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Move to Class A likely for CEC boys hockey

After decades of playing in the state’s largest hockey class, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team will likely move to Class A next season.

Cloquet High School activities director Paul Riess told Cloquet school board members at their meeting Monday that the change has been a frequent topic with supporters. The Lumberjacks girls team made the move five or six years ago, then played their way to second place in the 2019-20 season’s Class A state tournament.

The last couple years, Riess said, he’s faced even more people asking why the boys team continues to play much larger schools rather than playing in the appropriate classification for its size.

“People coming up saying, ‘Why are we doing this? We haven’t been to a state tournament, we haven’t been to a section final in [14] years,’” Riess said. “So, we decided maybe it was time to look at what our hockey community actually feels.”

Last month the district sent surveys to hockey families with players in the varsity and junior varsity high school programs as well as kids at the Bantam and PeeWee levels.

The results were overwhelming. Exactly 90 percent, or 70 out of 79 responses, voted for a change to Class A. The vast majority of those felt the teams should play a schedule with more schools of similar size.

Coaches, on the other hand, would probably prefer to stay in Class AA, playing larger schools and generally tougher competition, the activities director said. It’s possible that some Class AA teams could decide they don’t want to play CEC after the change, Riess said, adding that two teams stopped scheduling games against the girls team when it went from Class AA to A.

Riess also said the school also looked at history and performance. The last time the Lumberjacks made the state tournament was 2008, he said. According to win-loss records, the combined team is much more successful against Class A teams. Additionally, the CEC boys hockey team is the only Lumberjacks team currently playing at a higher level than warranted by its combined school population count.

The team would still play in the Lake Superior Conference, which includes Grand Rapids, Superior, Hibbing, Denfeld, Hermantown, Proctor, and Duluth Marshall.

Board member Ken Scarbrough expressed hope the team could “maintain some of the traditional rivalries,” specifically mentioning Duluth East, which was scheduled to play in Cloquet on Thursday after this week’s paper went to press in what is usually a standing-room only competition.

The paperwork to make the classification change is due by Jan. 27, Riess said. Board members didn’t vote on the move, but several said they supported the administration’s suggestion to change. It could still come up for a vote in January if board members decided they want to formally weigh in, superintendent Michael Cary said.

“And remember, every two years it can be adjusted if there’s a change of sentiment,” Cary said, referring to the two-year cycle followed by the Minnesota State High School League. “We can evaluate regularly as we move forward.”

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