by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Elk River will take on the best hockey team in the state Saturday after grinding out a 4-3 win over Cloquet-Esko-Carlton in their Section 7AAA opener on Tuesday evening.
Two goals by Andrew Zerban helped the No. 4 seeded Elks prevail in their final home game. Ryan Heid and Peter Jones also scored.
The Elks (15-8-2) advanced to the semifinals against Duluth East (24-1) on Saturday, 10 a.m., at Armsoil Arena in Duluth.
“It’s going to be pretty exciting,” said Zerban, a slender sophomore who leads the Elks with 25 goals. “We are going to have to come out flying.”
The Elks were in no way looking past the Lumberjacks, though.
“No, Cloquet is a very good team,” said Zerban. “All the teams up there are big and tough.”
Weston Michaud had two goals and an assist for the No. 5 seeded Lumberjacks, who finished 17-8.
Michaud gave C-E-C the first lead at 8:33 of the first period, but the Elks killed two power plays in the period.
“Our power play was horrendous. We could have been up 3-0,” said Lumberjacks coach David Esse. “But, give Elk River credit. With all the situational stuff they’ve got going on down here, they worked really hard and they deserved to win.”
He referred to the Elks recent coaching change.
Zerban knotted the score at 1:31 of the second on a play started by Jake Jaremko’s outlet pass. Zerban took a bounce off the boards and fired it to the goalie’s right. Wyatt Ege also assisted.
Elk freshman Peter Jones barreled into the net while scoring at the end of a power play at 9:49 for a 2-1 lead, Jared McLaughlin assisting.
Beau Michaud retaliated for the Lumberjacks just 39 seconds later, slipping a rebound shot into the net after Franke had to lunge for a stop.
The Elk led 4-3 after a flurry of goals early in the third. Ryan Heid swooped from behind the net to score at 1:55, Garrett Aldrich assisting. Weston Michaud penetrated for a C-E-C goal just 32 seconds later at 2:27.
The decisive goal at 3:19 was a pinball shot launched by Ege from the right circle, with both Mitchell Kierstad and Zerban redirecting the puck.
“I try get in front of the net and maybe chip a shot,” said Zerban. “I think it hit someone else first, then went off my stick and it went in.”
The last 13:41 were a stalemate with no further penalties (each team had four in the game). The Lumberjacks pulled the goalie with a minute left and managed just one hard slap shot the blue line with 10 seconds left.
Elk goalie Anders Franke stopped 26 of 29 shots, and CEC’s John Schauer halted 30 of 34.
“I thought out goalie played pretty well,” said Esse. “On a couple of their goals he had no chance whatsoever.”
The stands were full and a couple hundred more were standing along the rail. C-E-C hadt a big crowd making the 3 1/2 hour trip so each side had plenty of support.
Esse said C-E-C home games typically draw 1500 to 2000 fans.
He added, “We are small schools, and we could play Class A, but we opt for Class AA, because we want to play the best, like Elk River.”