Soo Blueliners Banquet set for May 3rd

SAULT STE. MARIE —The 37th annual Soo Blue Liners Banquet is coming up.

In a change of pace from years past, the Banquet will be held at the Christopher Columbus Hall at the corner of Sheridan Drive and Brown Street in Sault Ste. Marie.  Prior years have seen the event hosted at the Walker Cisler Centre on the campus of Lake State.

Cost of admission is $23 for adults and $12 for children under the age of 13.  As in the past, parents of the senior players are admitted free of charge.

Tickets for the event must be purchased in advance.  Those interested in obtaining a ticket may do so in any of the following ways:

  • Phone: Hunter Perry, Marketing and Ticket Director, may be reached Monday thru Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at (906) 635-2601.
  • In person: Perry can also sell tickets at the Norris Center Ticket Office during the hours mentioned above.
  • Online: https://lssulakerstickets.universitytickets.com/w/default.aspx

The banquet is scheduled to begin with a social hour around 5:30 p.m.  Dinner will be served at 6 p.m., with the program to follow at 7 p.m.  Presentation of team awards will take place, as well as speeches from the coaches and seniors.

The dinner menu consists of steak rolls, meatballs, chicken, salad, penne macaroni, Italian roasted potatoes, bread & butter, coffee & dessert.  In addition, a cash bar will be present.

“Each year we have our annual hockey awards banquet to recognize and congratulate the seniors on the team, as well as the other players for their achievements during the season,” said Blueliners Vice President Chris Ledergerber. “There are nine player awards, eight of which are voted on by the team.  The ninth, the Blueline Player of the Year, is voted on by the Blue Line club members.”

For more information, contact Ledergerber at (906) 248-5732.

2017-18 Season Wrapup

Editor’s note: This is a repost of the season wrap up from April 9th.  When the site was hacked, this, along with a few other posts, were lost in the recovery process.  We took the most recent version any of us had saved and edited it to complete the wrap up.

At long last, the post we have dreaded all year, the postseason wrapup, is here.

While the season for the Lakers has been done for over a month now, we figured by waiting until college hockey as a whole was done, we could perhaps gain a better view on the season gone by. Simply recaping it right after it was done would have sufficed, but we decided to get nice and lengthy for our readers. That and it was difficult to make time for us to sit down and discuss.

The wrapup is set up differently than most of our series previews and recaps from the season. The format involves one of us reporting on a specific team facet in a straightforward manner, while the other responds in a more laid back and casual manner. We have marked who wrote which part of each topic.

And so…

With the 2017-18 season firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look back and judge the season on what it was and how it played out for Lake Superior State.

The Lakers took another step backward record-wise, finishing with a 10-22-4 record overall and an 8-17-3-0 mark in Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) play. By comparison, the Lakers compiled a league record of 8-13-7 and an overall mark of 11-18-7 in 2016-17.

Offense

Mike:
While it wasn’t evident at first, some major offseason losses appeared to hamper the Lakers, as the departures of Mitch Hults (11-23—34 in 2016-17), Luke Morgan (7-15—22) and defenseman Kris Bindulis (1-11—12), among others. Combined with the graduation of Gus Correale (6-6—12), the Lakers lost nearly one third of their scoring from 2016-17.

While the Lakers did get improved production out of some forwards, such as Jake Hand (7-5—12 in 2017-18 vs 0-3—3 in 2016-17) and Brayden Gelsinger (8-10—18 vs 5-10—15), other forwards seemed snakebit throughout the year, as Gage Torrel (14-8—22) failed to put up the points seen from him in the past (to be fair, Torrel was still 6th on the team in scoring, as he quietly picked up 5 goals and 11 assists).

As for the other big point-producers, many of them replicated their success from previous seasons. While Diego Cuglietta, Max Humitz, Anthony Nellis and J.T. Henke may not have put together breakout-type seasons, they brought the consistency from previous years to the table.

Lake Superior’s newcomers up front unfortunately did not make much noise on the scoresheet. Hampus Erikkson hit double digit points, but the other three freshmen forwards tallied just five points between them. Granted, Chase Gamelin (0-3—3), Alex Ambrosio (0-1—1) and Yuki Miura (0-1—1) did not play full seasons (Ambrosio did not join the team until midseason and Miura was ineligible and injured throughout most of the campaign). Although they did not tally any goals, their presence was certainly noticed, as each of them gave the team a shot in the arm when inserted into the lineup.

Dennis:
I 90% have to agree with Mike’s assessment here. I feel like a lot of us knew that the departures of Hults, Morgan and Bindulis was going to affect the team, but certainly nobody could’ve guessed at just how much. Hults in particular, to myself at least, seemed to score quietly. Maybe it’s just rose-colored glasses, but it seemed like he tallied a ton of points, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. I’ll touch on Bindulis in the Defense section.

Likewise when it comes to Gage Torrell: it wasn’t so much that he had scored quietly, it just took like half the season for him to record any points. If hitting posts or the crossbar counted, Torell could’ve taken the team scoring title.

The additions of Ambrosio and Miura were huge. Ambrosio solidified the middle of the ice and seemed to have a presence on the ice in a way that the Lakers really didn’t have prior to the new year. Having Miura for a full year will certainly make things interesting come the 2018-2019 campaign.

Defense

Mike:
The 2016-17 Lakers D-corps wasn’t exactly wowing the league. With two blueliners departing the team (James Roll via graduation and Bindulis via signing a pro contract), there were bound to be some new faces complementing the returning players, which included three seniors.

