Men’s D-III Playoff Preview: Wisconsin-Superior

Record: 16-12-1
Ranking: No. 13 USCHO poll
Leading scorer: Talon Berlando — 11 goals, 14 assists, 25 points
Starting goalie: Drew Strandberg — 10-9-1, 2.24 goals-against, .916 save pct.
Dan Stauber (11th season)

In terms of drama, Wisconsin-Superior had it all this season.

First, there was an ice-making malfunction at the team’s Wessman Arena base, which led to a pair of home games against St. Norbert Jan. 20-21 being switched to Amsoil Arena in Duluth, Minn.

Then was a five-game skid from late January to early February where the Yellowjackets were shutout three-straight times.

Lastly, there was the team’s at-large selection to the NCAA tournament this week, which was hardly a given due to its rather non-descript 16-12-1 overall record, punctuated by a 2-1 loss to St. Norbert in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association final on Saturday.

UW-Superior not only got in to the national tournament, it’s hosting the first-round matchup with No. 9 Hamline on Wednesday. The winner advances to face host and No. 1-ranked St. Norbert in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday.

“I know we had a tough schedule,” coach Dan Stauber says. “I never talked to anyone on the committee, but I’ve been on the committee in the past, and I know strength of schedule is part of it. That’s just my opinion from past experience.

“Obviously, playing at home, will be nice.”

As a result of the preceding events, the Yellowjackets coach describes his team as being on an “emotional rollercoaster.” UW-Superior scraped through the NCHA playoffs by sweeping St. Scholastica, 4-2 and 5-2, and then knocking off a rejuvenated Wisconsin-Stevens Point squad, 4-2, in the semis to get another crack at a Peters Cup.

Against No. 1 St. Norbert, the team was held scoreless for 59:45 of 60 minutes until Derek Stauber, nephew of coach Dan Stauber, scored an extra-attacker goal. The late tally prevented the Yellowjackets from being shutout for a sixth time this season.

The team’s power play was 0-for-3, which was not a good omen heading into the NCAA tournament. Overall, the Jackets’ power play is struggling at 20-of-126 for .159 percent.

A key member of the man-advantage unit, Kyle Leahy (6-5-11), is expected to miss Wednesday’s game against Hamline due to an upper body injury.

“We had a couple of chances, but (St. Norbert) took away a lot of second opportunities,” Stauber says. “This time of year, you need second opportunities and need to make them count.”

An at-large invite to the NCAA tournament is a second opportunity the Yellowjackets can’t afford to miss.