For the second straight game Cloquet/Esko/Carlton took a 6-2 lead going into the third period. And for the second straight game the Lumberjacks squandered that lead only giving themselves a 7-5 edge late in the final period. The first result: and 8-5 victory over Duluth Central and the second result from Thursday Feb. 3rd – a 7-5 victory over Hermantown.
“We’ve got to get healthy and fresh,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “We had a couple guys out of the lineup which hurt us a little bit. We’re a very tired team – sick and tired. We’ve got a half dozen guys that are fighting the flu bug or the sickness or whatever it is.”
Hermantown, coming off a heartbreaking overtime loss to Eden Prairie, did look tired and fatigued all game as they didn’t get home until the wee hours Wednesday morning. The Hawks had a few players out of the game along with sick and tired players playing through the pain; but the Lumberjacks were without Ben Michaud, who had surgery today (Thursday Feb. 3rd) and will continue on as so for the rest of the season.
“We miss him dearly,” Cloquet coach Dave Esse said of Michaud. “He’s one of our best players and he’s a captain and a senior leader. He’s a power-play and penalty killer and he’s one of our best shot blockers. We feel terrible for him because he’s a senior and he’s done for the year.”
Despite their loss of Michaud, Cloquet jumped out to an early 3-1 lead in the first period. Freshman Karson Kuhlman scored two goals in the opening period en route to a hat-trick and five point night overall. There were no penalties called in the first period.
“They did a really nice job on the transition game,” Hermantown’s Garrett Skrbich said. “We had a tough time getting it deep and any of those turnovers on the blue line transitioned right away and they got some odd man rushes in the first period, which game them a few goals early in the game.”
The second period saw another four goals being scored – three of which belonged to the Lumberjacks. Cloquet also broke open the shots on goal as the led in that department 23-16. Coach Plante recognized his players were tired and made an unusual move by putting his fourth line out early in the third period. This move paid off as Grant Sega took a pass from Jeremy Amys and rifled it into the net to bring the score to 6-3 just 90 seconds into the period.
“Our guys were tired and fatigued and they weren’t moving very well so I said ‘might as well try somebody else’ and we just threw those guys out there,” coach Plante said. “Of course they were eager and fresh because they hadn’t played at all. They added a little spark for us and then they scored and got everybody kind of excited.”
Cloquet went on to make it a four goal game again a few minutes later as Kuhlman completed his hat trick.
“Ha yeah I pick up the pucks after and stuff but it’s been really good,” Kuhlman said of his freshman status. “They’re really great – they don’t look down upon me which is nice because it gives me confidence and I guess it’s been a good season so far.”
But the Hawks were not finished yet. With a little help from Skrbich and Brian LeBlanc, the Hawks made it a 7-5 game hooking up for two goals within less than one minute.
“I think come section time if that doesn’t happen we’ll be okay,” Kuhlman said of letting Hermantown and Central back into their games. “They just came out flying and we were playing flat-footed. We just have to work on that and finishing in the third period.”
Hermantown pulled goaltender Connor Lucas with two minutes left in the game. Play stayed in the Cloquet zone for most of the final two minutes but the Hawks failed to convert and the final score stayed at 7-5.
“We’ve got to get everyone rested right away is our biggest thing,” Skrbich said. “You could tell today we were pretty fatigued still from the late night trip home from Eden Prairie. It went into overtime which is always tough on the body. “
With this win the Lumberjacks secured at least a share of the Lake Superior Conference title. If Hermantown beats Duluth Central on Tuesday Feb. 8th then they too will earn a share of the LSC title.
“Our kids played really hard and we don’t really look at the standings, we just want to play better hockey come the end of the year,” coach Esse said. “We’ve got our sectional opponent Duluth East on Tuesday (Feb. 8th) and that’s our goal is to get the highest seed possible.”
1. Karson Kuhlman, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton
Kuhlman figured in on five of Cloquet’s seven goals by netting a hat trick and assisting on another two goals. Kuhlman, just a freshman, edges his way into the second spot in Lumberjack points at 43, only two points behind Jack McFarlane.
2. Garrett Skrbich, Hermantown
Skrbich all he could to help his team get back into the game by scoring the last two goals of the game to make it 7-5. Skrbich also assisted on the Hawks’ first two goals totaling his night at four points.
3. Jack McFarlane, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton
Although McFarlane was held to zero goals, he notched in five assists to give himself nine points in the last two games – four goals and five assists. McFarlane sits atop the Lumberjack points ladder with 45 points this season.