SPOONER, Wis. — Superior Spartans boys hockey forward Carson Gotelaere said he was dog-tired and deflated.
Gotelaere had just spent his shift in the Wisconsin Division 2 state semifinals hustling up and down the ice, only for Lakeland Union star Max Toijala to go the other way on a breakaway.
“I thought he scored,” Gotelaere said, “but then the crowd started going nuts. Then it was pretty much adrenaline.”
Alas, Toijala didn’t score, and Gotelaere soon found himself on a rush the other way with teammate Mason Stenberg, who spotted Gotelaere for a goal at 10:16 in the second period that proved to be the game-winner in Superior’s 4-1 Thursday night before about 300 fans at the Spooner Civic Center.
“I was gassed,” Gotelaere said afterward, reliving the moment. “I was back in the zone. I was probably at the red line when he missed, and then I saw the puck come up and all of the sudden, we had a 2-on-1. I said, ‘Alright, I’m going to have to kick it another gear here.’ I thought Mason was going to shoot it actually, but then he looked up at me and slid it over. I got the pass on the heel of the stick, but I got enough and it snuck through on the far side.”
Second-seeded Superior (11-5) advances to play top-seeded St. Mary’s Springs (23-2) for the state title at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in Wisconsin Rapids.
Superior, which got 23 saves from senior goalie Jamin Durfee, will be playing in its 25th state title game, having won championships in 1971, 1972, 1974, 1981, 1982, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2015.
Lakeland Union (13-5) was playing in its first state tournament, but both head coaches downplayed the significance of experience in this one. After all, nobody from Superior was on that 2015 team.
No, Superior won this game with its brand of northern hockey featuring depth and physicality, wearing down the smaller Thunderhawks.
“(Toijala) is the kind of kid who can change the game,” Spartans coach Jason Kalin said. “Jamin made a couple big stops on him and we played a very physical game, against him especially. We’re not trying to go out and hurt somebody, but the bottom line was, as soon as he got the puck, we needed to put some contact on him so that by the end of the game he wouldn’t be full strength.”
Superior had nobody on Toijala for the key play of the game.
Superior opened the scoring when Kalin’s son, Carter Kalin, scored at 16:01 of the first period after a terrific no-look, backhand pass from senior Drew Scharte, leaving Kalin with an open net.
Lakeland Union knotted the game 1-1 five minutes into the second before Toijala came up short despite deking Durfee and having a wide-open net. Toijala’s shot was just left.
“He had me beat on that breakaway, but I lucked out, basically,” Durfee said.
Lakeland Union coach Jake Suter, a cousin of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, was proud of his team for not letting that miss deflate them. This game wasn’t put away until late.
“They did everything they were asked, and that’s been the story all year about our team,” Jake Suter said, adding this was the most enjoyable year of hockey he ever experienced. “They never quit. There’s no quit in this group. The future is bright for Lakeland hockey, and these guys did something here that’ll last forever.”
Durfee couldn’t ease up until Kell Piggott pounded one home at 14:19 of the third period and Stenberg added an empty-netter at 16:24.
“The last eight minutes of the game, when we were only up by one goal, that was the longest eight minutes of my life,” Durfee said. “Once we finally scored that third goal, a little ease came back, but I knew I couldn’t give up at that point. Then that fourth goal came, and all that nervousness just went away.”
And Gotelaere’s goal turned out to be the game-winner, indeed.
He was asked if that was the best goal of his life.
“Probably close,” Gotelaere said with a smile, “but last game I scored the overtime winner in Rice Lake. That was pretty good, too.”
One could say Gotelaere — like the Spartans — is on a heckuva run.
Lakeland Union 0-1-0—1
First period — 1. S, Carter Kalin (Drew Scharte, Tyler Friedrich), 16:01.
Second period — 2. LU, Cody Olson (Thomas McCumber, Brody Vizanko), 5:10; 3. S, Carson Gotelaere (Mason Stenberg), 10:16.
Third period — 4. S, Kell Piggott (Robert Powell, Andrew Rude), 14:19; 5. S, Stenberg (Friedrich), 16:24 (en).
Saves — Max Masayesva, LU, 27; Jamin Durfee, S, 23.