Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Courtney Olin told goalie Araya Kiminski on Tuesday night that she would get the start against Proctor-Hermantown in the Section 7A girls hockey championship.
Keep in mind that Kiminski, just a freshman, was the same player who started in net for the Lumberjacks the last time the teams met and barely made it through the first period before getting pulled in a 6-1 thrashing.
Oh, what a difference three weeks makes.
Kiminski made 32 saves Wednesday to lead the top-seeded Lumberjacks to a 3-2 victory over the second-seeded Mirage before a standing-room only crowd of 1,500 at St. Luke’s Events Center in Proctor.
“Amazing,” Kiminski said. “I was extremely nervous. Every time there was a stoppage towards the end, it just made it worse. Everything was so intense. All game, my mind was going crazy.”
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton advances to the Class A quarterfinals Feb. 19 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul against an opponent to be determined once seedings are completed. It will be the program’s sixth state-tournament appearance but first since 2009.
The Lumberjacks (25-3), who earlier this season had a school-record 17-game winning streak, broke their school-record with their 25th win of the season, topping the 24-6-1 mark of their 2005-06 Class AA state runner-up team, of which coach Courtney (Esse) Olin was a part.
“I’m just so proud of our girls,”Olin said. “It truly has been a historic season.
“We have confidence in Araya. We’re fortunate to have two solid goaltenders (senior Lauren Maslowski is the other), and Araya, as seen tonight, is a very, very skilled goaltender. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a freshman, especially given the circumstances of our last game, but she came out and play lights out. She battled the storm.”
Proctor-Hermantown (19-9) came in as one of the state’s hottest teams, having won 10 straight, including that 6-1 drubbing of the Lumberjacks. However, the two-time defending section champion Mirage got careless in their own end, turning the puck over and allowing unassisted goals to Kiana Bender and Dana Jones in the game’s opening four minutes.
“It just seemed like they came out with a little more energy. They brought it,” said first-year Mirage coach Emma Stauber, who played against Olin in high school. “We made a couple early mistakes and they gained a ton of momentum from it. We lost a little faith in ourselves, but we still battled and made it a tight game, which is always fun, and that’s what you want. I’m proud of them, very much so.”
From there, Proctor-Hermantown was playing catch-up.
Aurora Opsahl’s goal late in the first period trimmed the lead, but CEC senior standout Taylor Nelson put the Lumberjacks up 3-1 at 3:31 in the third period after breaking free and scoring top shelf over Mirage goalie Abby Pajari, who finished with 28 saves.
Nelson immediately went over and slammed the glass in front of the Lumberjacks’ student section.
“Oh my gosh,” she said. “This crowd … this crowd was the best in the entire country.”
The Mirage cut the lead back to a goal when Hailey Winklesky scored at 15:04 in the third, making for an intense final two minutes, but Kiminski stood strong.
“I was nervous, but excited at the same time,” Kiminski said. “Everyone said that was the best they’ve ever seen me play. It was certainly the most memorable.”
First period — 1. CEC, Kiana Bender, 3:13; 2. CEC, Dana Jones, 3:53; 3. PH, Aurora Opsahl, 14:53.
Second period — No scoring.
Third period — 3. CEC, Taylor Nelson (Bender), 3:31; 4. PH, Hailey Winklesky (Ella Anick), 15:04.
Saves — Abby Pajari, PH, 28; Araya Kiminski, CEC, 32.