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March Mania

Class A girls hockey: Kiminski, Lumberjacks march on

CEC's Dana Jones dives for a loose puck behind Hutchinson goalie Hannah Ladwig to score the Lumberjacks' second goal in Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. CEC won 2-0 to advance to Friday's semifinals. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)1 / 9
Fans greet the Lumberjacks as they return to the ice for the second period of Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)2 / 9
CEC goalie Ararya Kiminski stops a shot during Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. She stopped 18 Hutchinson shots on goals. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)3 / 9
CEC's Taylor Nelson prepares to take a shot at Hutchinson goalie Hannah Ladwig during the third period of Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. CEC outshot the Tigers 26-18 as they won 2-0. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)4 / 9
CEC goalie Ararya Kiminski stops a shot during Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. She stopped 18 Hutchinson shots on goals. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)5 / 9
The Lumberjacks celebrate their first goal, scored by Jenna Zdebski, in Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. It was all the Lumberjacks needed as they shutout Hutchinson 2-0. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)6 / 9
Fans greet the Lumberjacks as they return to the ice for the second period of Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)7 / 9
CEC's Kiana Bender takes a shot at Hutchinson goalie Hannah Ladwig during Wednesday's state quarterfinal game in St. Paul. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)8 / 9
A Lumberjack and Tiger contend for the puck along the boards during the third period of Wednesday's game. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)9 / 9

ST. PAUL — Hutchinson senior forward Britta Johnson liked what she saw late in the second period of the Tigers’ Class A girls hockey state quarterfinal Wednesday with Cloquet-Esko-Carlton.

Johnson saw a perfect centering pass coming her way, a wide open net in front of her. This was the hockey equivalent of hitting one off a tee. But suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, CEC goalie Araya Kiminski slid back across the crease — lightning quick — and stuffed Johnson’s point-blank attempt and the ensuing hacks at the puck.

That was the best save of what has become routine for the freshman goalie. Kiminski stopped 18 shots to lead the Lumberjacks to a 2-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center.

“I’m very proud of myself and my team for keeping me in it and knowing they had my back,” Kiminski said. “I just saw that girl was over there and I just did the best I could to push over, and I got it. Then I had to do whatever I could to get it blown dead. Then I covered it.”

The third-seeded Lumberjacks (26-3), who got first-period goals from Jenna Zdebski and Dana Jones, increased their school record for wins in a season to 26. They advance to play second-seeded Warroad (22-4-2) in the Class A semifinals at 11 a.m. Friday at Xcel Energy Center.

“Obviously there are a lot of nerves going into the quarterfinals of the state tournament,” CEC coach Courtney Olin said. “None of us have had the opportunity to play here prior to today, and I don’t think that was necessarily our best game. I thought at times we got a little bit sloppy, but overall, we’re really happy with the win.”

It took all of 90 seconds for the Lumberjacks to get on the scoreboard when Zdebski, a senior defenseman, put in a low shot through traffic that appeared to catch Hutchinson goalie Hannah Ladwig by surprise.

Afterward, Zdebski was all smiles, even if she hasn’t been feeling all that well. Hey, that was only her second goal of the season. It happened at the state tournament during her senior year, and the first shot of the game stood as the game winner, no less. Life is good.

Olin prefaced Zdebski’s post-game remarks by telling the media that Zdebski “doesn’t have a voice” because she’s been sick. But the senior held her own, raspy voice and all.

“I was so excited,” Zdebski said. “I didn’t even know it went in at first, but it somehow got through everyone. It was just a really exciting moment for me.”

The Lumberjacks said that was the spark they needed.

“When we get that first goal right away, then it just keeps us rolling,” Kiminski said.

Hutchinson hadn’t been to the state tournament in five years, and for CEC, it had been 11, so this was a new experience for the girls, with more nerves and pressure at play. Zdebski’s goal helped ease that.

“That was the moment where we were like, ‘OK, we got this. We’re here. We earned our spot,’” Jones said.

Jones added to the lead 12 minutes into the first period when Jaxie Pogorelc blasted a shot that Ladwig appeared to stop, but the puck somehow trickled through her legs and Jones pounced on it. Ladwig finished with 24 saves for Hutchinson (21-8).

“It was an in-the-moment type goal,” Jones said. “I saw the puck right there and the whistle wasn’t blown yet, so I just went to the net and put the puck in the back. That’s all there is to it. For sure, crash the net until they blow it dead.”

Hutchinson kept the pressure on, with 11 shots on goal in the second period, but Kiminski stopped them all.

“For anyone who saw our section final against Proctor-Hermantown last week, Araya shut the door,” Olin said. “We definitely know she is capable of playing outstanding hockey.”

While some of it was positioning and some were great saves by Kiminski, there is no doubt things are going the freshman’s way right now. Last week she had a puck bounce off her helmet that just missed going in. Wednesday, the Tigers hit the pipe and misfired on other chances.

“This time of year, it’s all about puck luck,” Hutchinson coach Matt Telecky said. “We talked about that a lot. Cloquet likes to pack it in. Typical northern team. They like to defend, no excuses there. They’re blocking shots and not giving us a lot of room to operate.”

With that said, give credit where credit is due. Kiminski’s save late in the second period was skill and athleticism meeting perfect timing. Johnson said Kiminski’s quickness threw her off and may have contributed to her not getting as much on the shot as she wanted.

“I’m surprised she closed the gap so quickly,” Johnson said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

It was only Kiminski’s second shutout of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

After splitting time in net with senior Lauren Maslowski (10-1) during the regular season, Kiminski (16-2) has been the Lumberjacks’ go-to goalie for their playoff run, going 4-0 with a 0.75 goals-against average and .959 save percentage. Those numbers are hard to argue with.

Being a backup might not sit well with most goalies, in particular, a senior. For Maslowski, this is it. Her last year of high school hockey.

But after Wednesday’s win, who immediately went up to Kiminski and gave her a bear-sized big-sister hug? You guessed it, Maslowski.

“She just told me how proud of me she was and how she loved me and was so happy for our team,” Kiminski said. “She’s always supporting me with everything. It’s amazing she can be that happy, with me starting over her. It just makes me so happy we can have this close of a bond, on and off the ice. It’s unexplainable.”

Hutchinson 0-0-0—0

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton 2-0-0—2

First period — 1. Jenna Zdebski (Dana Jones, Emily Litchke), 1:30; 2. Jones (Jaxie Pogorelc, Marina Dostal), 12:00.

Second period — No scoring.

Third period — No scoring.

Saves — Hannah Ladwig, H, 24; Araya Kiminski, CEC, 18.

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