The mercury dipped to minus-12 on the south shore of Lake Superior Tuesday, but the Superior (Wis.) High School Spartans stayed hot with 7-1 win over Chippewa Falls in the WIAA girls hockey playoffs.
Tuesday’s triumph meant seven senior Spartans would have at least one more game together, Ari Jago among them. She’s 17 years old, in her fourth varsity season, and she knows every game could be her last.
College hockey? Maybe. She earned all-conference recognition for the third straight season, but she isn’t sure her game translates to the next level. Her academic skills definitely translate. She’s an honor-roll student averaging nearly a point per game on the Spartans blue line. That’s more than enough to vault her into a college lecture hall, but she’s undecided as to whether it will also slide her onto the college ice. As is the case for most 17-year-olds, the only certainty is that she loves hockey and the clock is ticking on her high school career.
“It’s heartbreaking to see it all come to an end,” said Jago. “I truthfully would give anything to start my high school years over again. What a ride it’s been.”
Several of the Spartans have been teammates since Jago traded her figure skates for hockey skates as a 9-year-old. They grew up together, through the ups and downs of adolescence, finally reaching their zenith just in time for the final curtain to fall.
“This year has been the most fun because there’s less drama and more happiness,” said Jago, who spreads sunshine in the room with fellow senior Kali Krivinchuk. “We all grew up playing on the same teams, so we know each other very well now.”
But what they don’t know is whether this ride will last another day, so they’re making the most of every moment. Few do it better than Jago, for not only does she play the game, she also coaches.
A Passion for Helping Others
It all began when Jago was 11. Her coach at the time, John Seifert, asked if any of his older players would be interested in helping guide the Superior termites, a wobbling mass of 5U players. Jago volunteered. One practice turned into another, then another, then another.
“The kids just naturally liked Ari,” said Seifert. “They were drawn to her.”
Six years later, Jago is still coaching. She works with the termites, mites and a squirt team, while also excelling as a two-sport student-athlete (she plays softball in the spring and summer).
“It’s all about the kids with Ari,” said Seifert. “She runs practices no problem and I have absolute confidence when she’s in charge.”
Almost by accident, Jago found her passion.
“I have a dream of making a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I always thought it would be cool to lead a team to a state title, but I also love to see the little termites skating with a chair for what seems like forever and then, one day, they don’t need it anymore.”
Jago’s efforts are paying dividends for the Superior youth program, and it’s a coaching method worth emulating. The peer-teaching model has long offered academic benefits for both teaching peer and student. Properly implementing that same methodology on the ice can deliver a number of benefits for young players, teaching peers and coaches.
“Kids can learn so much by watching a certain skill or technique demonstrated, then emulating what they watched,” said Ken Martel, USA Hockey’s American Development Model technical director. “And when that demonstration comes from a skilled bantam, midget or high school player, there’s an admiration factor that can help accelerate assimilation. To younger kids, these older players are heroes, so sometimes they watch even more closely than they watch their coaches.”
Additionally, some of these teaching peers can demonstrate techniques that older coaches, or parent-coaches from non-hockey backgrounds, might not be able to physically perform. This makes them a valuable resource for youth associations doing everything they can to help young players develop their skills.
“Ari’s been a godsend for us,” said Seifert, who coaches multiple teams throughout the season. “She sees the game better than most and she leads by example.”
In that leadership role, Jago does more than just mentor kids. She also hones her own skills, gaining a head start on the development of her coaching and teaching philosophies.
With younger players, she learned to look for small victories – a nice pass, a nice move or a nice shot – rather than expecting them to execute sequences. With older players, her favorite drills involve overspeed training to push them outside their comfort zone.
“My playing time shaped me as a coach, because I had hands-on experience from good coaches, so I was able to form my opinions of which methods work and which don’t,” she said. “And I’ve learned that when you do tell young players about mistakes and how to fix them, you must make sure you’re telling them more positives than negatives, because if you keep shoving negatives at them, they’ll lose their love for the game, and as a coach, your job is just the opposite.”
Seifert, a regular attendee of USA Hockey coaching education programs, sees a bright future for Jago behind the bench, whether it’s with kids or at a higher level. But as you might expect, she hasn’t thought much about the future. She’s still laser-focused on playing her next game, and hopefully another after that.
“I’m not sure what my future with coaching holds,” she said. “I don’t think it will be my career, but it is important to me. I just like making a difference in people’s lives.
“I’m definitely no one special. I’m just a person with a passion and love for the game.”
