Early Monday, Nov. 15, Superior High School looked to still be asleep before its students returned from the weekend.

Across the street, however, Wessman Arena was alive with the unmistakable hiss of skates on ice and the cracks of pucks hitting boards.

Superior hockey practice began for the 2021-22 hockey season at 6 a.m., and as practice ended 90 minutes later, coach Jason Kalin was hurrying his players off the ice.

“I don’t want to hear about any of you being late for class,” he said.

Expectations are high this season after the Spartans advanced to the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division II state championship game last year. To boot, they have 17 seniors returning from last year’s varsity squad.

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One player the Spartans will miss, though, is goaltender Jamin Durfee, a key player in the Spartans' state tournament run.

“Jamin was our backbone, he got us through to the playoffs,” Kalin said. “He made some incredible saves and had some very high save percentage games.”

The Spartans fell 4-1 to St. Mary Springs in the championship game, the Ledgers’ second-consecutive title. With the Spartans’ returning experience — just one player on the roster has not played varsity previously — and talent, the expectation is to compete for the state title once again.

Superior’s Gavin Tetzlaff (8) moves the puck up the ice in front of a Saint Mary’s Springs Academy player during the WIAA state championship game in the South Wood County Rink in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb 20, 2021. 
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
Superior’s Gavin Tetzlaff (8) moves the puck up the ice in front of a Saint Mary’s Springs Academy player during the WIAA state championship game in the South Wood County Rink in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb 20, 2021. Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

“We want to win state,” senior captain Carson Gotelaere said. “That’s our goal and we know we can do it.”

Early practices will focus on defense, but Kalin said he thinks the strength of the team will be its offense.

“We’re going to be an offensive group this year, but we’re also going to be a physical group,” he said. “We have a lot of size — I think I’ve got 10 guys that are 6 feet and bigger. Obviously, we need to stay out of the penalty box and make sure that we take care of ourselves defensively.”

Gotelaere and the other captains — Mason Stenberg and Carter Kalin — all agreed the team’s size was another advantage for the Spartans.

Superior’s Robert Powell (36) deflects a pass during the WIAA state championship game in the South Wood County Rink in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb 20, 2021. 
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
Superior’s Robert Powell (36) deflects a pass during the WIAA state championship game in the South Wood County Rink in Wisconsin Rapids Saturday, Feb 20, 2021. Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Gotelaere led a well-balanced Superior offense last season with eight total points, but sophomore Lucas Williams led the team in goals with four.

One challenge for Superior is its schedule. The Spartans play in one of Wisconsin’s hardest sectionals and compete against some of the best teams in Minnesota, including Hermantown, who they will face on Jan. 20, 2022.

“I think when it comes to the playoffs rolling around, we’ve got a very tough section and it’s going to be very competitive,” Stenberg said.

The captains also agreed Superior needs to play as a team and avoid playing “down” to other teams they face.

“Our hope is to dominate every game we play,” Carter Kalin said. “With the seniors we have on varsity, I feel like we have the upper hand and I feel pretty confident about the season.”

The Spartans expect to move back up to Division I this season and will be tested early against Duluth Marshall Dec. 7 and Duluth Denfeld Dec. 16.

The puck drops on Superior’s season with a home game against Menomonie at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23.

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