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Lumberjacks aim high in Class A

Last year, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boy's hockey team finished with an impressive 16-9-1 record, but fell well short of the state hockey tournament. This season, the Lumberjacks come in with a roster loaded with talent. On top of that, for the first time in school history, the 'Jacks will be playing in Class A instead of playing up into Class AA.

"We have high expectations," said head coach Shea Walters. "We know Section 7A has always gone through Hermantown, and we know that they are going to be good, but we are excited about the season and we're putting in the work."

The 'Jacks return an all-senior line that includes Jace Stewart, Ethan Kilichowski and Joey Antonutti.

"They are a hard-hitting group and they have the ability to create chances," Walters said.

That first group will provide plenty of power and excitement, but another trio of forwards - Grady Knutson, Bobby Thornton and Nikolas Gentilini, all of them juniors - may be one of the most electric and high-flying lines in the Northland.

"They all grew up playing together," Walters said. "They are dynamic and make plays all over the ice. They should be fun to watch."

Beyond those two lines, the Lumberjacks have another group of five to six players who are all ready to step in and are fighting for ice time up front.

On the blue line, CEC will rely heavily on one of the area's best players: Karson Young. Young was injured late last season right before playoff time and that cost the 'Jacks. This year, he has come back with a vengeance, according to Walters.

"Karson is big, he is strong, he is fast and he is a difference maker," Walters said. "He's been a starter since ninth grade. He commands the ice and is fun to watch."

Joining Young on defense are a host of talented players including Cooper Ellena, Cole Painovich, Hudson Snesrud and Gino Bertogliat.

"Ellena can skate like the wind and each of the other guys add different dimensions to us on the back end," Walters said.

In goal, Walters has four puck stoppers who are looking for varsity playing time. Seniors Caden Kubis and Logan Sickman each saw playing time last season, while junior Jamis Halverson also saw varsity action. CEC also has a sophomore goalie, Jacob Illianardo, who played bantams last season, but could also push for playing time this season.

"It is a good group and we have to see how it all plays out," said Walters of the goaltending crew.

Last weekend the Lumberjacks scrimmaged with a number of other teams in Cloquet. Those scrimmages revealed a ton of potential for the team.

"Offensively, we found out that our top two lines can score," Walters said. "We have a real good combination of strength and speed, and this group is always at the rink working on getting better. They are committed and they have a positive outlook."

The Lumberjacks will open their season at home at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 28, against Hibbing as they begin their quest for a trip to the Class A state tournament.

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