WISCONSIN RAPIDS, Wis. — As the final seconds ticked off the scoreboard Saturday morning at South Wood County Recreation Center, three Superior boys hockey players sat together in the penalty box while one of their assistant coaches wasn’t even on the bench, having been kicked out of the game seconds earlier.
Hey, if you’re going to go down, go down swinging.
Brady Welsch and Calvin Grass scored two goals apiece as defending state champion St. Mary’s Springs started fast and finally put the Spartans away 4-1 in a penalty-filled Wisconsin Division 2 championship game before about 300 fans.
“St. Mary’s Springs is good, they deserve that, they really do, they won it but I’m disappointed for the guys that we had to play a man down half the game,” Superior coach Jason Kalin said. “Every year it happens down here.”
Superior was called for 10 penalties for 39 minutes — numbers the Hanson Brothers would be proud of — while St. Mary’s Springs was called for three penalties for nine minutes. Superior (11-6) only trailed 1-0 going into the final period before the Ledgers (26-2) scored two power-play goals and tacked on an empty-netter for good measure.
It got rather silly at the end, with Superior assistant coach Mike Sislo getting ejected with 38.6 seconds remaining.
“Mike didn’t say anything that I wouldn’t have said. There was no swearing, there was nothing. He just asked a simple question,” Kalin said. “This chintzy style of hockey doesn’t exist where we play, and what I’m talking about is the chintzy calls. It’s just garbage.”
Senior goalie Jamin Durfee stopped 36 shots to help keep this one competitive for the second-seeded Spartans (11-6), who had an eight-game winning streak snapped.
St. Mary’s Springs, out of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, only led 1-0 despite outshooting Superior 15-2 in the first period.
The Spartans weren’t fazed by that because they’re a typically slow-starting team that often wears out opponents with their depth and toughness.
Superior had an excellent opportunity to tie the game in the second period when the Ledgers’ Connor McLaughlin received a five-minute major for boarding with head contact.
Instead, Superior was sluggish on the power play and a pair of penalties on the Spartans helped negate the one-man advantage.
“I’ve never seen this many majors,” Kalin said. “Even the one that was called against St. Mary’s Springs in the first period, it was a joke, it wasn’t a five-minute major. It was in our favor and I still didn’t agree with it.”
After Grass scored a couple power-play goals to open the third, taking advantage of two penalties, including a five-minute major on Superior’s Carter Pettit for head contact, junior forward Andrew Rude finally got the Spartans on the board with an unassisted goal at 10:44 in the third.
“That third period,” Rude said, shaking his head, “that was nuts.”
But that would be it as sophomore goalie Hayden Rising stopped 11 shots for the Ledgers.
“It was a physical game; they probably wanted to do it on their terms but we took it to them with our speed, our puck control and passing and our ability to finish,” said Ledgers coach John Welsch, Brady’s father. “We watched film, we saw what they like to do, so we were prepared for them. If they were going to punch, we were going to counterpunch in certain spots, and that's alright — get them up on the penalty board and welcome to our power play.
“Kudos to their goalie for keeping them in it. He was phenomenal.”
Both Rude and Kalin concurred.
“Jamin was pretty great this year,” Rude said. “He carried us on his back and showed us the way.”
Superior was playing in its 25th state title game and was seeking a 14th state title. Rude is one of 12 juniors listed on the roster, meaning the Spartans could very well find themselves back here next year, but Durfee could be sorely missed.
“We knew that there’d be a lot of pressure on Jamin and that he’d be seeing a lot of shots, but he rose to the occasion,” Kalin said, showing some emotion. “He was remarkable, and I’m not just talking about his play between the pipes. He’s a class act, top to bottom.”