiminski, who is coming off of a memorable junior season in which she started 26 games in net for the ‘Jacks with a record of 18-7-1. Of her 18 victories, nine came in shutout fashion — putting her in a tie for fourth among all goalies statewide.

girls hockey players during practice
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey head coach Kennedy Houge, right, tosses a puck while talking to players during practice at Northwoods Credit Union Arena on Friday, Nov. 11, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

As one of three captains alongside Frankie Halverson and Emma Welch, Kiminski has enjoyed the camaraderie the team has shared so far, and hopes it will translate into another great season.

“I’m glad that things have been going well with (our new coach) and for the team. I think we have a great bond between us, so that makes it fun that there’s no drama and whatnot,” Kiminski said. “I’m sad that it’s my last year, but excited because we could make it a good one.”

Kiminski and company will be looked to as leaders for this year’s team that includes five eighth graders, four freshmen and one seventh grader.

Emily Litchke, Macie Hoffman, Taylor Wick, Gabriella Rennquist, Roena Diver, Kiminski, Halverson and Welch make up the team’s eight seniors.

“Sometimes it’s a lot of pressure because everyone looks up to me, but I like being in that position,” Kiminski said of her leadership role.

Through three games this season, the Lumberjacks are still in search of their first win after coming up short against Anoka, South St. Paul and Bloomington Jefferson.

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girls hockey players during practice
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey head coach Kennedy Houge talks to several players during practice at Northwoods Credit Union Arena on Friday, Nov. 11, in Cloquet.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The growing pains are not unexpected, however, as the team lost top scorers Dana Jones, Marina Dostal and Brynn Martin from last year’s team, along with top defenseman Tenley Stewart. The group combined for 51 of the team's 70 goals last season.

Erin Loeb (4-8-12), Emily Litchke (3-9-12) and Gwen Lilly (3-6-9) are CEC’s top returning scorers from last season.

According to Kennedy Houge, trying to replace the contributions of the graduated seniors will take a collective effort.

“When we lose our top two scorers and our top defenseman, someone is going to have to eventually fill those shoes, but I think each girl that is on our varsity roster has strengths that will collectively match other peoples’ weaknesses,” she said. “So it isn’t just one person that I feel is going to kind of rise above and shine.”

Editor's note: Cloquet Pine Journal photographer Amy Arntson's husband, Scott Arntson is an assistant coach for the CEC girls hockey team.

Related Topics: CLOQUET-ESKO-CARLTONHOCKEY
Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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