Superior hopes third time is a charm against Notre DameHolcombe has a special fan watching from above; Mikel triplets, plus one
By: Ken Olson, Superior Telegram
The Superior High School boys hockey team is hoping that the third time is the charm when it opens play in the WIAA Boys State Hockey Tournament this week at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
The Spartans enter the state tournament ranked No. 2 in the state of Wisconsin. Unfortunately, their quarterfinal opponent is Green Bay Notre Dame Academy, which has been ranked No. 1 in Wisconsin the entire season and has handed Superior two of its nine losses.
Superior lost to the Tritons 3-2 in the Duluth Marshall Holiday tournament then 5-2 in the first round of the Showdown in Titletown Tournament in Green Bay. The second meeting with Notre Dame didn’t start until 9:45 p.m. (after a Green Bay Gamblers game at the Resch Center), and the Tritons jumped all over Superior by scoring three first-period goals in a span of 52 seconds.
The Spartans rebounded from that loss to easily defeat Wausau West 5-0 and Fond du Lac 8-1, but that loss to Notre Dame hasn’t been easy to forget.
“We have quite a bit of game film on them, so we’re going to look at some things like special teams, how they work that around and that kind of stuff,” Kalin said. “We’re very familiar with them, but what we have to do first is worry about ourselves.
“We didn’t win those games because of letdowns on our own. It wasn’t that we didn’t have opportunities to win, because we outshot them in both games and we out-played them at parts of both games. But they came out in that second game firing on all cylinders in the first period and scored three goals in 52 seconds on us. That was three letdowns, one shift after another. Now we have to focus on winning the next game and not worry about Notre Dame as much.”
Superior advanced to the state tournament with a 3-0 win over New Richmond, while Notre Dame advanced with a 2-0 win over Bay Port.
SPARTAN SPIN: Superior qualifies for the state tournament for a membership-leading 34th time, and for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons. … All of Superior’s games in Madison will be carried live by WNXR 107.3 FM. … Five of Superior’s nine losses have been to No. 1 ranked teams. The Spartans lost to Notre Dame (No. 1 in Wisconsin) and Hermantown (No. 1 in Minnesota Class A) twice, and Duluth East (No. 1 in Class AA in Minnesota) once. Four of those losses were by one goal. … The Spartans left for Madison Tuesday afternoon, a day earlier than planned because of the forecasted snowstorm.
Senior captain Nolan Holcombe felt the Spartans had some help in Saturday’s win. No, the referees didn’t give them any breaks, and Superior certainly didn’t have any home ice advantage playing a mere 15 miles away from New Richmond.
But they might have had some help from above, in particular from David Holcombe, the father of Nolan Holcombe who died in a snowmobile accident three years ago.
“I just know he was up there watching and some of the bounces we got were because of him,” Nolan Holcombe said. “It feels so good to be going back to state our senior year. I know he’ll be on the bench with us in Madison.”
Dave Holcombe coached Nolan’s teams since he started playing hockey at the age of 4. Not only did he coach through the squirt level, but he coached or managed summer teams like the Ice Wolves, Northern Storm and several teams in the WAHA Cup state tournaments.
Dave’s accident happened about a week before Nolan’s Superior Spartan bantam team was to play in the U18 Wisconsin State Tournament in Monroe. That would be the first time Dave’s gravelly voice wouldn’t be heard throughout the ice arena.
Dave missed a few of Nolan’s games over the years because of work, or other commitments, but you knew he was getting constant updates from somebody at the rink or was quick to call Nolan after the game for details.
This time it was different. There was no Dave asking everybody at the arena “How does Nolan’s stride look?” Or yelling “Get going Hokey” or “Own him.”
No, this time Nolan was on his own. Sure his mother, LuAnn, grandparents, and aunts and uncles were in attendance, but it would never be the same again for him.
In honor of Dave’s death, the Bantam team put DH stickers on their helmets and then the 14- and 15-year-olds went out and won the state championship against a bunch of 18-year-olds.
To this day, those same DH stickers are still on the Spartans’ helmets.
“Coach Kalin has been nice enough to let us keep the stickers on our helmets, to help keep his memory alive when we play,” said Nolan Holcombe, who has gone on to have a pretty successful high school career with 53 goals and 58 assists for 111 points.
“What can you say, the kid’s been playing for his father for his entire life,” Kalin said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that Nolan doesn’t think about him. I know that there’s been a few times when he’s had lulls in his games and we just mentioned the word ‘David’ or ‘dad’ and he comes out and has his best period of the game.
“I think he’s (Dave) pretty happy right now. Nolan’s been giving it everything he’s got and you could see that today.”
