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'Jacks undefeated in Class A

Kerry Rodd

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For the first time in school history, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team hit the ice playing in Class A this week, after years of opting up to play in Class AA. The Lumberjacks didn't disappoint local fans Tuesday, as they skated away with a tough 4-3 victory over Hibbing/Chisholm in the season opener at Northwoods Credit Union Arena.

The Lumberjacks struggled in the early part of the first period against the Bluejackets. At the 9-minute, 9-second mark of the period, CEC goalie Caden Kubis tried to make a pass from near the net, but the play was disrupted by Kelin Elsner, who tracked down the puck in the corner and flung it toward the net. Unfortunately, the puck banked off a CEC defender's skate and into the net for a 1-0 Blue Jackets lead.

"This was their fourth game of the season and our first, so it seemed it took us a while to get going," said 'Jacks head coach Shea Walters. "We knew there was a lot of game left and I liked the way we responded."

Just three minutes after falling behind, CEC scored its first goal of the game to tie things at 1 on a pretty tic-tac-toe play with the puck ending up on the stick of Bobby Thornton with an assist on the power play from Niko Gentilini.

"That line of Thornton, Gentilini and Grady Knutson can really be amazing when they move the puck and their feet," Walters said.

The first period ended with both teams putting 10 shots on net.

"When we went down to the locker room, we told them that things were too loose in the first period and we needed to tighten up," Walters said. "We wanted to try and hold them to five shots or less in the second period, and we did that."

The Lumberjacks came out flying in the second period as they outshot the Bluejackets 14-2 and also scored three goals to go up 4-1 on the scoreboard. All that, despite killing off a 5-on-3 man short situation for a minute, 27 seconds as well as another penalty late in the period.

"That is exactly how this team can play when we do things the right way, and I was proud of that effort," Walters said. "All of our top penalty killers have been doing that job for three years now, and they are very good at what they do."

CEC's first goal of the period came just 1:40 into the period when Knutson and Thornton assisted on a goal by Gentilini, making it 2-1. At 11:43 it was Ethan Kilichowski scoring on a pass from Jace Steward. One minute following Kilichowski's goal, Preston Strang ripped a hard wrist shot over the shoulder of net-minder Tim Urdahl on a pass from Brody Dushkin as the 'Jacks came out of the second up by three goals.

Things got interesting in the third period when the Bluejackets scored at 4:54 to cut the gap to 4-2. It became more than interesting at 10:23, when they added a shorthanded goal to pull to within 4-3.

"At that point we called a timeout to kind of reset, and I was impressed with how our guys responded the rest of the game," Walters said. "They played position, and our defense and our goalie played very well to get us a win. I'll never complain about a win."

The 1-0 Lumberjacks play next on Saturday at the Bloomington Ice Garden against Bloomington Jefferson at 3 p.m.

"The game against Hibbing/Chisholm was a good one to start the season," Walters said. "Now we know what we have and we can build on that. I like this group. They work hard, they do things the right way, and we have high expectations for them."

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