'Jacks shut door on Wolverines
Surging CEC reaches semis
February 10, 2023
Erin Loeb scored twice and the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey team defeated Rock Ridge, 3-1, in Cloquet at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Tuesday's first round of the Section 7A girls hockey tournament. It was the No. 4 seed Lumberjacks' second 3-1 win over the No. 5 Wolverines in two weeks.
"The girls are trying to give me gray hair," said CEC coach Kennedy Houge. "This is pretty much how our whole season has gone, and I am so proud of how these girls have reacted."
Playing with a heavy heart after the recent passing of her grandfather, Roger Rehkamp, Loeb was the difference maker in the game, along with goaltender Araya Kiminski.
Loeb gave CEC a 1-0 lead just 45 seconds into the game on an assist by Gwen Lilly. The goal came after the Wolverines stormed the CEC net, only to have the 'Jacks answer seconds later with Loeb's first goal of the contest.
Ironically, it was Loeb's first game back since CEC played Rock Ridge Jan. 24, when she went down with an upper body injury.
"They came at us pretty hard, but we pride ourselves in handling adversity," said Houge. "We got the line change and Erin was able to turn it into a positive by scoring the goal."
Kiminski was stellar in the net while the entire defensive effort worked to neutralize Rock Ridge.
CEC outshot the Wolverines 10-7 in the first period, but the second period was dead-even with both teams launching 11 shots on net. The only goal came from Alaina Husmann of Rock Ridge at 6:37 and the second stanza ended in a 1-1 tie.
"It was pretty tough in that period because we started the period down two players and had to kill off a 5-3 for about a minute-and-a-half," Houge said. "We had three skaters out there for almost that entire time, so that put us back on our heels for a while."
After the period ended, and facing elimination from the playoffs, Houge had a strong message in the locker room for her team.
"We started the season 0-6 and have been battling back ever since," Houge said. "I asked them how bad do you want to win, are you ready to go out and do the little things that you need to do to get the win? I asked them to be focused, and they responded."
Since starting the season 0-6, the 'Jacks have won eight games, but they've also played in four tie games as well as numerous one-goal games.
"Our team knows what it's like to play in tight games," said Houge. "We like to think our team plays its best hockey in the third period and overtime, plus we know we have Araya (Kiminski) between the pipes to stop the puck."
As the third period wound down the Wolverines attacked Kiminski, but the senior held her ground along with the defense in front of her. Things became a wild frenzy as more and more time ticked off the clock and the last two minutes were a madhouse scramble. Rock Ridge put the pressure on in the CEC zone, but the Lumberjacks had Loeb lurking and waiting.
"Erin stayed focused on being in the right position and she stepped in the passing lane and created her own space," Houge said.
That space led to a breakaway for Loeb, who managed to slip a backhand shot past Wolverines goalie Nola Kwiatkowski, giving the 'Jacks a 2-1 lead with just 26 seconds remaining.
"After we scored they called a timeout, and we told the girls they are going to try to get bodies to the front of the net and we need to keep them to the outside," said Houge. "We did a good job of that, but things got really crazy."
That they did, as the Wolverines got a shot from Natalie Bergman that went wide and eventually bounced out front where Ayla Troutwine had a chance to slip the puck past Kiminski, only to fan on it. That allowed CEC's Brayley Merrier to slip out of the zone and eventually slide a pass over to Taylor Wick, who scored an empty net goal with 3 seconds remaining, to ensure the victory for CEC.
"I am proud of these kids and how they reacted," Houge said. "Araya (Kiminski) is our backbone and I never have to worry about her, and she came up big for us."
The win moves the 'Jacks into the semifinals against No. 1 seeded Proctor/Hermantown in a 2 p.m. game Saturday in Cloquet at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.