Spartans limping into playoffs
The Superior High School boys hockey team wrapped up the regular season with a 4-1 loss to Eau Claire Memorial Saturday night at Wessman Arena.
The Spartans, who played better than the score indicated, and actually outshot the Old Abes 34-17, will take a 12-10-1 record into the WIAA playoffs.
The Spartans will limp into their playoff opener against Tuesday’s winner between Grantsburg and River Falls having gone 0-6-1 in their last seven games against some of the best teams in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“We just finished a really good hockey game where we played well, competed, showed heart and showed fight, we just couldn’t bury the puck,” SHS coach Jason Kalin said. “I think we’re in a good place, so I don’t think that playing good competition is going to hurt us -- I see it as helping us.”
Superior’s final stretch included losses to Greenway, Hudson and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, a tie at New Richmond, and losses to Duluth East, Hermantown and ECM.
The Spartans’ last win was 9-5 over Hibbing-Chisholm on Jan. 15.
“It’s not like we’ve been getting blown out,” Kalin said. “The only team that blew us out was Duluth East, otherwise we’ve been just punishing ourselves.
“Tonight we played a solid hockey game. I was proud of the boys. The scoreboard didn’t turn out right.”
Kalin has tried to shake things up a big with changes to the power play and all four forward lines.
“We made changes everywhere, we don’t have a line the same as it was last week,” Kalin said. “The kids have embraced it and I like where they’re at at this point. We showed a lot of firepower from all four lines Saturday.”
The new combinations are Kaleb Ullan centering Max Plunkett and Max Curtis; Grant Sorensen centering Taylor Burger and Cayden Laurvick, Tucker Stamper in the middle of Gunnar Hansen and Trevor Dalbec and Spencer Gudowski along with James Bronson and Ian Johnson.
Having played in the JV game, Gudowski, Bronson and Johnson could only play in two periods of the varsity game.
After sitting out the first period, they scored Superior’s goal on their second shift of the second period when Bronson beat ECM goaltender Trevor Hudecek with a high shot from the slot for his first varsity goal. Johnson also picked up his first varsity point with an assist on the goal that came with 42.5 seconds left in the second period.
“I just loved the way our fourth line played tonight,” Kalin said. “I liked every single shift they had. They were going up against their third line and they dominated. That was awesome to see.”
Superior outshot ECM 10-2 in the opening period but it was the Old Abes that capitalize when Hutson Collins skated through the crease and snuck the puck inside the right post at the 11:12 mark.
ECM’s only other shot in the opening period came when SHS goaltender Caden Welch stopped Carter Ottum on a breakaway attempt just before the buzzer.
ECM’s Brenden Olson hit the cross bar about five minutes into the second period, but his aim was a bit better four minutes later when he put home his own rebound during a delayed penalty on Superior.
Superior cut the lead in half on Bronson goal with 42.5 seconds left in the second period.
Joe Free scored a pair of third-period goals for the Old Abes, who will take a 20-2-2 record in the playoffs.
Welch finished with 14 saves for the Spartans (12-10-1), who won a coin toss with New Richmond to get the No. 2 seed for the WIAA playoffs.
Superior will host the winner of No. 10 Grantsburg Co-op and No. 7 River Falls at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Eau Claire Mem. 1 1 2 — 4
Superior 0 1 0 — 1
First Period — 1. ECM, Hutson Collins 15 (Grant Thielbar), 11:12.
Second Period — 2. ECM, Brenden Olson 22 (Joe Free), 10:41 (4-on-4). 3. SHS, James Bronson 1 (Ian Johnson 1, Trevor Dalbec 10), 19:18.
Third Period — 4. ECM, Free 13 (Max Savaloja), 8:09. 5. ECM, Free 14 (Carter Ottum), 10:19.
Saves — Trevor Hudecek, ECM, 10-11-13--34. Caden Welch, SHS, 1-6-7—14.