'Jacks off to a strong start in playoffs


February 9, 2024

Dave Harwig

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Emma Parks scores a goal during the first period of Tuesday night's section 7A quarterfinal game with Hibbing.

Tuesday night the Lumberjacks girls hockey team hosted Hibbing/Chisholm in the first round of the Section 7A playoffs. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton came in on a roll having gone 9-0-1 over their last 10 games and were the No. 3 seed while the Blue Jackets were seeded No. 6. The 'Jacks kept things rolling by skating to a 4-2 win over the Blue Jackets and will now play in the sectional semifinals against defending champion Proctor/Hermantown on Saturday morning in Duluth.

The Lumberjacks were shocked early in the first period at 6:23 when goalie Izzy Strang made a save on Blue Jacket forward Alizah Langner only to have the puck knocked in by her own defenseman, seventh grader Brooke Koski. Koski was trying to clear the puck from in front of the net, giving Hibbing/Chisholm a 1-0 lead.

"You could tell that our goalie was trying to jump on the puck and Brooke was trying to clear it and it just happened to go in. It was just a mental lapse and that kind of thing can happen," said CEC coach Kennedy Houge.

Amazingly just 43 seconds later, Koski got her Lumberjack team right back in the game by blowing a slap shot off a pass from Erin Loeb past Blue Jackets goalie Grace McDowell to tie the game at 1-1. That goal seemed to energize the 'Jacks, who tacked on two more quick goals before the period ended.

"Brooke could have come to the bench and given up, but instead she showed maturity and came out and did something positive for us and made a heck of a shot. She came back with a vengeance," Houge said. "That goal settled us down a bit because up until then they were coming at us pretty good. When they scored, you could hear everyone trying to hype each other up on the bench."

Erin Loeb gave CEC a 2-1 lead at 8:09 of the first period when she ripped a wrist shot past McDowell. At 9:53, it was Emma Parks racing past the defense and scoring on a breakaway goal for CEC making it 3-1 and that's how the first period ended.

"Erin had the assist on the first goal and then scored the second goal for us. She knows what it takes to lead this team," Houge said.

Things settled down a bit in the second period, but the Lumberjacks added the only goal of the stanza when Brayley Merrier, a freshman for the 'Jacks, scored an unassisted shorthanded goal as CEC built a 4-1 lead.

Dave Harwig

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Reese Kuklinski drives the puck past Hibbing's Kylie Maki during Tuesday night's quarterfinal game.

The only goal of the third period was scored by Hibbing/Chisholm's Aune Boben, but it wasn't enough as the 'Jacks defense and goalie Strang slammed the door, giving them the 4-2 win and the chance to play again.

"Izzy (Strang) has been mature, tough and she's shown grit all year," Houge said. "She gets hungrier every day and is a very good goalie for us."

The win moves CEC into an 11 a.m. semi-final game against defending No. 2 seed Proctor/Hermantown on Saturday. If both sides of the bracket are upset, it could mean a Carlton County section championship between CEC and Moose Lake Area.

"We will be ready and the girls will be excited," Houge said. "We are playing our best hockey right now and that is what we were building towards all season."


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