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CEC boys hockey coach Esse resigns after 18 seasons

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton high school boys hockey coach Dave Esse shouts directions to his players during practice. (2016 file / News Tribune)

Dave Esse has resigned after 18 seasons as Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys hockey coach.

Speculation surfaced earlier in the week that Esse was preparing to step down, and he submitted his resignation letter Friday morning.

The longtime coach, who endured a messy and well-publicized rift with parents in 2013, led the Lumberjacks — one of the smallest programs competing in Class AA — to the state tournament in 2002 and 2008. This past winter, with a roster full of young talent, they were 16-9-2 and lost to Duluth East 1-0 in the semifinals of the Section 7AA playoffs. That success resulted in Esse being named Class AA coach of the year by the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association.

And he appeared excited about his program’s prospects for next season and beyond until an apparent change of heart recently.

“I have put my heart and soul into this program for the past twenty-six years but at the present time, I am choosing to make my family my top priority,” Esse said in a written statement released to the media. “I would like to thank the Lumberjack hockey community for all of their support over the years. I look forward to spending more time at my cabin, with my family, and with my new granddaughter.”

Earlier this week, Esse told the News Tribune that Jamie Langenbrunner, the ex-NHLer and Cloquet icon who was an assistant coach in 2016-17, would not be back next year. Langenbrunner’s son, Landon Langenbrunner, is part of a dynamic sophomore class that portends a bright future for CEC.

In 2013, just before the section playoffs commenced, parents of players — past and present — filed a complaint that accused Esse of bullying, intimidation and violating the Minnesota State High School League’s code of ethics. Esse, though, kept his job following a six-week investigation into the allegations and was cleared of any wrongdoing.

He was a finalist for the Wisconsin-Superior men’s hockey coaching job a year ago.

Esse also had coached football at Cloquet and has been with the athletic department for 26 years. He is a physical education teacher in Carlton, though last month he was hired to teach physical education and health at Cloquet High School beginning in 2017-18.

In an email, Cloquet athletic director Tom Lenarz wrote:

“We are indebted to him for his dedication and service to our kids and our programs. I wish him well as he leaves us to spend more time with family and his other interests.”