Mikel, Mikel, Mikel
For the past three seasons one of Superior’s regular forward lines has been the Mikel triplets, Steven, Gerald and Mikel.
Although they look nothing alike and are a bit smaller than your average hockey player, they think alike and play the game the same way — with everything they have.
They are also very quiet, which is unique for hockey players.
“They certainly don’t talk you ears off, but all of them work hard all the time and they are very coachable kids,” Kalin said. “They know how to play hockey, they have great vision and they work together so well. They’re also top notch in the classroom and out of the classroom. They’re academic leaders. I’m going to miss those boys a lot.”
Don’t feel too sorry Kalin, the triplets are leaving behind younger brother Daniel, a sophomore, who saw a lot of time on the line when Richard suffered a broken arm in the game at Cloquet.
“It’s nice that he was able to step in. I think he did a pretty good job overall, but it’s nice to be back,” Richard Mikel said. “I’m feeling better, a lot better.”
Evidence of Richard’s improvement was his the two assists Saturday, including a nifty behind-the-back pass on Dane Sislo’s goal and then a centering pass to Gerald Mikel, who scored on his own rebound.
“I don’t know if we’re telepathic, but to be together for so many years has made us all the better for it,” Steven Mikel said. “We know how each other likes to think and we know where each other is going to be. The big thing is that we like to help the team out and get victories.
“It’s a great feeling, it’s amazing to get back to state. To have not gone last year, it’s a great relief. We worked hard for it, so we’re proud of each other.”
With the triplets looking ahead to college in their futures, what would be the perfect ending for the three?
“A state championship,” Gerald Mikel said. “That’s what we’re going try to do in Madison, win three more games with a solid team effort and win a state championship.”
This year’s Spartan team has 12 seniors, led by captains Brett Bukowski, Brady Uotinen and Holcombe.
Bukowski, one of five seniors on defense, is a four-year letterwinner for Superior and is a finalist for Wisconsin Player of the Year honors.
Other finalists are: Tim Davison, Notre Dame; Jason Ford, Waunakee; Kyle Lee, Wausau West; Joe Llaurado, Marquette; Eddie Matsushima, Verona; Kody Novinska, Rice Lake; and Jesse Tredinnick, Onalaska.
The WHCA coaches will vote on the finalists, with the winner to be announced at the Player of the Year/state banquet tonight.
Uotinen is also a senior defenseman along with Aaron Johnson, Blake Johnson and Jack Bergum. The only underclassman on defense is junior Trent Olson.
“One of the things I was impressed with on Saturday was the way the defensemen played,” Kalin said. “Brady played his usual solid game on Saturday, but I thought Aaron Johnson had his best game of the season. He never really made any bad plays. He might have pinched a bit too much at the end, but other than that, he and all of my defensemen played great.”
Kalin also praised Johnson and Bergum.
“Jack and Blake might not have gotten any ice time, but they contributed by being so positive on the bench,” Kalin said. “They didn’t do it on the ice, but they did it on the bench with their words encouragement.”
The final seniors on this year’s team include forwards Caleb Dushkin and Luke Darwin.
Dushkin is on the No. 1 line along with of Holcombe and Daniel Litchke. The three are the top three scorers for Superior, led by Litchke (26 goals, 22 assists, 48 points). Holcombe (18-29-47) is one point back and Dushkin is tied for third (13-14-27) with Bukowski (11-16-27).
Darwin is the center on Superior’s fourth line along with freshmen Tyler Nystrom and Daniel Burger.
Darwin is a straight A student who has found himself in the middle of a numbers crunch. He scored two goals in his first varsity game as a sophomore at Ashland but then went scoreless with three assists as a junior. This season he has taken care of his chances by scoring two goals and dishing out four assists for six points.
“Luke’s had a tough year with some health issues,” Kalin said. “He’s had some stomach problems, but he’s been plugging away through the whole season.
“He’s played for us everywhere this year, which speaks of his character. He’s always there for the team and when had a lot of injuries early in the season so got a lot of ice time filling in and he did a great job for us. He’s a top-notch kid, all around.”
After rotating goaltenders most of the season, Kalin has settled with senior Scott Crawford, who stopped 12 shots in his shutout victory over New Richmond. He also picked up wins over River Falls and Siren in regional play.
“Scotty may be a bit unpredictable as a goaltender, but when he gets into a rhythm he’s as good as anyone,” Kalin said. “He made some great saves today and earned his shutout.”
Backing up Crawford is sophomore Paxton Paine.
Crawford has a goals-against average around 3.08 and a saves percentage of .885. Paxton has a 3.26 goals-against average and an .875 saves percentage.