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Yellowjackets are going old school

Former Superior Spartan Daniel Litchke is one of six sophomores on this year’s UW-Superior men’s hockey team. The Yellowjackets open the season tonight against Northland College at Wessman Arena. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

Things are changing with the University of Wisconsin-Superior men’s hockey team.

A new head coach and around 10 new players are two of the changes, but a third might just be the thing that rejuvenates diehard Yellowjacket fans.

Richard McKenna becomes just the ninth head coach at UWS after replacing Dan Stauber, who resigned last February.

Stauber, who played at UWS from 1984-88, is the school’s all-time hockey wins leader, with a 258-148-58 record in 16 seasons, including an NCAA Division III championship in 2002.

McKenna, 32, has eight seasons of coaching under his belt and just one season — last year with the New Jersey Junior Titans of the Tier II junior North American Hockey League — as a head coach.

He was an assistant with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the Tier I United States Hockey League for two seasons; spent two seasons as an assistant with Division I Connecticut; and before that, three years as a Division III assistant.

While McKenna will bring with him a new system and a number of new players, he wants Yellowjacket hockey to stay true to its storied history, which includes at least a dozen NCAA tournament berths, national championships in 1976 and 2002, and second-place finishes in 1994, 1998 and 1999.

“A big part of what we’re doing here is educating these players on what they’re playing for,” McKenna said. “Besides playing for their moms and dads, and the university and their school, they’re playing for alumni that left blood, sweat and tears in that locker room.

“We have an alumni group that is second to none. I’m in a very lucky position with how good our alumni are to us, and there are expectations for us to win. We were the cat’s meow for a long time; we need to get back to the successes this school has had in the past and what this team was built on.”

Even though he’s only been on the job for a couple of months, McKenna has a deep knowledge of Yellowjacket hockey, rattling off names like Jeff Glowa, Scott Wagner, Fred Harbinson, Casey VanDamme, Chris Chellios, Dale Lupal and Bruce Leonard.

“We want the alumni to be part of our program,” McKenna said. “I’ve already had Reed Larson and Steve Elsmore talk to the team, and there are many more guys we want to get involved. Whereever we play a road game we’re going to reach out to them and hope they can join our team and be part of the experience.”

McKenna’s first task was filling out a roster that would improve a team has suffered through four straight losing seasons, including 9-15-3 last year.

“I told the guys there were going to be some hard decisions and tough conversations, that’s the way it goes,” McKenna said. “We graduated only one player (Wes Judnik), two players were brought in by the previous coach, and I brought in eight, so there were going to be some tough decisions that you don’t want to have as a coach, but to have a successful team you have to do that.”

After finalizing his roster, McKenna named Anton Svensson (Sodertalje, Sweden) the captain and Eric Shand (San Dimas, Calif.), Matt Audette (Thief River Falls, Minn.) and Kajon McKay (Wabowdon, Manitoba) assistant captains. All are seniors, except for McKay, who is a junior and played last season at Neumann (Penn.) University.

“I told the guys at our opening meeting everybody has a clean slate,” McKenna said. “I don’t care if you were the leading scorer or played in every game last season, all of you are playing and competing for a position on this team, and Kajon’s a benefactor of that.”

Svensson led UWS with 13 goals last season, while Shand is a three-time WIAC all-conference player on defense

“We have a deep group of forwards and a good group of defenseman led by Shand, who could be Superior’s first four-time all-WIAC player since Dale Lupul,” McKenna said.

The Yellowjackets return their top nine scorers from a year ago, led by Ian Ecklund (Twig) and his 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists). Svensson also had 13 assists and 26 points; followed by Daniel Litchke (8-13-21); Jordan Neduzak (12-7-19); Shand (8-7-15); Viktor Sallhad (4-9-13); Owen Stauber (4-7-11); and Audette (0-11-11).

“Having a number of our top scorers back will help ease the transition into a new system,” McKenna said. “But it’s a results-oriented business and we have to have results, individually and collectively as a team.”

