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Hermantown's 4-0 start in boys soccer erases early expectations

Hermantown entered the high school boys soccer season with just two returning starters from a sub-.500 team, no proven goal-scoring striker and nobody with any goalkeeping experience.

Hermantown boys soccer
Hermantown's Nick Early (left) and Isak Abukhodair celebrate a goal against Cloquet-Esko-Carlton on Thursday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

Hermantown entered the high school boys soccer season with just two returning starters from a sub-.500 team, no proven goal-scoring striker and nobody with any goalkeeping experience.

Those apparent deficiencies have translated into a 4-0 start, more than six goals per game and stingy defensive statistics.

The fifth-ranked Hawks kept the run going Thursday by scoring three times in the second half to defeat Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 4-1 in a Lake Superior Conference home game.

"It really takes all 10 guys on the field working together, and it's worked for us," Hawks coach Dave Thompson said. "I told my team going into the game that I would be happy scoring a goal or two against Cloquet because they're a really good team."

Four players scored goals, including senior forward Connor Kanuit netting his state-high 12th of the season. Kanuit's prowess around the net has answered one of the questions heading into the year.

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"I didn't think I would be able to do it at the varsity level," Kanuit said. "It's good passing from my teammates -- I've gotten a lot of assists from Isak (Abukhodair)."

Abukhodair, a senior midfielder, leads the state with eight assists.

"I have one of the best finishers around," he said about Kanuit. "When I set him up, he's been putting it away."

That's what the pair did in the third minute, Abukhodair setting up Kanuit to give Hermantown a 1-0 lead. Kanuit assisted on Abukhodair's third goal of the season to close the scoring.

"If I played Isak at forward, he'd be scoring (goals) too," Thompson said. "Somebody has to score and somebody has to get the assists. Connor and Isak are a nice tandem."

Nick Early and Jackson Engstrom also scored for the Hawks, handing the Lumberjacks (4-1-1) their first loss. Landen Straub's 14th-minute goal had tied the game at 1 before the Hawks took over in the second half.

"They capitalized because they are so physical. We're as skilled as they are, we're just not as tough as they are," CEC coach Archie Clark said. "I'm confident we can bounce back. We can play with anybody skill-wise, but that intangible that comes out of the middle of your chest still has to be found."

Heart was a component of the Hawks' 2009 Class A state runners-up as well; however, that team was noted for solid goaltending. This year's team didn't have a goalie with a minute of high school experience. That's why Abukhodair, Kanuit and others constantly pestered Mitch Ryks in the school cafeteria last year.

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"During the school year they were pretty desperate for a goalie so they were asking everybody, and I guess I was the only one willing," said Ryks, who last played the sport at age 10.

Ryks had 12 saves against CEC and has allowed just five goals in four games.

"He has a steep learning curve. He makes mistakes and learns from them," Thompson said. "Hopefully by the end of the season, he'll be right where we need him to be."

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 1-0--1

Hermantown 1-3--4

First half -- 1. H, Connor Kanuit (Isak Abukhodair), 3rd; 2. CEC, Landen Straub, 14th.

Second half -- 3. H, Nick Early, 57th; 4. H, Jackson Engstrom (Guilherme Ardito), 63rd; 5. H, Isak Abukhodair (Kanuit), 73rd.

Saves -- Jarad Weeks, CEC, 9; Mitch Ryks, H, 12.

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