ON DECK: Nelson, 1996 hockey team join Superior Hall of Fame
I’ve been on the Superior High School Athletic Hall of Fame committee for the past 10 years and each year my goal has been to nominate somebody who is deserving for induction, but has somehow slipped through the cracks.
A few of those nominations have included Marty Wiitala (Class of 2011), Dan Morgan (2014) and Todd Florey (2017).
Wiitala is the Spartans’ all-time leading scorer in hockey who went on to captain the Wisconsin Badgers; Morgan, arguably the best baseball pitcher ever to come out of Superior, was also a starter on the Spartans’ 1974 state basketball championship team; and Florey, a standout in baseball, football and swimming/diving, went on to be an all-American defensive back in football at Cornell.
I knew topping those nominations would be tough, but I think I outdid myself once again, with the nomination of Tom Nelson, who was the Superior Spartans’ leading scorer on three straight state championship hockey teams from 1994-96.
“My individual stats were fine and dandy, a feather in the cap, but the team camaraderie and winning three straight years are most memorable,” Nelson said. “Playing in three straight state championships was pretty cool.”
Nelson lettered three times in football and hockey and twice in baseball (he did not play his senior year due to a shoulder injury).
After high school he played in 138 games with the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs from 1998-2002. His career stats included 33 goals and 68 assist and he was the team MVP in 2001. He then played minor league hockey for the Calgary Flames and Carolina Hurricanes farm teams.
Not only is Nelson a member of this year’s hall of fame class, but he will be joined by his teammates on the 1996 hockey team, which completed the state title hattrick during his senior season: Mark Froderson, Paul Gidley and Tom Borich.
The induction banquet is Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Superior Middle School.
Seniors on the 1996 hockey team who played on all three state championship teams included forwards Nelson, Trent Clark and Nate Cockerham; defenseman Chad Matushak; and goaltender Tom Pink.
The remaining roster included seniors Kris Weiby, Dan Sapik, Eric Plasch, Jasen Cairns and Chris Buesgen; juniors Chad Olson, Matt LaValley, Tim Shepard, Chris Milliken, Shawn LaValley, Rob Downs and Matt Tollers; sophomores Jason Greatsinger and Tyler Sawchyn; and freshmen Dustin LaValley and Rob Anderson.
The Spartans’ head coach was David Kukowski. The assistant coaches were Greg Lien and Al Kurtz, and team managers were Kris Hanson and Justin Jonassen.
“The camaraderie with the team is what I remember the most,” Nelson said. “Cockerham, Matushak, Clark, Pink, Buesgen — all those guys — it was great playing with them. We’re all still friends and we stay in touch when we can.”
While a number of his teammates went to play college hockey, Nelson wished Cockerham and Pink could have received the same break.
“I wish they had the chance I did,” Nelson said. “Cockerham was just as good, if not better, than I was, and Pink — he was unbelievable. They both deserved DI scholarships, but for some reason, they didn’t get them.”
Clark went on to play at DI Colorado College, while Matushak joined Cockerham and Pink at UWS.
The 1996 team was so dominating in Wisconsin it outscored six Badger-state opponents 47-0 through the regular season and playoffs.
Superior went on to shut out Hudson 2-0 in the state quarterfinals and advanced to the championship game with a 3-2 win over Madison East.
The Spartans then defeated Stevens Point 1-0 in the championship game when sophomore defenseman Tyler Sawchyn scored with 57 seconds remaining.
The Spartans finished the season with a record of 22-4 and were second in the Lake Superior Conference, behind Duluth East. One of their losses, 4-2 to Duluth East, was carried live on TV before a crowd of around 2,200 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.
“Duluth East was always our big rival, but we could never beat them,” Nelson said. “They were a powerhouse with (Dave) Spehar and (Chris) Locker. We thought we could play with them, and we always came close, but they had too much depth and too much skill.”
NOTES: Nelson, a patrol officer in Santa Clara, Calif., and his wife have five kids. … He works San Francisco 49ers football games and other events, including a recent Taylor Swift concert, at Levi’s Stadium. … A few other memories of Nelson’s are being named first team all-state in hockey as a sophomore and breaking his ankle while sliding into second base during a regional baseball game in South Bend, Ind. “I remember we drove straight home in 11 hours and I had surgery the next day,” Nelson said. “I also remember the pain.”
Gidley, who graduated from SSHS in 1984, was a three-year letter winner in football, basketball and baseball and the Packy Paquette Male Athlete of the Year in 1984. He earned a scholarship to play baseball in 1985-89 for the University of Minnesota, where the Gophers were Big Ten champions in 1985 and 1989.
Ross started coaching baseball in the Superior area in 1974 with his father, Harry Ross, for the Babe Ruth Orioles. He coached in the Little League from 1990 to 1996, started coaching Babe Ruth baseball 1997 and in 2001 became the head coach for the Superior Reds American Legion team. He coached the Reds until 2014.
Frodesen graduated from Superior Cathedral High School in 1967. As a senior at the WCIAA Class B State Track meet, he placed second in the long jump, third in the 100-yard dash and fourth in the high jump. Also in 1967, he was a state champion in the long jump and triple jump at the United States Jaycees Junior Championship State Meet.
In 1967-71, he attended Lawrence University, where he set school records in the 100-yard dash and triple jump. Frodesen still holds the Men’s Outdoor Track and Field records he set in 1969 for the long jump and triple jump.
In 2005, Froderson was inducted into the Lawrence University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005. He died Dec. 28, 2017.
Borich, a 1971 SSHS grad, was hired as a ninth-grade social studies teacher at East Junior High School in 1984. In 1986, he became an Experiential Learning Program teacher at SSHS; from 2001-04, he was the Smaller Learning Communities coordinator; from 2004-2009, he served the as an academic coach and district secondary assessment coordinator. He also coached boys varsity tennis from 1989-97.