Prep boys hockey: Spartan duo ‘just have fun’ while making a difference
Superior seniors Carson Gotelaere and Caden Lia have helped lead their team to a surprising 7-7 start and worked to raise money for ALS during a recent game.
SUPERIOR — A team that graduated 20 of 26 players last season, playing for a first-year head coach, isn’t typically a recipe for success.
Apparently, nobody told Superior because the Spartans boys hockey team is 7-7 so far this year and picked up a 4-1 win over Chippewa Falls — the third-ranked Division 1 team in Wisconsin — Tuesday. They’ve also picked up a win over New Prague in December, a Minnesota state tournament team in 2022, and pushed Grand Rapids, typically a Class AA power, to the limit in a 3-2 loss Jan. 10 at the IRA Civic Center in Grand Rapids.
The Spartans have taken their lumps as well, like a 4-3 loss to Eau Claire North Friday at Wessman Arena, but they’re working to improve. Senior Carson Gotelaere has already done something that’s only happened twice in the history of the program — he tied a school record with five goals in an 8-1 win over North Shore Dec. 28.
Gotelaere scored four first-period goals against the Storm, but said he didn’t “want to be selfish” out on the ice.
“They just came naturally, I wasn’t pushing,” Gotelaere said. “I was getting passes right on my stick up front. We were talking about it, what was working and what wasn’t and it was really just whoever had the opportunity to go and get that pass.”
Gotelaere leads the team with 13 goals and 22 points this season. Fellow senior Caden Lia is third with five goals and 16 points this season and the pair has stepped in to help coach Evan Nelson fill the void left by last year’s graduating class.
The pair has combined for seven points in the Spartans’ last two games, but for Gotelaere the season was endangered when he ruptured his spleen during football practice late in the summer.
“I was planning on lifting and stuff this whole summer and that threw a wrench in everything,” Gotelaere said. “I literally couldn’t do anything for six weeks.”
Gotelare missed a good chunk of the football season, but when hockey season started he was ready to go.
Both Gotelaere and Lia said they’ve been surprised with how quickly the younger players have been able to step in and take on a big role.
“I thought it would take a while — at least to the halfway point — to get them adjusted to the varsity-level hockey game,” Lia said. “But after the first two or three games, they were firing on all cylinders. They’re doing good, we’re really proud of them.”
Over the years playing hockey together, the pair has developed a strong relationship on and off the ice.
“I’ve been good friends with him for a long while,” Lia said. “We have built chemistry together throughout my whole high school and middle school career, even when we were younger. We don’t even think about the game, we just have fun together.”
It resulted in a team that may not have the best record in Wisconsin, but it will be battle-tested by some of the best teams on both sides of the Minnesota-Wisconsin border by the time the state tournament rolls around.
“We still have a few sectional opponents on the schedule, which I think our section is the toughest in the state, for sure,’ Nelson said. “Our message in the room every day is, ‘Let’s get a little bit better every day so that come February, we’re ready to make that push.”
A common cause
The duo isn’t just making a difference on the ice, they’re hoping to make one in their community as well.
For the game against Eau Claire North, Gotelaere and Lia organized the “Red the Rink” fundraiser to benefit research and awareness for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The Spartans wore special red sweaters during the game. In addition, they sold T-shirts while also running raffles and games — like “Chuck a Puck” — to raise more money.
The fundraiser is part of their senior project at Superior, but both players have a personal connection to the cause. Gotelaere’s father lost a cousin to ALS and Lia’s grandfather died as a result of the disease.
“We started talking about it leading up to our senior year — like, maybe we could do it,” Gotelaere said. “We just tried to get as many people here to support us and wear red too just for the atmosphere.”
The boys raised more than $5,000 with the event and even though they couldn’t finish off the game against Eau Claire North, Nelson couldn’t help but feel pride in his players and the Spartan hockey community.
“What a great event those two young men put on,” Nelson said. “Even with school, hockey and everything going on behind the scenes, the event was a great success. Sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture — even though they took some untimely penalties, I am extremely proud of them and this community for all of the support.”