Boys hockey playoffs: 'Jacks make a statement

CEC breezes in first Class A playoff game


February 23, 2024

Dan Saletel

CEC's Bobby Thornton (15) celebrates his goal in the first period with some of the student section in Cloquet as the Lumberjacks ripped Ely 12-0 Tuesday night.

When the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjack boys hockey team opened play in the Section 7A playoffs Tuesday, it marked the Lumberjacks' first time playing in a Class A playoff tournament. It was also the first time CEC met Ely/Tower-Soudan in a hockey playoff game. The 'Jacks didn't disappoint the hometown fans as they raced out to a 12-0 victory, ensuring them a spot in Saturday's semifinals.

"We came out just the way I hoped we would," said CEC coach Shea Walters.

CEC put all kinds of pressure on the Timberwolves net in the first period, but it took until the 13:42 mark before Bobby Thornton was able to score. From that point on, the floodgates opened as CEC recorded three more goals before the period ended. At 15:51 it was Jace Stewart, Thornton scored again at 16:04, and then at 16:11 it was Grady Knutson scoring to make it 4-0 after one period.

"We came out with speed and did the right things," Walters said. "It took a while to get that first goal, but we kept telling the guys 'just keep doing what you're doing and the pucks will go in' and when they did go in, they came in bunches."

The 'Jacks put 26 shots on Ely goalie Ben Leeson in the first period. Leeson made numerous big saves, preventing the score from being even worse for the Timberwolves.

CEC hammered another 29 shots on goal in the second period as they built the lead to 9-0 with five more goals. Joey Antonutti scored just 27 seconds in to make it 5-0 and then Thornton completed his hat trick at the 2:55 mark. Stewart recorded back-to-back goals at 8:08 and 13:46 to also give him three goals in the game. At 14:43, Ryan Jones scored to make it 9-0 after two periods.

"With all the goals we scored, the guys didn't do it by cheating the systems," Walters said. "They adhered to our structure; they looked for their teammates; they executed their passes, and in a game like this they could have gotten selfish, but they didn't. I am proud of them for playing the right way."

The Lumberjacks came out for the third period leading on the shot clock 55-10 and ended the game outshooting Ely 71-10, as they did not give up a shot on goal in the final stanza.

"Our defense played very well the entire game, and they moved the puck up ice quickly," Walters said. "I was proud of the fact that we didn't give up a shot on goal in the third period, which says a lot of how our guys played tonight."

Goals in the third period were scored by Antonutti at the 50-second mark, Cole Painovich at 1:36, and Brody Dushkin at 12:05.

Dan Saletel

CEC's Joey Antonutti (3) tries to feed a puck over to Jace Stewart in front of the Ely net Tuesday. The Lumberjacks move to the semifinals on Saturday.

Perhaps the loneliest player in the rink was CEC netminder Jamis Halverson. Halverson faced only two shots in the first period and eight in the second. The third period he could have pulled out a lawn chair and fired up a grill because not one of Ely's shots ended up on the 'Jacks net as Halverson picked up the shutout win between the pipes.

By virtue of their win, the No. 2 seeded Lumberjacks will now move on to play in the Section 7A semifinals against No. 3 seeded Hibbing/Chisholm, which defeated Greenway 4-1 on Tuesday night. The game is set for 8:05 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena in Duluth.

"Hibbing/Chisholm is a good young team, and we saw them earlier in the season," Walters said. "I think we are playing our best hockey right now, so I like our chances."

The other semifinal game features Hermantown vs. Proctor facing off at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena.

The Section 7A championship game will be played at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Amsoil.Arena.


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