RICE LAKE, WIs. — The strains of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” blared over the Rice Lake Hockey Arena loudspeakers Friday night.
That turned out to be more than just an overplayed rock ‘n’ roll anthem, it was a foreshadowing for the Superior Spartans boys hockey team.
The Spartans kept their belief as the seconds ticked down on the scoreboard in a Wisconsin Division 2 sectional final against Rice Lake. George Hansen’s fluky goal with less than 28 seconds to play forced overtime, where Carson Gotelaere won a faceoff and notched the game-winner 9 seconds into the extra period to give Superior a 3-2 victory and a berth in the school’s record 38th state tournament.
Superior (10-5) will find out Sunday who and where it will play in the Division 2 state semifinals Thursday. Seedings of the four teams will be determined that day and if Superior receives a top-two seed, it will “host” a semifinal in Spooner.
Getting there wasn’t easy.
The Spartans were down 2-0 entering the third period. But hey, in a season where COVID-19 nearly cost them a playoff berth — Superior’s game against Duluth Denfeld was stopped just before it started due to a positive coronavirus test for a Denfeld player and could have forced the Spartans to quarantine — crazier things have happened.
“We knew coming (into the third), we had them right where we wanted them — a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey,” said Gotelaere, a sophomore forward. “We were calm. We knew we were better and had better chances and better shots. We were beating them all around.”
That calm demeanor permeated the Spartans’ locker room.
“We had to stay calm,” Spartans coach Jason Kalin said. “It was a matter of going out there and executing and not worrying about losing. I hate coming from behind, but I like winning.”
Junior forward Kell Piggott halved the deficit at 5:41 of the third when he hopped on a loose puck in the slot and wristed a shot past goaltender Griffin Van Gilder.
Still, it took pulling goalie Jamin Durfee for a sixth attacker before the Spartans equalized.
The Spartans controlled a faceoff in the Warriors’ end and Hansen sent a shot on goal that appeared to deflect in front and carom off Van Gilder’s glove, over his shoulder and into the net.
“We thought, ‘Could this be the one faceoff all year that works?’ ” Kalin said. “(Hansen) put it on net and got the puck luck.”
Hansen wasn’t even sure he should have been credited with his third goal of the season.
“I don’t even know if I scored it, there were great tips in front of the net,” he said. “I thank my boys. I didn’t do anything, that was all them.”
As often happens in overtime playoff games, the winner was scored in the first minute.
After an early faceoff in the Warriors’ end, the puck ended up behind a Rice Lake defenseman and Gotelaere pounced to score his fourth goal this season.
“That’s how we won (the state title) in 2005, on the first shift in overtime,” said Kalin, who coached that with future NHLer and current assistant coach Mike Sislo on it. “That’s the mentality we want the boys to have — end it here. We feel blessed to be moving on.”
It was all about that never-say-die attitude for the Spartans, ensconced in those lyrics sung by Steve Perry.
“We went in the locker room (before the third period) and talked it up in there and were ready to come out,” Hansen said. “We knew coming into this game that we could win it, and we did it.”
Rice Lake 0-2-0-0—2
First period — No scoring.
Second period — 1. RL, Tristan Scheurer (Teagan Scheurer, Adam Timm), 1:40; 2. RL, Teagan Scheurer (Timm, Cole Fenske), 9:06 (pp).
Third period — 3. S, Kell Piggott, 5:41; 4. S, George Hansen, 16:32.
Overtime — 5. S, Carson Gotelaere, 0:09.
Goalies — Jamin Durfee, S; Griffin Van Gilder, RL.