SUPERIOR, WI -- After five long seasons of "almost" for the Superior Spartans boys hockey team, they'll finally be back at the WIAA state tournament.
For a team with a rich history of success, it was the longest drought between state tournament runs in school history, after winning a state title in 2015.
"We feel blessed that we're going back, and these kids deserve it," said head coach Jason Kalin.
Kalin has watched this particular group of Spartans play since they were in mites. His son, Carter Kalin, is a junior defenseman on the team.
"They haven't won many. Not a lot of tournament victories, they won plenty of games, they just didn't win big stuff, and for them to get over the hump, this was a huge game for us. A huge moment, like you said in their mindsets that this is going to pay dividends moving forward, and then also into next year."
As they prepare for their state-leading 38th trip to the state tournament, they know it won't be anything like what they've be accustomed to in the past.
It will be their first state tournament competing at the division-two level after the WIAA split the boy's hockey field two years ago. Kalin has said since the split that it's their goal to get to the division one level at some point, but their program numbers and enrollment didn't allow them to start there.
"These D2 schools are the real deal, I mean they're no slouches. There's, our number one school in D2 right now, St. Mary's Springs is probably one of the top three in the state, period. Kind of like a Hermantown," said Kalin.
Instead of playing in Madison, COVID-19 precautions have moved the 2021 state tournament into different arenas around the state.
The D2 #2 seed Spartans would have been set to host their state semifinal game against #3 Lakeland, but wasn't possible. The game was moved to Spooner, because Wessman Arena is not allowing any fans for the foreseeable future.
Since Wessman Arena is on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Superior, they require the facility to be as COVID-19 free as possible to continue their college hockey seasons. As a result, Superior has hosted all of their eligible playoff games at the Spooner Civic Center.
"We totally respect the decision that Wessman has made, but the WIAA is requiring fans, and Spooner is giving us that opportunity, so it's awesome," said Kalin.
Puck drop between the Spartans and Thunderbirds is set for 7:00p.m. on Thursday, February 18.