CEC section run ends with Mirage
February 17, 2023
A three-goal second period was enough to propel the Proctor/Hermantown Mirage to a 4-0 Section 7A semifinal win over Cloquet-Esko-Carlton on Saturday at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet.
The Lumberjacks hung tough through the first half of the first period and kept the game scoreless despite being substantially outshot. Senior Lumberjacks goalie Araya Kiminski made stellar saves to keep the Mirage in check.
"We had a really good start to the game," said CEC coach Kennedy Hoage. "We were doing a good job in our defensive end of not panicking, but then things changed."
Things changed when the 'Jacks had a miscommunication issue on a line change, causing them to be called for too many players on the ice at the 10-minute, 7-second mark of the first period. Just 28 seconds later, the Mirage worked a beautiful give-and-go as Izy Fairchild slammed a shot past Kiminski making it 1-0.
The Mirage ended the period with a 17-3 shot advantage.
"When they went on the power play, our penalty kill seemed to let up a bit and they just made a good play," Hoage said.
Early on in the second period, CEC had a stellar chance at tying the game when Reese Kuklinski steamed into the Mirage zone and fired a slapshot to the net in a two-on-one situation.
Mirage goalie Neelah McLeod tried to glove the shot, but it fell to the ice. CEC forward Gwen Lilly went to stuff the rebound home, only to have it hop over her stick.
"It would have tied the game," said Hoage. "We just needed a little puck luck and we didn't get it."
Unfortunately, the second period is also the period in which players are furthest from their players' bench when they are in their own defensive zone. The Mirage took advantage of that opportunity by continuing to bottle up CEC, which caused extended shifts for the 'Jacks players.
CEC's bubble burst at the 8:31 mark when Fairchild notched her second goal to make it 2-0. At 9:50, Mya Gunderson scored to make it 3-0, and a power play goal by Reese Heitzman at 14:47 made it 4-0.
"That second period really took the wind out of our sails," said Hoage. "We had trouble getting out of our zone; we couldn't get fresh legs out and it cost us. We'd get a forward off here and a defender changed there, but eventually it became a domino effect."
Trailing 4-0 entering the third period against the top seed, the Lumberjacks coaching staff had a strong message for a team that fought back from a 0-6 start to the season.
"We told them there are 17 minutes left and we have a choice to make the best of this situation," said Hoage. "We told them let's not just give this to them, let's make them earn this and we told them to not give an inch. Our girls came out and played an excellent third period."
Hoage was in her first year as CEC head coach and felt the team grew dramatically as the season progressed. CEC finished the season with a record of 9-13-5 and went 9-7-5 after the 0-6 start.
"We had a new coach, new systems and it took time to get things to come together," Hoage said. "This group did a great job of keeping things positive and continuing to play and work on getting better. I am so proud of them."
For the game, the Lumberjacks were outshot 44-9 as Kiminski finished with 40 saves.
"We lose six skaters and our starting goalie," said Hoage of next year's squad. "All of those players mean so much to the team. I do like the foundation we have for the future and I am excited about what's to come."