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Lumberjacks hold steady

The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey team came up just a little short in an effort to defend its title in the Duluth Heritage Classic Hockey Tournament championship on Friday.

CEC head coach Shea Walters said the team played really well, winning two games and then losing in overtime to Duluth Denfeld.

"All in all, we played well enough to win," he said. "Denfeld just capitalized on their opportunities. Not unusual to us, we out-shot them almost 2-to-1 and lost by them taking advantage of the man advantage."

CEC opened the tournament Wednesday by downing Apple Valley/Burnsville, 5-2. On Thursday, the Lumberjacks throttled Anoka 6-1 in a game they led 4-1 after two periods.

Bobby Thornton had a hat trick in both the Anoka and Apple Valley/Burnsville games.

The Lumberjacks struggled on the penalty kill in the championship game on Friday afternoon against Denfeld and eventually fell, 4-3, in overtime.

Joey Antonutti scored at the 9-minute mark of the first against Denfeld, with assists from Cooper Ellena and Ethan Kilichowski. But the Hunters answered roughly two minutes later on a power play goal.

Ryan Jones put CEC up 2-1 minutes into the second with assists from Thornton and Gino Bertogliat. But another power play for Denfeld evened things up by the end of the period.

Denfeld turned the table in the third and went ahead 3-2 midway through the period. This time, it was CEC that evened things up with a power play goal, from Niko Gentilini with assists by Karson Young and Grady Knutson.

In overtime, Cory Backstrom had a second goal five minutes in to get the win for the Hunters.

CEC dominated in shots on goal, 39-26, but went only 1-for-4 in power play chances. Denfeld took advantage of the CEC penalties, getting goals on two of their four power play chances.

According to Minnesota Hockey Hub, the Lumberjacks are ranked ninth statewide in Class A boys hockey. It's their first year of not playing up into Class AA, which features larger schools. Archrival Hermantown is currently ranked No. 1 in Class A, although the Hawks had to use an overtime to defeat Proctor on Tuesday. CEC got nicked by St. Cloud Cathedral on Tuesday, 3-2, in another game in which the 'Jacks pulled ahead only to allow a quick goal after.

Walters said after the Duluth tournament that he likes the direction CEC is going.

"We will continue to build towards the playoffs as we are approaching the midway point of the season," he said.

Following the Cathedral loss, CEC was 7-5.