'Jacket skaters open tonight

A new era begins for the University of Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey team tonight when it hosts St. John's in its 2013-14 season opener -- sort of.

Wessman Arena employee Murray Brown wipes off the Yellowjacket Wall of Honor at the arena on Wednesday morning. The wall will be dedicated during a ceremony tonight before the Yellowjackets game. (Jed Carlson/

A new era begins for the University of Wisconsin-Superior men's hockey team tonight when it hosts St. John's in its 2013-14 season opener -- sort of.

Since last season, the Yellowjackets, along with four other Wisconsin state schools, have dropped out of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association in favor of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

What the average hockey fan might not realize is that the WIAC hockey league has been around since the 1981-82 season.

In fact, the Yellowjackets have won seven WIAC championships, 1992, 1994, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2011.

"We've always had the WIAC, we've always recognized a league champion, the all-league team and a coach of the year," UWS coach Dan Stauber said. "The WIAC has presented a trophy when you win the league, and we have raised a banner when we won it. We're just no longer part of two conferences, we're just strictly WIAC."


Remaining teams in the WIAC are UW-River Falls, UW-Stevens Point, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout. Gone from last year's NCHA are St. Scholastica and St. Norbert, who joined the MIAC, which then assumed the NCHA moniker.

Because the WIAC consists of only five teams, it loses its automatic qualifier for the NCAA Division III tournament. Now to make the NCAA tournament the top teams in the WIAC will be put into either Pool B or Pool C for consideration and will be at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee.

"The biggest change will come in the playoffs," Stauber said. "We no longer have that automatic bid, so we can't fall back on the idea of winning the playoff championship and getting in. There is a lot more riding on our regular season now, and we have to be mindful of that."

After all conference champions are decided, Pool B teams will be selected for the NCAA tournament, and the remaining teams will be put into Pool C for consideration. UWS was awarded a Pool C bid a couple of seasons ago.

"Since we won't get the AQ we're going to have to win at least 19-20 games," Stauber said. "Winning the WIAC tournament would be a bonus, but that won't guarantee a bid. The regular season means a lot."

UWS will play a 25-game schedule, which includes three games against each of the teams in the WIAC and two games in the PrimeLink Great Northern ShootOut at Plattsburgh, N.Y. on Nov. 29-30.

The ShootOut resembles an old-time "Frozen Four" field, with the Yellowjackets and Plattsburgh State playing in one semifinal and Middlebury playing Norwich in the other.

"They're (Plattsburgh) always looking for a western team to play in their tournament, and this year we decided to accept their invitation," Stauber said. "The tournament is very well organized and they have a good sponsor. Plus, it would give us a shot in the arm if we play well out there."


Before the Yellowjackets can worry about the NCAA tournament or playing at Plattsburgh, they have to worry about playing St. John's tonight and Concordia-Moorhead Saturday.

"St. John's is 1-1 on the season. Concordia is 2-0, and one of its wins was over St. John's, so like always we're going to have our hands full," Stauber said. "They both have a couple of games under their belts and this being four first game, we might make a few mistakes. Hopefully we overcome those mistakes and settle down and play."

Superior's 29-man roster includes eight seniors and 10 freshmen. In between are 11 juniors and sophomores.

"The seniors are going to have to step up and play well consistently, and the freshmen are going to have to add something this year," Stauber said. "We didn't have to rely them last year as much when we were loaded with juniors and seniors."

Superior's top three seniors returning include former Superior Spartan Pat Dalbec, who led UWS in scoring last year with 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points; Joey Massingham (Duncan, British Columbia), second in scoring with 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points; and Jeff Forsythe (Campbell River, B.C.), six goals and 12 assists.

Other seniors returning are forwards Michael Ray (Winnipeg, Manitoba), Brad Phenow (Sauk Rapids, Minn.) and Andy Singerhouse (Hudson), defensemen Derek Stauber (Duluth) and goaltender Drew Strandberg (Thunder Bay, Ontario).

Ray had three goals and two assists in 12 games last season.

"Michael Ray came on in the second half of last year," Dan Stauber said. "He probably didn't play as well as he wanted to, but he's capable of playing really well."


