Beyond the Blueline: Smalley Settling in with the Lumberjacks

Eyewitness Sports
January 02, 2018 10:41 PM

After spending 13 years coaching cross-town opponent Duluth Denfeld, you never know how your arrival will be received moving to a new school.

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"I'm pretty sure everybody loves him- not just speaking for myself, but everybody loves him. He's a great guy," said senior defenseman Ryan Nelson.

"He always has the right thing to say in my mind. He motivates me to play every day to try and make him happy," added junior forward Jon Baker.

However, the response from players and the coaching staff seem to be nothing but positive as they welcome Kevin Smalley as the new head coach of the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys' hockey program.

"He brings fun to the locker room every day and great knowledge of the game. The kids enjoy that," said CEC assistant coach Erik Hanson.

Smalley is a Duluth guy. He played for Duluth Denfeld, skated for the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Bulldogs, and then coached the Hunters for over a decade. Hockey has always been a big part of his life, but it also provided its personal challenges.

"Hockey was not necessarily a small man's game," said Smalley. "I was little all my life and everyone told me and kept telling me, 'you know, wait till he gets to the next level, he'll disappear.' That never happened. I had the drive to want to get better and I had self-motivation."

Through his experiences he found the drive to find out how good a player can get. With those aspirations, Smalley wanted to carry his competitive edge over to his alma mater.

"All along I wanted to turn Denfeld into a double A program. It just didn't take place. You know when you're lacking numbers it's hard to compete on a nightly basis," said Smalley.

The decision to take over the CEC program wasn't and easy one. However, with talented players at his disposal, numbers to fill a roster, and the opportunity to coach in one of the toughest sections across the state, it's something he couldn't pass up.

"You know, I think anybody can beat anybody on an given night and that's just how it is," Smalley said talking about Section 7AA.

"It's fun knowing that it's one of the toughest sections. Being one of the top teams in the section means a lot. It puts a lot of weight on our shoulders, but I think we're capable of doing well in our section," added Nelson.



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