The Cloquet/Esko/Carlton Lumberjacks didn't exactly look poised to end their streak of failure in the Section 7AA championship, the finishing point in each of their last three seasons.
With 12 seniors on the roster, the Lumberjacks were determined to make it further this time. But with only two victories in their final eight regular-season games and an unfavorable draw for the section tournament, that prospect appeared bleak.
Motivated by their final shot at playing in the state tournament, the CEC co-op, led by Mr. Hockey finalist and NHL prospect Justin Jokinen, has finally arrived. The Lumberjacks beat the top two teams in their section, Duluth East and Anoka, en route to the team's first trip to state since 2002 and just the second in the last 15 years.
They start the Class 2A tournament on Thursday morning at Xcel Energy Center against No. 2 seed Edina.
"We worked hard," coach David Esse said. "We don't have a lot of numbers or a lot of skill, but I tell the kids you make your luck."
No. 3 Benilde-St. Margaret's will face Woodbury in the second game of Thursday's morning session, while No. 1 seed and defending champion Roseau takes on Blaine and No. 4 Hill-Murray skates against Lakeville South in the evening games.
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