With just four regular-season games remaining, it’s finally starting to dawn on Daniel Litchke, a senior forward for the University of Wisconsin-Superior Yellowjackets, that his collegiate hockey career is nearing the end.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Litchke said. “I’ve been playing hockey since 4 years old and not to have it next year … I haven’t really wrapped my head around it yet.”
There's still a chance for a couple of home playoff games for the Yellowjackets (7-12-2, 1-2-1), currently in third place in the WIAC.
UWS has two games remaining UW-River Falls (9-8-3, 0-3-1 WIAC) and one each with UW-Stevens Point (19-0-2, 4-0) and UW-Eau Claire (18-3-2, 4-1-1).
“We always play our conference games at the end of the year, and as everybody knows, our conference is the best in the country,” Litchke said. “We know it’s going to be tough, but I’d love to beat those teams a couple of times before I go out.”
Litchke came to UWS known as a goal scorer.
He led the Superior High School Spartans in scoring two of his three years, finishing with 59 goals and 51 assists from 2009-2012. He left SHS prior to his senior season for junior hockey.
“I remember when taking the job everybody telling me he’s not really a goal scorer,” UWS coach Rich McKenna said. “My first year here he put up 15 goals and last year he backed it up with 12 more, so with 27 goals in two years you can’t tell me he’s not a goal scorer.”
Litchke's numbers are down a bit this year with only three goals and seven assists.
His last goal was against Trinity (Conn.) on Dec. 29, and his last assist was against St. Thomas on Jan. 5.
Although he would never use it as an excuse, Litchke has been playing without his No. 1 fan in the stands after his grandfather, Henry “Bud” Litchke, died at age 99 on Nov. 14, 2018.
“My grandpa and grandma were at every home game and about 90 percent of my road games,” Litchke said. “Before every game, I try to clear my head before I go on the ice, but it was probably weighing on me a bit.”
Another remarkable stat for Litchke is his lack of penalties. He took his first penalty of the season last weekend. He didn't take single penalty last season and only had five during his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“The man I see now is not the kid I first saw when I came on campus,” McKenna said. “I’ve seen a change in his dimiener, he’s more determined, much more involved with the team and has helped with the change in culture. He is for sure leaving the program in better shape than when he came here.
“That’s all you can really ask for. Points are great, but at the end of the day, you don’t remember the points. You remember the guy that stood up and said something. You remember the guy that just helped the process. He’s been great, we’ve been lucky to have him. He’ll be dearly missed.”
Besides worrying about school and hockey, Litchke is also busy helping his parents, Julie and Chris Litchke, on the family farm.
“It’s been tough, but that’s one of the main reasons I came to UWS, so I could help out at home,” Litchke said. “I enjoy helping my family and still being able to go to school and play hockey. I pretty much have two full-time jobs, but during the hockey season, my dad backs off a little bit.”
Despite his workload, Litchke’s results in the classroom haven’t suffered.
“He’s a rock star student,” McKenna. “He has a full-time job here where you go to school, get good grades and play hockey. Not only does he do all of that, he also has to help out on his family farm. If there’s a kid that has a work ethic, it’s him. There’s not many kids like him now days.
“That kid earns it. He’s a solid student and a solid teammate.”
The Yellowjackets hosts UW-River Falls on Friday, Feb. 1, during Senior Night at Wessman Arena. UWS then plays at UW-Stevens Point on Saturday, Feb. 2. Both games begin at 7 p.m. and can be heard locally on KUWS 91.3 FM.
UWS wraps up the regular season Wednesday, Feb. 7, at UW-River Falls and Thursday, Feb. 8, at home versus UW-Eau Claire.
“I’d love for it to end well,” Litchke said. “Get a couple of playoff wins and go as far as we can.”
‘JACKET JOTTINGS: A.J. Smith, senior goalie from Keller, Texas, is the only other senior on the UWS roster.
UWS forward Troy York has been named WIAC Men's Ice Hockey Athlete of the Week. The sophomore from Plano, Texas, helped the Yellowjackets to a 1-1 week in a pair of conference road games with two goals and one assist is a 3-2 win over UW-Stout and a 4-2 loss to UW-Eau Claire. The conference weekly honor is York's second of the season. He also won it Oct. 30.
Through 19 games this season, York leads the ’Jackets in goals (11), points (17), power-play goals (eight) and game-winning goals (three).
WIAC MEN’S HOCKEY
UW-Eau Claire (18-3-2) 4-1-1 9
UW-Stevens Point (19-0-2) 4-0-0 8
UW-Superior (7-12-2) 1-2-1 3
UW-Stout (13-7-1) 0-3-1 1
UW-River Falls (9-8-3) 0-3-1 1
Friday, Feb. 1
UW-River Falls at UW-Superior, 7 p.m.
UW-Stevens Point at UW-Stout, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 2
UW-Stout at UW-River Falls, 7 p.m.
UW-Superior at UW-Stevens Point, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 7
UW-Superior at UW-River Falls, 7 p.m.
Friday, Feb. 8
UW-Stout at UW-Stevens Point, 7 p.m.
UW-Eau Claire at UW-Superior, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 9
UW-Stevens Point at UW-Eau Claire, 7 p.m.
UW-River Falls at UW-Stout, 7 p.m.
End of regular season
WIAC WOMEN’S HOCKEY
UW-River Falls (19-2) 7-0-0-0 14
UW-Eau Claire (15-4-2) 4-1-1-0 8
UW-Stevens Point (8-11-2) 1-4-1-0 3
UW-Superior (7-15-1) 0-7-1-1 2
Friday, Feb. 1
UW-Eau Claire at UW-Stevens Point, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 2
UW-Stevens Point at UW-Eau Claire, 2 p.m.