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Scrappy Wolves take first

WINNERS of the Ely Holiday Tournament was the Ely high school hockey team. Pictured are: front (l-r): Lewey Powell, Wes Sandy, Deegan Richards, Sam Leeson, Owen Marolt; standing: Duane Lossing, Alex Merriman, Brecken Sandberg, Tommy Homer, Hunter Halbakken, Drew Marolt, Blake Schaller, Ben Leeson, Sean Merriman, Garrett Rohr, Brady Eaton, Ty Walker, Chase Anderson, Jace Huntbatch, Mason Kurnova, Jayden Zemke, Kadein Zupancich, Ryland Sandy and head coach Jake Myers.

Ely wins three one-goal games, claims Holiday Classic title

by Tom Coombe

The Ely Timberwolves kept finding ways to win.

Three one-goal games in as many days gave the high school hockey team a first-place finish in its inaugural holiday tournament.

After a 2-1 win over Kittson Central in the opening round, Ely prevailed 4-3 in overtime against St. Paul Johnson, with sophomore Jayden Zemke scoring the game-winner in the extra period of the Dec. 28 clash.

The Wolves saved their best for last, scoring three times in the last seven minutes to stun Moose Lake Area 3-2 in the Dec. 29 finale.

Ely not only improved to 10-3, but finished first in the Ely Holiday Classic and may have grown even further as a team.

“I think it’s a huge milestone for hockey in Ely and a step in the right direction for the program,” said head coach Jake Myers. “Their hard work is paying off and if we can keep it rolling there are more good things ahead.”

The Wolves could have crumbled in either of the last two games in the tournament, but instead rebounded to gain emotional wins.

“This team showed a lot of resilience in the face of adversity,” said Myers. “They never gave up when bounces and plays didn’t go our way, which will happen in hockey. They stuck with the game plan, kept the game simple and created an opportunity.”

The Wolves seemed on their way to a second straight holiday tournament win when St. Paul Johnson rallied in the final period.

Freshman Owen Marolt’s first goal of the tournament put the Wolves up 3-1 and the hosts seemed to be on cruise control.

The Governors, however, had different ideas and closed the gap to 3-2 with Matthew Corniea’s goal with 1:45 left.

St. Paul Johnson then pulled its goaltender for an extra attacker and the gamble paid off as Jozef Cunningham got the equalizer and forced overtime.

Enter Zemke, who fired a blast from just inside the blue line a couple minutes into overtime.

It evaded the Governors’ goalie, and the Wolves prevailed 4-3.

“Jayden’s shot was from the top of the point,” said Myers. “There was a weird deflection and he founded it and blasted it, and Deegan Richards did a nice job of screening their goalie so he couldn’t see it.”

Both Alex Merriman and Drew Marolt assisted on the game-winner, and Ben Leeson finished with 26 saves to  get the victory between the pipes.

Zemke had two goals in the game, including a power play tally in the second period. Senior Brecken Sandberg also scored in the same frame while Drew Marolt assisted on three of Ely’s four goals in the game.

Merriman finished with two assists, and Brady Eaton, Wes Sandy and Richards all had one.

Goalie Tyler Mishica had 48 saves for St. Paul Johnson.

In the final game of the tournament, Moose Lake maintained an edge despite getting outshot 54-21 for the game.

A Payton Nordstrom goal broke the ice in the second period while Joey Olson scored on an angle in the third, making it 2-0.

Ely was on its heels until a penalty gave the Wolves new life with just over nine minutes left.

The Wolves briefly had a two-man advantage and Drew Marolt scored during five-on-four play and momentum shifted.

“We put Chase Anderson in front of the net on the power play and that made a difference with that change of pace,” said Myers.

Junior Jace Huntbatch tied it up on a beautiful goal with six minutes to play and Ely caught fire.

It set the stage for the game-winners, as Huntbatch fed Drew Marolt in front of the net for a shot that flew past the Rebels’ goalie.

“Jace Huntbatch really stepped up and scored a big goal and then forechecked hard to help create an opportunity (for the game-winner),” said Myers. “And Ben Leeson made some very timely saves as well.”

Leeson had 19 saves en route to the win and Moose Lake’s Eli Gilbertson recorded 51 stops.

The win closed out what, by all accounts, was a successful holiday tournament that was held before large crowds at the Ely Arena.  All three visiting teams and their fans stayed overnight and helped fill the community, creating an economic impact.  The 2024 event is already in the works for Dec. 26-28.

“There were very competitive hockey games, and everybody was in every game,” said Myers. “That’s huge for us small-town programs and I think everybody appreciated the competitive aspect of the tournament.”

• The Wolves host Ashland (Wisc.) today before a long road trip to Baudette Jan. 12 for the first of two consecutive Friday night games with Lake of the Woods.

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