Local kids get to skate with the pros
The city of Superior has had its share of success in the sport of hockey.
Teams from Superior High School have won a record 12 state championships and the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets have two national championships under their belts.
There have also also been dozens of Superior-grown players that have skated at all levels, including college, minor leagues and professionally overseas.
This past winter, though, Mike Sislo became the first person from Superior to play in the National Hockey League.
Sislo played in 14 games with the New Jersey Devils after being called up from their minor league team in Albany. Sislo had two stints in New Jersey, both lasting seven games.
One of Sislo’s teammates in high school, Brett Olson, is also knocking on the NHL’s door as a member of the Abbotsford Heat in the Calgary Flames’ organization.
To bring awareness to the success of Sislo and Olson, the Keith Gilbertson Memorial Hockey Tournament will be sponsoring “Celebrating Spartan Hockey Success with Mike Sislo and Brett Olson” on Thursday at the Superior Ice Arena.
Sislo and Olson will hold an autograph session and open skate with Superior Amateur Hockey Association friends and family from 4 to 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Sislo said. “I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time back home so it’s great to be able to come back, spend time with the kids and help any way I can.
“This is where it all started for me and anytime you can come back and help out with the kids is great.”
Sislo, who just completed his third season with Albany, was also called up by the Devils for the final three games of the 2013 season, but didn’t get to play.
“I was hoping to play, but it was a great opportunity to get the first-hand experience to see what goes on during the season, how the players handle themselves, the culture and what everybody does to prepare to play,” Sislo said. “Getting that experience helped me going into this past year.”
After beginning this season with Albany, Sislo was called up by the Devils again and made his professional debut on Jan. 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Going into the locker room and seeing the lineups on the wall with my name along with guys like (Jonathan) Toews and (Patrick) Kane is something I’ll never forget,” Sislo said.
Sislo didn’t record a point in his two stints with the Devils, but finished with an impressive plus-minus of -1 while averaging around 10 minutes a game and putting 20 shots on goal.
He also had several excellent scoring chances, including a breakaway attempt against the Dallas Stars.
“I got a good pass from the D through the middle, I tried to beat the goaltender five-hole and he played it well,” Sislo said. “Unfortunately he got his stick or glove on it. It was a good chance that I wish I could have buried.”
Another great chance Sislo had was against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We had a 2-on-1, the D slid down, I tried to go high blocker and it hit the left pipe and went out,” Sislo said. “That was another close one. An inch to the right and it would have went in.”
Despite not scoring, Sislo kept positive.
“I worked hard to try to get into the offensive zone and create some good chances and I thought I did that,” Sislo said. “Obviously it would have been nice to get some points and get rewarded for it, but I think as long as you’re working hard to create chances sooner or later they’re going to go in.”
While Sislo went scoreless with the Devils, he felt he impressed the coaching staff.
“I think the feedback I got was pretty positive and I think they liked the way I played,” Sislo said. “I played hard, but I know I can do better and there’s a lot of room for improvement in the future. It was a good start, I got my feet wet and now I’m prepared for my future and hope to have a bigger role with the team.”
After the Devils came up short in a playoff bid, Sislo returned to Albany and helped that team make the playoffs.
“We were right there until the very end, just a couple of points out,” Sislo said. “It was nice to be a part of that, but it was disappointing to not make the playoffs.
“Playing with the Devils gave me more confidence and I was able to have success and help Albany get into the playoffs. It was disappointing to be knocked out in the first round, but overall it was a good season in Albany, a big turnaround from the past when we didn’t make the playoffs.”
Sislo will become an unrestricted free agent in July, but he hopes to remain in the New Jersey organization.
“I’ve had a good experience in the Devils’ organization the past few years,” Sislo said. “I feel like my role has increased with the team and I hope to be a part of the organization for a long time to come.”
“I’ll be in contact with my agent throughout the summer. There’s always uncertainty, you never know what’s going to happen until it happens. I hope to hear from the Devils soon and hope to sign back with them.”
Sislo will remain in Superior for a couple more weeks before training the rest of the summer in Connecticut.
“This past season was special,” Sislo said. “Putting in a lot of work over the years, just trying to continue to improve from year to year and to finally earning that call up was a special feeling — something I will never forget.”
Sislo said getting to the play with the Devils will help him prepare for next season.
“Anytime you see it and get that experience is motivation enough,” Sislo said. “I try to work as hard as I can every summer so it shouldn’t change how I prepare. But just knowing how close I am will help.”
Brett Olson update
Olson finished sixth in scoring this season with the Abbotsford Heat with 17 goals and 27 assists for 44 points, an improvement from eight goals and 10 assists in 2012-13.
“Playing with Brett growing up and in high school — it’s been fun to follow him and see where his career has gone,” Sislo said. “He’s improved every year and is also knocking on the door, right there ready to take that next step.”
Olson is also an unrestricted free agent.
“I’m just waiting to see what develops,” Olson said. “It’s basically hurry up and wait, and see what you can find.
“Our goal is to sign a two-year NHL-AHL contract like Mike, but right now all you can do is sit back, trust your agent and hope that you played well enough the past two season to open some eyes.”
The Calgary Flames recently announced that its contract with the city of Abbotsford, which is located about an hour east of Vancouver in British Columbia, expired and the team will be moving to Glen Falls, NY and be known as the Adirondack Flames.
“Playing in Abbotsford was tough because the closest team to us was Oklahoma City,” Olson said. “The travel was tough but the team treated us very well, especially when we were on weeklong road trips.”
Olson is also excited to skate with the kids on Thursday.
“Growing up the high school guys were around and you always wanted to play for the Spartans,” Olson said. “Now, especially with Mike being the first one from Superior to play in the NHL, kids now have something else to shoot for.”