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Young 'Jacks run out of gas

A massive run over the second half of the season propelled the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls hockey team into the Section 7A semifinals on Saturday against defending champions Proctor/Hermantown. But a slow start proved costly. The young Lumberjacks were unable to overcome an early deficit as they were ousted from the playoffs by a score of 6-0.

"All season we prided ourselves in coming out ready to play," said CEC coach Kennedy Houge. "I think we were overly excited and then they got an early goal that put us on our heels."

Jane Eckstrom gave the Mirage a lead just 33 seconds into the first and then Eckstrom added another goal before the period ended, making it 2-0 for the Mirage. To add insult to injury, Eckstrom's second goal was shorthanded.

"After the first period I felt we were still in the game, but our inexperience and youth showed," Houge said.

CEC had one seventh-grader, five eighth-graders, three ninth-graders and a sophomore in the lineup.

"When you play against a team that has so much experience and depth that can be hard," Houge said. "They have a lot of older players with a lot of experience in the playoffs, so to expect our young kids to take the bull by the horns was a bit too much for them to overcome."

Things took a tough turn late in the second period when the Mirage scored three goals to put the game away at 5-0 entering the final period of play.

"Reflecting back on things, it was very impressive how our girls made a strong end-of-the-season run heading into the playoffs by going 9-0-1," Houge said. "It really speaks to the maturity of the team and how we are heading in the right direction in trying to build some depth for the program. We played a lot of games against Class AA competition and that will only help the girls to improve."

The Lumberjacks will graduate five players off this year's team, which finished at 14-12-1.

"I was really proud of this group of girls," Houge said. "From the midway point of the season on they really improved. When you look at the schedule we played in the second half, for our girls to go on that kind of run speaks highly of their hard work."