Spartans ready for rematch with TigersSuperior and New Richmond hockey teams meet again in sectional championship game
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
Superior High School boys hockey coach Jason Kalin was a perfect 9-for-9 in leading his Spartan hockey team to the Wisconsin state tournament. That was until last year when the New Richmond Tigers defeated the Spartans 4-3 in the sectional championship game.
After the game Kalin said the loss was disappointing, but he believed his players would learn more from the defeat than from their many victories.
“This should make the younger kids a lot stronger,” Kalin said. “It might take them some time to get over this, but we’re going to come back and work harder for it in the offseason and get back to state next year.”
Fast forward a year and we’re right back where we started: Superior vs. New Richmond in the sectional championship game with the winner advancing the next weekend’s state tournament.
“The New Richmond game from last year has been in the back of our minds and in our conversations for the entire year,” Kalin said. “As a matter of fact, it was the first video we uploaded to our game film to give the boys the opportunity to go back and witness our mistakes first hand. It has been our motivation to get back to the sectional final and play New Richmond for the sectional championship.”
The Spartans and Tigers will meet up again at 2 p.m. Saturday in Amery.
Superior and New Richmond have actually met already this season ending in a Spartan 5-4 win in New Richmond.
“Our first game against them this season was early in December, and both teams have progressed and improved from that point in the season,” Kalin said. “We’re looking forward to the physical and mental challenge that this game will demand from us and we hope to rise to the challenge. My group of seniors have one thing in mind: beat New Richmond. We’ll deal with the rest of the postseason when this game is over, nothing else matters right now.
“One shift, one period, one game at a time.”
The early meeting was a back-and-forth affair. The game was tied 2-2 after one period and the Tigers led 4-3 after two periods before Superior scored the only two goals in the third period.
“Our keys will be to score early and get to their defense and goalie,” Kalin said. “Our neutral zone play on this rink will be pivotal; if we can convert turnovers into offensive opportunities we will have the upper hand. It will also come down to fundamentals on a sheet of ice this size. Make smart passes, play the body when we have the opportunity and not waste shots for the sake of shooting.
“We got frustrated last year because we were shooting from everywhere, but the quality of shots we had wasn’t that good. I know that sounds like a lot, but it really just comes down to focus and preparation. I know we have both right now.”
Senior Nolan Holcombe (18 goals, 29 assists) and junior Daniel Litchke (25-22) lead the Spartans with 47 points apiece. Their linemate, Caleb Duskin, is next in scoring with 13 goals and 14 assists for 27 points.
Another Spartan forward line includes sophomores Aaron Miller (10-15-25) and Aaron Wakefield-Zubiate (11-12-23) and junior Dane Sislo (4-7-11).
A third line is the all-brother line of triplets Steven (10-13-23), Gerald (9-13-22) and Richard Mikel (5-6-11). When Richard Mikel went down with a broken arm midway through the season, he was replaced by younger brother Daniel, a sophomore with four goals and eight assists for 12 points.
“Richard suited and played in a contest against Siren for the first time since the Cloquet game,” Kalin said. “He’s been skating for over a week and we plan to rotate him on the Mikel line with Daniel until he gets his legs under him and gets back into competition shape. He performed very well against Siren, despite still being weak in his forearm.”
A fourth line has senior Luke Darwin (2-5-7) centering freshmen Tyler Nystrom (2-4-6) and Daniel Burger (1-1).
The Spartans are loaded with senior defensemen, including captains Brett Bukowski (11-15-26) and Brady Uotinen (4-11-15), and Aaron Johnson (1-10-11), Blake Johnson (1-2-3) and Jack Bergum (1-0). The remaining regular on the blue line is junior Trent Olson (4-9-13).
In goal this season the Spartans have rotated between senior Scott Crawford and sophomore Paxton Paine. Crawford played in both playoff games, wins of 12-1 over River Falls and 7-3 over Siren.
“We are very pleased with our performance vs. the Siren Co-op team,” Kalin said. “The boys came out hard and played a very aggressive and physical game.”
SPARTAN SPIN: Saturday’s game may be heard locally on WNXR 107.3 FM. Mike Granlund will provide the play-by-play with Ken Olson providing the color commentary.