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Iron Range All-Stars hold off Cloquet-inspired Duluth rally

The CCM High School All-Star hockey game was a chance for regional seniors to show their stuff for fans and scouts at the DECC Wednesday night, although for a while it looked like only one team was going to show off. But Duluth rallied behind its...

The CCM High School All-Star hockey game was a chance for regional seniors to show their stuff for fans and scouts at the DECC Wednesday night, although for a while it looked like only one team was going to show off. But Duluth rallied behind its Cloquet Connection to score the last three goals of the game and challenge to the finish of a tough 6-5 loss to the Iron Range before about 2,000 fans and regional television and radio audiences.
Craig Jankowski of Ely scored two goals and assisted on another to lead the Iron Range stars to a 6-2 lead by the time the third period was 23 seconds old, but defenseman Clay Wilson and center Travis Denzel led a contingent of swift Cloquet attackers in a comeback, scoring a goal and three assists each as the score closed to 6-5 before the final 20-minute session was 5 minutes old.
Duluth East goaltender Dan Hoehne came in midway through the game and allowed only one goal while stopping 23 Range shots, helping his team rally through the second half of the game. The highlight was when Hoehne lunged to poke-check Greenway star Mike Forconi on a penalty shot late in the third period.
There was more hitting than anticipated, as the Range vs. Duluth concept inspired some strong feelings of rivalry. This might have been enhanced by the pregame skills contest, which was won for the third straight year by the Iron Rangers. Greenway defenseman Mike Dagel won the hardest shot at 86 miles per hour, Hibbing's Eric Grzybowski and Grand Rapids' Zach Nelson tied with Two Harbors' Shawn Carlson of the Duluth side for scoring in the rapid-fire drill, and goalie Andy Paul of Grand Rapids won with nine saves on 10 shots in the other end of the rapid-fire drill. Denfeld's Jeremy Carter won the fastest skater contest with a 14.78-second lap, for the only clear Duluth award, beating Greenway's Dan Mell, who was clocked at 14.85.
In the game, Cloquet, which used its great team speed to zip through a surprise season among 7AA outfits, put it to good use with the appropriately named Travis Fast scoring the game's first goal, while Lumberjack teammates Wilson and Travis Denzel assisted at 6:22, giving the Duluth team an early lead.
But the Rangers had the Greenway connection hooked up, and Raider winger Dan Mell tipped in a left-point blast by Hibbing's R.J. Reenskers for the tying goal at 12:15, while Greenway's Mike Forconi also assisted. Forconi then got an unassisted goal when he rushed up the right side and his shot glanced past goaltender Steve Kaake of Hermantown off his own defenseman at 15:26.
The Rangers made it 3-1 at the first intermission when Zach Nelson from Grand Rapids converted a pass out from behind the net by Jankowski, with Critter Nagurski also assisting on the power-play goal at 19:27.
Duluth cut the margin to 3-2 when Wilson moved in from the blue line for a 15-foot shot that Andy Paul of Grand Rapids blocked, but the rebound glanced left off his pads, right to Travis Denzel, and he rapped it in for another Lumberjack contribution at 2:18. Again, however, the Iron Range team stormed back.
Jankowski sent a blistering 40-foot slap shot past Kaake at 7:21 of the middle period to boost the Range lead to 4-2, and 24 seconds later, Eric Grzybowski of Hibbing converted the rebound of a shot by Bemidji's Eddie Johnson for a 5-2 bulge.
The teams changed goaltenders at the 10:00 mark of the second period, and relievers Adam Hoechst of Mesabi East and Hoehne of Duluth East blanked both sides the rest of the session. But a wild start to the third period opened the game up.
Jankowski scored his second at 0:23, on a pass out from Nagurski and with Nelson also assisting, for that line's third goal of the night. But that's when the Duluth team stormed back.
Wilson scored with a shot from the left point at 0:41 of a left-corner faceoff, with Jim Rodberg of Denfeld and Travis Denzel of Cloquet assisting. Then Wilson and Two Harbors' Shawn Carlson set up a rebound goal for Tanner Paulseth of Silver Bay at 3:41, and Duluth got within 6-5 when Denzel sped across the slot for a shot that Hoechst blocked with a spectacular save, but Arras poked the loose puck past him at 4:56.
Hoechst shut the door on Duluth the rest of the way with 14 saves altogether, while Paul had 15 for the Range in the first half. Kaake had 13 saves and Hoehne had 23 stops.
Hoehne and Jankowski received most valuable player awards for their teams, and Jankowski won a new pair of CCM skates as the game's MVP.

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