College men’s hockey: Yellowjackets program appears to be on solid ice
McKenna and company are enjoying their third-straight winning season after a long dry spell.
SUPERIOR — Reed Stark is in his first year at Wisconsin-Superior, but it didn’t take the Yellowjackets freshman forward long to figure out that men’s hockey used to be a big deal at UWS.
A real big deal, the No. 1 weekly winter attraction in town.
That included an NCAA Division III national championship under Dan Stauber in 2002, and there is a large display in the lobby at Wessman Arena to remind fans of that magical run. In the south end of the lobby, the “Yellowjacket Room,” there are other reminders of the glory days of yesteryear.
“I’ve seen the pictures in the ’Jacket Lounge,” Stark said. “Full stadiums and it was nuts.”
Wessman Arena, which served as the site of the 1994, 2000 and 2007 DIII men’s title games, has a listed capacity of a little more than 1,500.
While the Yellowjackets don’t pack the place like they used to, there are reasons to be optimistic with UWS having a strong season at 12-6-2 this winter.
Sixth-year coach Rich McKenna said optimism has to start on the ice.
“I would like to see that (bigger crowds),” McKenna said. “When I got the job here everyone said, ‘If you start winning, the crowds will get better, and I think the crowds have gotten better. We’re a very dominant team on home ice, so it would be nice to see a little more support, but at the end of the day, you have to give them a reason to come.”
It didn’t come overnight for McKenna and Co.
In his first season, 2016-17, UWS went 8-19-2.
That was followed by records of 9-15-3 and 10-14-3, then finally, in 2019-20, a breakout 16-10-3 year for the Yellowjackets’ first winning season since going 16-13-1 in 2010-11.
“The culture here is starting to turn again, back to the way it was way back when, and I’m definitely excited to be a part of that,” Stark said.
UWS went 7-3 and won the WIAC championship in the COVID-19 shortened 2020-21 season and appears to have carried that momentum into this season.
Besides the 12-6-2 record, UWS is a stellar 7-1-2 at home, as McKenna alluded to, meaning Yellowjackets fans have rarely gone home disappointed.
That home slate included a 3-0 victory over then No. 10 Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Nov. 20 before a season-high 505 fans at Wessman Arena.
“We were the first team to shut them out in 200-plus regular-season games,” McKenna said. “I think now the expectation is to beat everybody.”
Stevens Point returned the favor with an 8-3 victory over the visiting Yellowjackets Wednesday, Feb. 2, but still, to snap a streak like that is impressive and shows how far the program has come.
UWS is balanced, with eight players having between 10 and 22 points.
Junior forward Dylan Johnson of Cloquet leads the way with 11 goals and 11 assists for 22 points followed by Artur Terchiyev (5-12—17), Jordan Martin (2-13—15) and Chad Lopez (7-6—13), Stark (7-6—13) and Coltyn Bates (4-9—13).
Terchiyev, Martin, Lopez and Bates are four of the Yellowjackets’ 10 seniors, meaning their will be big skates to fill in 2022-23.
McKenna, who recruits Canada and the junior circuits hard, is optimistic UWS can bring in a strong recruiting class to join forces with the returners to keep the Yellowjackets strong.
“We’re losing some big guns to graduation, but we’ve got a good freshman class right now, so hopefully we can build off of it,” McKenna said. “Next year we’ll go back into a little bit more of a development mode, but eventually, we’ll turn them into Yellowjackets.”
Year by Year
UWS men's hockey records
(Winning seasons in bold)