SPOONER, Wis. — The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is requiring playoff venues to accommodate a minimum of four fans per player, something Superior boys hockey coach Jason Kalin became aware of at the Section 1 seed meeting Jan. 31.
The idea was to create at least a semblance of a playoff atmosphere, but Kalin knew Wessman Arena isn’t allowing fans due to COVID-19 protocols, Superior Ice Arena has been booked and the WIAA might frown on playing Wisconsin games in Minnesota.
“I said ‘Spooner’ right away,” Kalin said.
Spooner would be the Spooner Civic Center, a place Kalin remembered from his days coaching the Spartans in the 2000s. In 2005, back when the facility was called the Northwest Sports Complex, the Spartans downed New Richmond 5-1 for the section championship en route to their 12th state title, and in 2002, back when it was called the Badgerland Civic Center, they pasted Menomonie 7-0, qualifying for their 28th Wisconsin state tournament.
No wonder Kalin has such fond memories of the place.
Those teams featured the likes of notable names such as Mike Sislo, Brett Olson and Greg Aker.
Fast forward to Friday, Feb. 5, and the Spartans pitched another shutout in Spooner, albeit under way different circumstances as Superior, the No. 2 seed in the section, opened the Wisconsin Division 2 playoffs with a 9-0 “home” thumping of the seventh-seeded FLGSW Burnett Blizzard.
The Spartans will now host third-seeded New Richmond, an 11-0 winner Friday over Medford, in the next round at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9, once-again in Spooner.
“To be honest, this has been talked about within the section, about making this the section final venue from here on out, and that’s totally cool,” Kalin said. “I love coming down here. It’s a great atmosphere.”
About 110 fans were in attendance, with about 60 from Superior making the hour drive down U.S. Highway 53 to attend a contest that started off surprisingly competitive, thanks to Blizzard freshman goalie Garrett Logan and his 52 saves.
Superior only led 1-0 going into the first intermission despite outshooting the Blizzard 24-3. It stayed close for a while longer after that as Logan only allowed one goal in the first 37 shots he faced.
Was anybody expecting anything that?
“No, I was not,” said Superior junior forward Robert Powell, who along with teammate Kell Piggott led the way with two goals apiece. “Their goalie was playing really really well, he really was.”
After stopping all those shots, Logan allowed back-to-back shots to get by him as Powell and Piggott scored 13 seconds apart midway through the second period, and the rout was on. Senior goalie Jamin Durfee only had to stop seven shots by the Blizzard (3-11) to notch his fourth shutout of the season and third in the past four games for the Spartans (8-5).
Powell enjoyed the experience of playing in Spooner. It was only the second time this season where Superior has played in front of any fans, with the other being Tuesday, Feb. 2, at Somerset to close out the regular season.
“It’s a challenge driving an hour to a home game, but other than that, it’s a really cool rink,” Powell said. “I’ve never played here in my life, but others (on the team) have and they liked it.”
The Spooner Civic Center is home of the Wisconsin Lumberjacks of the Superior International Junior Hockey League. It features seating on one side backed by windows allowing plenty of natural light, a walk-around concourse up top, a large scoreboard centerstage and an ample sound system. There’s also a bar and beer garden for Lumberjacks’ games. Not too shabby.
I like it a lot. It’s a really cool rink, not only on the ice, but just look around. It’s super cool, and my favorite part was finally getting people to come out and watch us.”
It’s been a challenging year for athletic directors across the country and even worse when you’re in your first year as AD, like Superior’s Ella Olson.
“This is nuts,” Olson said, shaking her head. “Every day is different, that’s for sure. Sometimes it changes at gametime. You never know what it’s going to look like, but the one positive I’ve been telling people, ‘I don’t know any different.’ You have to put in the hard work to get it going, because nobody has any idea what’s going to happen next.”
Hey, this is the year of COVID-19, when all this craziness is just par for the course, and as Northland ADs have said over and over again, you just have to roll with the punches.
Have team, will travel, even if you’re supposed to be the home team.
“I love it. It’s a great arena,” Kalin said. “It’s a blast. I really appreciate Spooner stepping up and helping us out, because we needed a place to stay.”
First period — 1. Lucas Williams (Ethan Welch, Carson Gotelaere), 12:13.
Second period — 2. Robert Powell (Kell Piggott), 9:27; 3. Piggott (Kaden Olson, Powell), 9:40; 4. Carter Pettit (Andrew Rude), 12:02; 5. Carter Kalin (Caden Lia, Tyler Friedrich), 13:38.
Third period — 6. Caden Lia (Tyler Friedrich), 1:58 (sh); 7. Powell (Piggott), 2:42; 8. Piggott (Trevor Durfee, Mason Stenberg), 8:14; 9. Mason Stenberg (Lia), 11:00.
Saves — Garrett Logan, FLGSW, 52; Jamin Durfee, S, 7.