Joining Shand and Audette on defense are senior Owen Stauber (Hermantown); sophomores Nik Kosman (Calgary, Alberta), and Yves Leeman (Zurich, Switzerland); and freshmen Jacob Hamilton (Decatur, Ill), Colton Nelson (Edmond, Okla.) and Jerry Miettunen (Tuusula, Finland).

The forwards are seniors Neduzak and Svensson; juniors Ecklund, Dylan Nelson (Clearwater, Minn.), Brandon Anderson (St. Cloud), McKay and Cal Miska (Stacy, Minn.); sophomores Litchke, Jared Dedenbach (Warren, Mich.), David Kennedy (St. Cloud) and Viktor Sallhag (Vasteras, Sweden); and freshmen Tanner Skaja (St. Cloud), Liam Blais (Uxbridge, Ontario), Ethan James (Duchess, Alberta) and Bruno Birzitis (Riga, Latvia).

“We have a much deeper forward group than we’ve had in the past,” McKenna said. “On any given night we can have a very strong top nine, and our fourth line is big, mean, strong and very much like what the old teams were built upon.

“That’s part of what we’re trying to do here. People need to fear coming up to Superior. Besides it being a long bus trip, now you’re in for a game. We’ve tried to build a team on that. We brought some ‘D’ that are big, nasty, mean guys — great kids off the ice, great students, great citizens of Superior, the whole thing — but when they put the sweater on it’s go time.”

Returning in goal are juniors Bryce Fink (3-5-3, 2.77 gaa) and Ethan Wood (2-6, 4.68 gaa). Joining them are freshman Cole Skinner and junior Kyle Miller, who transferred from Lindenwood (Mo.) University.

“I recruited Skinner from the Hawksebury Hawks of the CCHL, and Miller is a kid that came here without a guarantee and he made the team,” McKenna said. “Cole is a little banged up right now, but I have high expectations of him.

“I’m not sure yet with what we’re going to do with the goalies. Up until this week we’ve been concentrating on other parts of our team, and this week it’s all about the goalies. Who plays Friday will be determined Thursday.”

UWS opens the season by hosting Northland College tonight and Finlandia Saturday. Both games begin at 7:05 p.m.

“We’re going to glorify the past and want to showcase what we are to the town again,” McKenna said. “We want people to come and see the changes and the traditions that are coming back. We’ll do it our way, but we want to make Superior proud again.”

Danile Litchke

Litchke is the only former Superior Spartan on this year’s squad.

“He’s a great kid and had a great freshman season,” McKenna Said. “He’s a kid that we can form our team around. He’s won a Robertson Cup, so he’s a winner, he works hard on and off the ice, he’s a great student and he works on mom and dad’s farm. He is what you want your son to grow up to be, and he’s what you want your hockey team to identify with.”

Coaching staff

Rodney Graham returns for his 10th season as an assistant coach. Prior to coaching with the men, Graham was an assistant on the women’s team from 2003-07. He will work with the team’s forwards as well as the power play and penalty kill units.

Graham, who played at UWS from 1993-97, is second in all-time games played with 129. The Fairbanks, Alaska native finished with 33 goals and 83 assists for 116 points.

Other assistant coaches are Chris Bell and Jon Garver, who serves as the director of hockey operations. Garver is also the voice of Yellowjacket hockey on KUWS 91.3 FM, as well as the marketing, fundraising and sports information director for the UWS athletic department.

Bell, a former UWS defenseman, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, is certified by USA Weightlifting as a club coach, and is a CrossFit Level 2 trainer.

He was an assistant coach at UWS from 2002-09.

2016-17 UW-Superior

Men’s Hockey Roster

                                                   Pos.        H             W          Gr.                Hometown

1 Bryce Fink.................................... G        5-8           181         Jr.                Tacoma, Wash.

3 Matt Audette................................ D        5-9           225        Sr.                Thief River Falls, Minn.