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Superior’s Mike Sislo has been waiting his whole life for the phone call that came Friday morning from Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, one that probably went something like this:
NEWARK, N.J. — Superior’s Mike Sislo has been waiting his whole life for the phone call that came Friday morning from Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello, one that probably went something like this:
“Kid, we’re calling you up. You’re playing tonight. You need to get to Newark right away.”
Suddenly a first-time NHLer after playing for the American Hockey League’s Albany Devils since late in the 2010-11 season, Sislo, who really isn’t a kid at 25, packed a bag, hopped in his car and prayed Mother Nature’s fury, or flurries,
wouldn’t screw up one of the best days of his life.
The morning after a big snowfall, the drive down Interstate 87 was s-l-o-w, but Sislo plowed ahead along salted, snowy, icy roads that made driving conditions poor.
“I had to take my time,” he said of his 3-plus hour drive that usually is 2-plus.
With a lot of time to think during his drive, his thoughts were simple:
“Stay on the road.”
Sislo, who left around 9 and arrived after noon, learned to be patient during his fairly successful years as a Devils minor leaguer who never had been regarded as a top prospect.
Since signing with the Devils as a free agent after four seasons of elite-level college hockey at the University of New Hampshire, Sislo worked hard at his game, put up some decent numbers and waited for a chance.
It finally came Friday, a busy day and important night for the Devils.
Before hosting the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, the Devils decided that hurting-center Patrik Elias would sit out the weekend’s two games … Ryan Carter was ready to return from a knee injury on Friday … it was time to give up on former No. 1 pick Mattias Tedenby … and Sislo would be called up from the A-Devils to play on the fourth line against Chicago instead of grinder Cam Janssen, a move that would trade grit and toughness for speed and skill.
Sislo’s NHL debut ended up being a successful failure: He did well contributing two shots, one hit and some steady two-way hockey in 8:29 of ice time over 16 shifts, but the Devils lost 5-3 to the Blackhawks.
“Obviously, there’s some nerves,” Sislo said afterward. “Your first game, you never really know what to expect. I just wanted to keep it simple, work hard and move my legs.”
Mission accomplished, and then some. Sislo didn’t score, but helped generate offense playing on a line that included Russian center Andrei Loktionov and fellow rookie Reid Boucher at left wing.
“Our fourth line I thought was one of our better lines,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said. “They definitely weren’t the problem.”
Sislo threatened to score late in the first when unleashing a hard one-timer from the low slot that was stopped by Chicago goalie Antti Raanta, and then had an opportunity in the second when he let loose on a 25-footer from the high slot that missed the net.
“I liked his game,”
DeBoer said. “He brings good energy and good speed. He’s a big strong guy. He played well.”
His night had a weird start. After his first shift, he skated to the Devils bench … and then to the penalty box to serve a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Earlier, Sislo looked around to soak it all in. During the pre-game skate, he couldn’t help but notice all the big stars in road whites — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith.
“You know what?” he said. “You watch ’em on TV, and it’s pretty cool to be on the same ice as them, but once the puck dropped, they were just opponents on the other team and you have to worry about what you have to do.”
Sislo, called up after scoring nine goals and 20 points in 27 AHL games this season, did that well enough in his first NHL game to earn more looks. On Saturday night in Buffalo, Sislo took three shots during 7:37 of ice time. The Devils lost 2-1.
“Well, I wanted to come out and play simple, hard and smart,” he said. “And do as well as I can. Show that I can play here and I belong here. I have the confidence that I can do it. I just have to work hard and show everyone else I can do it.”
SAHA would like to say Thank You to Upper Lakes Foods and the Sorensen Family for their continued support of SAHA families with food sales fundraiser. This truly helps all of our families off set the cost of playing Hockey in Superior!!
Teams that have at least half of the money for their required Super Raffle tickets turned in will be considered for extra Winter Break ice times. Please turn in whatever ticket stubs and money you have already sold before 5:30 on Wednesday, December 11th, to be considered for this ice time. Please remember all teams have tickets to sell. This is a very important fundraiser for improvements and materials for our organization. Tickets will remain for sale through the Pond Hockey Tournament. If you have any questions please contact your manager or Paul Kurtz.
The SAHA BOD would like to extend a special Thank You to the members of the Keith Gilbertson Memorial Hockey Tournament for their hard work, and donations to the Superior Amateur Hockey Association. The Committee has helped us aquire the new sounds system in the arena, and they have sponsored one of our Youth teams!! Please take the time to attend this event this year, as it's a GREAT fundraiser for our program and it's paying off!!