Returning junior forwards are Nick Stoskopf (Warroad, Minn.); Tanner Dion (Hardisty, Alberta), Sam Prpich (Okotoks, Alberta), Marc Fortin (Pottageville, Ontario), Cody Hotchkin (Duluth) and Thomas Paine (Superior), who played high school hockey at Duluth Marshall.

Paine transferred to UWS from Augsburg, where he was third in scoring last season with five goals and seven assists. He also scored a power-play goal, one short-handed goal, one game-winning goal, and one game-tying goal. In 2011-12 he had four goals and three assists in 16 games for the Auggies.

Freshmen forwards include: Jordan Neduzak (Morden, Manitoba), Anton Swensson (Sodertalje, Sweden), Jordan Shockley (Duluth Marshall) and James Hughes (Circle Pines, Minn.).

Joining Forsythe and Derek Stauber on defense are junior Alec Doig (New Prague, Minn.); sophomores Wes Judnick (Virginia, Minn.) and Patrick Kinkopf (Lake Forest Park, Wash.); and freshmen David Dalbec, Owen Stauber, Matt Audette (Thief River Falls, Minn.), Eric Shand (San Dimas, Calif.) and Connor Faupel (Rochester, Minn.).

Battling Strandberg for the starting goaltender position are junior Dayn Belfour and freshman Zach Thompson.

Strandberg, who was all-conference last season, ranks No. 6 all-time in games played at UWS with 65, he is eighth in wins with 27 (Nate Ziemski is No. 1 with 70), is tied for fifth with a 2.44 goals against average, and is No. 8 with a saves percentage of .898.

Belfour transferred from Nebraska-Omaha and is the son of Ed Belfour, a Stanley Cup champion with the Dallas Stars and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Thompson is a graduate of Duluth Denfeld.

"It's a battle -- the best battle we've had at goaltender in a long time," coach Stauber said. "We're leaning on Strandberg as a senior to play well, but the other ones are very capable of playing.


"Strandberg will play Friday -- I owe it to him to start. He's a senior and earned the start, but we're not afraid to use any of them."

The play of all three UWS goaltenders will be key to the success of the Yellowjackets, who struggled to score last year.

"If we have a weaknesses, it's coming off last year's inability to score," Stauber said. "We have to find a way to score -- that's our No. 1 job. On the bright side, we didn't give up a lot of goals last year, so this year we have to find a way to score and continue to keep our goals against down and our goalies save percentage up.

"If we have any strengths it would be our depth. I think we have a lot of players that can play, and you might see a lot of players playing on Friday night, then a number of changes on Saturday. We have a lot of options. I feel good about that."

Local flavor

UWS's roster included eight players from the Twin Ports. Paine and brother's Pat and David Dalbec are from Superior; Shockley, Hotchkin, Derek Stauber and Thompson are from Duluth; and Owen Stauber is from Hermantown.

Paine, Shockley and Derek Stauber played at Marshall and Hotchkin and Thompson are former Denfeld Hunters.

"They're all solid players, and we're going to count on all of them, including the freshmen, to help out right away," Dan Stauber said.



"Eau Claire is the defending national champ so they were picked to finish first and rightly so," Stauber said. "But you also have to look at Stevens Point. They might have the strongest team.

"We were picked fourth (in the preseason poll) -- but you know what, it's a poll. That's all it is."

Honoring Andy

The Yellowjackets will honor Steve Anderson, captain of UW-Superior's 1976 national championship team and whose family donated funds for the Wessman Arena's Yellowjacket Wall of Honor, prior to tonight's game with St. John's.

Anderson passed away earlier this year.

'JACKET JOTTINGS: River Falls has won the most WIAC titles, 16. Stevens Point has won nine titles and Eau Claire and Stout one apiece. ... UWS opens the season with nine non-conference games. ... Stauber's overall coaching record in 13 seasons at UWS is 229-100-51, which currently ranked No. 4 on the WIAC all-time coaching list. One spot ahead of Stauber is current UWS athletic director Steve Nelson, who had a record of 249-168-21 while coaching the Yellowjackets from 1987-2000. ... River Falls' Steve Freeman in No. 1 on the list with a record of 305-156-37.

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