4 Ian Ecklund.................................. F        6-4           180         Jr.                Twig, Minn.

5 Eric Shand................................... D        6-0           194        Sr.                San Dimas, Calif.

6 Nik Kosman.................................. D        5-11          185        So.                Calgary, Alta.

7 Jacob Hamilton............................. D        6-1           201         Fr.                Decatur, Ill.

8 Dylan Nelson................................. F        5-10          193         Jr.                Clearwater, Minn.

9 Jordan Neduzak............................ F        5-10          200        Sr.                Morden, Man.

10 Colton Nelson.............................. D        6-3           195         Fr.                Hershey, Pa.

11 Anton Svensson........................... F        5-8           185        Sr.                Sodertalje, Sweden

12 Tanner Skaja................................ F        5-10          170         Fr.                St. Cloud, Minn.

13 Brandon Anderson........................ F        6-6           210         Jr.                St. Cloud, Minn.

15 Daniel Litchke............................... F        5-8           160        So.                Superior

16 Liam Blais................................... F        5-10          172         Fr.                Uxbridge, Ont.

17 Ethan James............................... F        6-1           202         Fr.                Duchess, Alta.

18 Jared Dedenbach......................... F        5-9           190        So.                Warren, Mich.

19 Bruno Birzitis............................... F        6-0           183         Fr.                Riga, Latvia

20 David Kenney.............................. F        6-0           178        So.                St. Cloud, Minn.

21 Viktor Sallhag............................... F        6-2           196        So.                Vasteras, Sweden

22 Owen Stauber............................ D        5-10          171        Sr.                Hermantown

24 Yves Leemann............................. D        5-9           181        So.                Zürich, Switzerland

25 Jerry Miettunen............................ D        6-2           193         Fr.                Tuusula, Finland

26 Kajon McKay............................... F        5-11          185         Jr.                Wabowdon, Man.

27 Cal Miska.................................... F        6-1           198         Jr.                Stacy, Minn.

30 Cole Skinner................................ G        6-2           178         Fr.                Lunenberg, N.S.

33 Kyle Miller................................... G        6-2           185         Jr.                Prior Lake, Minn.

35 Ethan Wood............................... G        6-2           203         Jr.                Jasper, Alberta

Coaching Staff

Head Coach — Richard McKenna — Head Coach (first season)

Rodney Graham — Assistant Coach

Jon Garver — Sports Information/Director of Hockey Operations)

2016-17 UW-Superior

Men’s Hockey Schedule

Fri., Oc.t 28.......... vs. Northland, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Oct. 29........ vs. Finlandia, 7:05 p.m.

Thur., Nov. 3......... at Augusburg, 7 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 5.......... at St. Thomas, 7 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 11.......... vs. St. Olaf, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 12........ vs. Hamline, 7:05 p.m.

Fri., Nov. 18.......... at St. Norbert, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 19........ at Marian, 7 p.m.

Tue., Nov. 22........ at Hamline, 7 p.m.

Sat., Nov. 26........ vs. Finlandia, 7:05 p.m.

Fri., Dec. 2........... vs. UW-Stout, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 3.......... vs. UW-Stevens Pt., 7 p.m.

Fri., Dec. 9........... at MSOE, 7 p.m.

Sat., Dec. 10........ at MSOE, 5 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 6............ at Concordia (Minn.), 7 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 7.......... at St. John’s, 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 13.......... vs. Gustavus, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 14......... vs. Bethel, 7:05 p.m.

Tue., Jan. 24......... vs. UW-Stevens Pt., 7 p.m.

Fri., Jan. 27.......... at UW-Stout, 7:30 p.m.

Sat., Jan. 28......... at UW-Eau Claire, 7 p.m.

Fri., Feb. 3........... vs. UW-River Falls, 7:05 p.m.

Sat., Feb. 4.......... at UW-Stevens Pt., 7 p.m.

Thur., Feb. 9......... at UW-River Falls, 7 p.m.

Fri., Feb. 10     vs. UW-Eau Claire, 7:05 p.m.

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