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Prep boys hockey: Superior takes ice in 36th trip to state

Superior is making its 12th trip in the past 13 seasons to the Wisconsin state boys hockey tournament under head coach Jason Kalin.

While making the trek to Madison's Veterans Memorial Coliseum has become somewhat of a ritual at Superior High School -- this marks the Spartans' state-record 36th appearance since 1971 -- this season holds something special for Kalin.

Superior (14-12-1), which takes on Verona Area (23-2-2) in a quarterfinal at noon today, needed to overcome injuries to key players in order to qualify again.

Senior forward Aaron Wakfield-Zubiate, last season's second-leading scorer with 15 goals and 50 points, didn't play a shift because of a knee injury suffered during the football season. Junior center Daniel Burger was lost twice during the season, beginning with a broken thumb and then a season-ending broken collarbone against Virginia-Mountain Iron-Buhl.

Kalin was forced to shuffle his forward lines for more than half of the schedule before settling on three lines late in the season.

"We've been through a lot this season," Kalin said. "Losing two of our top players was tough enough, but then to watch (Wakefield-Zubiate) and Burger go out there during the trophy presentation was hard to watch."

Superior ended the regular season a disappointing 11-12-1 and was given a No. 4 seed for the Sectional 1 playoffs. Only twice before were the Spartans seeded that low.

Still the Spartans rallied as a team and accomplished their goal of reaching the tournament again.

"We knew we were the No. 4 seed and the boys put that in their back pocket and ran with it," Kalin said. "They played like they had something to prove."

Kalin credits the five seniors for leading the Spartans through the turmoil, including captains Daniel Mikel and Aaron Miller. Mikel is third in scoring with nine goals and 16 assists for 25 points. Most of his production came after he was moved to the top line with Miller and junior Tyler Nystrom (16 goals, 21 assists).

"Daniel probably has one of the most beautiful strides that I've seen since Pat Dalbec and Mike Sislo," Kalin said. "He is effortless when he skates and moves like a lightning bolt. He's great on the ice and in the classroom. He doesn't say much as our captain, but he's filled in nicely on the first line for Wakefield-Zubiate."

Miller, a first-team All-Lake Superior Conference selection and a Wisconsin Prep Hockey finalist as the state's most outstanding senior forward, leads the Spartans in scoring with 31 goals and 25 assists. He's third on the school's all-time scoring list with 80 goals and 81 assists for 161 points, trailing only Dalbec and Marty Wiitala.

"For four years he has amazed me," Kalin said. "A number of coaches at the youth level kept telling me how good he was and how special he was going to be. When he got up here, he had so much poise with the puck. He's a playmaker that always works hard."

Miller had a breakout season as a junior with 36 goals and 38 assists.

"To have a 70-point season, like he did last year, was really something to witness," Kalin said. "He's going to have a successful career, whether it's in the USHL or NAHL. I know we're going to see him playing collegiate hockey somewhere."

Senior goaltender Paxton Paine saved his best for last, including stopping three shots in the final 10 seconds of the section final win over New Richmond.

"Paxton's one of those guys not looking for the individual accolades," Kalin said. "He fights every step of the way and he trains with other goalies throughout the season, always looking for ways to get better. He's played his heart out for us."