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Hockey Day Minnesota: Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys beat Rochester Lourdes

ELK RIVER, Minn. - Like just about every high school hockey player across the state, James Newgren grew up watching Hockey Day Minnesota, pining for a chance to participate in the pageantry-laced spectacle.

Hockey Day Minnesota
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton's Hunter Roberts looks for a rebound off of Rochester Lourdes goaltender Jack Burkel during the teams' Hockey Day Minnesota game on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 in Elk River, Minn. (Dave Harwig / for the News Tribune)

ELK RIVER, Minn. - Like just about every high school hockey player across the state, James Newgren grew up watching Hockey Day Minnesota, pining for a chance to participate in the pageantry-laced spectacle.

Saturday, the big stage and bright lights beckoned for Newgren and his Cloquet-Esko-Carlton teammates, and the Lumberjacks didn't disappoint. Newgren scored the final two goals in a 4-1 victory over Rochester Lourdes at the Handke Pit in Elk River, played amid a setting that would have made Norman Rockwell jealous.

"We watch Hockey Day every year, so being able to come play in it is awesome, especially at a place like the Handke Pit with all the history," Newgren said.

Carved into the base of a glacier-formed bowl, the Handke Pit is a stunning venue for outdoor hockey. And Saturday's weather was about as perfect as organizers of the eighth annual event could have hoped for: temperatures in the high teens following an overnight snowfall that dumped about 5 inches of fresh powder onto the rink and surrounding grounds.

A cloudless sky and piercing sun forced players to don a look seldom seen on hockey rinks -- eye black.

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With Fox Sports North broadcasting the game to a national audience, and a couple thousand fans milling about, it's no surprise that both the Eagles (4-12) and Lumberjacks (6-10-2) took a while to shake off the nerves and find their groove. The game was scoreless into the third period until Rochester Lourdes' Peter Alexander beat CEC goalie Zack Strom to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.

Alexander's goal served as a much-needed spark -- for the Lumberjacks.

It was all CEC from there as Ryan Lind got the surge started with a wrister through traffic from the point. Jack Kuhlman made it 2-1 less than four minutes later, and Newgren closed it out with the final two goals.

Lind hardly flinched after his low liner punched the back of the net. The senior defenseman celebrated his equalizer by simply thrusting his arms in the air.

"We had a great screen in front of the net and the goalie couldn't even see it," Lind said. "We worked on it in practice and it worked perfect today."

CEC had a handful of scoring chances in the opening two periods, but the Eagles' starting goalie, Jack Burkel, kept the Lumberjacks off the scoreboard. Burkel's biggest save came against Dylan Johnson, who was denied on a breakaway midway through the second period.

Thanks to Strom, the missed chances didn't matter. The senior finished with 19 saves in a game that lived up to all the pre-game hype.

"It's such a surreal environment -- a great venue for this year's Hockey Day Minnesota," Strom said.

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Lind agreed.

"It was unreal," he said. "The atmosphere here is crazy. It's what you dream of as a little kid."

Hockey Day continued at the Handke Pit with Elk River taking on Stillwater. Before the puck dropped on that showdown, Gov. Dayton led the crowd in a "Let's Play Hockey" chant, the state's de facto slogan on this day. Also included in Saturday's TV lineup was a Minnesota Gopher vs. Ohio State game and the NHL's Wild hosting Dallas. All told, FSN showed more than 16 hours of hockey-related programming, concluding with a tape-delayed broadcast of a prep girls game between Elk River and Anoka.

Moments after the Lumberjacks posed for a team photo in front of their net, CEC coach Dave Esse went about praising everybody involved with Saturday's production.

"I think for these kids it's a lifelong memory," Esse said.

It's been an up-and-down season for CEC, but the Lumberjacks hope Saturday portends a successful finish to the regular season.

"We've been struggling lately, but that's a big win for us right there," Lind said.

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Hockey Day Minnesota
The Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks take the ice for their Hockey Day Minnesota game on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 in Elk River, Minn. (Dave Harwig / for the News Tribune)

Related Topics: CARLTONCLOQUETESKOHOCKEY
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