Lake Superior had 10 defensemen on the squad. Among them were five newcomers, including Steven Ruggiero, a sophomore transfer from Providence. The native of King’s Park, New York was not eligible for the first half of the year, but was a consistent presence on the ice in the second half of the year.

As for the returning blueliners, Collin Saccoman looked to build on a successful freshman year where he was among the nation’s leaders in blocked shots. Unfortunately, like Käelble, Saccoman was injured in the series at Denver early in the year. As a result, the Lakers were without three of their more mobile defenders for nearly half the season.

Dennis:
Roll also transferred with his final year of eligibility to Niagra, which is closer to home.

Don’t forget that Ruggerio is also a sixth round pick for the Anaheim Ducks.

These two injuries really showed at how shallow the Laker’s blueline was this season. Many nights you had a top pairing of freshmen Tyler Anderson and William Riedell, which to my eyes, did not pass the eye test.

Once Ruggerio was slotted into the lineup, it did get better, with Kyle Chatham really picking up his play to close out his final year at Lake State. It also did not help matters that captain Aiden Wright was often used as a fourth-line winger.

Goaltending 

Dennis:
Goaltending this year was inconsistent. There’s no two ways about it. There was no clear cut winner between veteran Nick Kossoff or young upstart & NAHL star Mareks Mitens. I’m not sure if the same goalie finished both games in a weekend, to be honest. One night, one of the two may stand on his head, yet the next be pulled after a period. This, along with the defense, should be two areas that Whitten & co really need to be focusing on this offseason.

Mike:
Inconsistent probably says it best. The state of the defense in front of the net certainly did not help matters. As an example, the second game at the Three Rivers Classic saw Arizona State pepper Kossoff with nearly 50 shots. While the shots may have not been the best quality, it still says something when that many shots find their way to the goalie.

One bright spot for the netminders was how the four game winning streak stacked up for them. After Kossoff earned a shutout on Friday against Bemidji State, Whitten made the unconventional move of going with Mitens the next night, who promptly had a shutout of his own. The coach explained his reasoning by saying, with sitting Kossoff after his big shutout, it gave him a full week to dwell on it. He further mentioned that, often times, good vibes from a Friday night win are forgotten if Saturday does not go well. Whatever the reasoning, Whitten made the same move the next week at Alaska Anchorage and it paid off with two more wins.

Two other goaltenders were on the Lake Superior roster during the season, neither of whom played any minutes this season. Sophomore Cooper Lukenda departed the team in November for juniors (more on that later), while freshman Roman Bengert was ruled ineligible for the season. From the sounds of things, Bengert will be eligible to play next season.

Special Teams

Dennis:
Despite all that has been said, our penalty kill wasn’t terrible this season, just about the middle of the pack when looking at all 60 division 1 teams (80.6%). Power Play did lag a bit further behind, however, with only 17.7%.

Mike:
Among WCHA teams, the Lakers were 8th in power play percentage and 7th in penalty kill percentage. The old addage of having the sum of the percentages be 100 would show what many already knew — the Lakers had their struggles. Adding them together gets 95.83, short of the ideal 100, but better than Alaska and Michigan Tech, both of whom finished higher in the standings.

Part of the struggles on the power play could stem from a lack of scoring defense. Nearly every successful power play unit out there has one or two blueliners who do a tremendous job of getting the puck to the net. The highest scoring defenseman of the roster this year was Käelble with one goal and six assists.

As for the penalty kill, Whitten is often heard saying the goaltender has to be the best penalty killer. Thinking back, I can’t say as though I recall either netminder allowing in any soft goals while shorthanded. 25 goals were allowed by LSSU while killing penalties.

One interesting statistic concerning special teams is the Lakers had, in league games, the second fewest power play opportunities (113) and the second fewest penalty kill situations (121).

Midseason departures & acquisitions

Mike:
Lake Superior saw considerable action involving midseason acquisitions and departures, as four such events took place throughout the season. In order:

  • Cooper Lukenda (G) — left to play junior hockey with Kemptville (CCHL)

Mike:
The first departure seen this year was of goaltender Lukenda. A sophomore, Lukenda ended his Laker career without ever having played in a game. The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario native did not play junior hockey before coming to Lake Superior, and was perhaps not prepared for the level of competition. As of March 20th, he played 20 games with the Kemptville 73’s, accumulating a 4.54 goals against average and an .881 save percentage.

Dennis:
I can’t say it was shocking to see Lukenda go. He may have gotten some actual playing time had he stayed, what with the inconsistent goaltendings, but taking a look at his GAA and SV%, I’m not sure how well he would’ve been able to play had he stayed.

  • C.J. Hayes (F) — Left to play professional hockey with Mississippi (SPHL)

Mike:
Junior forward Hayes played in just five games this season before departing — right before injuries began taking their toll on the forward unit. Hayes signed a pro deal with the Mississippi RiverKings of the Southern Professional Hockey League. After going 2-3—5 in 21 games, the forward found himself playing with the Federal Hockey League’s Watertown Wolves, where he has gone 7-9—16 in just 10 games.

Dennis:
I ran into C.J. right before the start of the season, shortly after the guys came back to town for school. He certainly seemed to have the right attitude, and it’s a shame he didn’t see more ice time before departing the team. But like Lukenda before him, he wasn’t getting any real playing time, so I can hardly blame him. That being said, with all the injuries to the forward unit, C.J. could’ve seen some real minutes had he stuck around.

  • Alex Ambrosio (F) — joined from Coquitlam (BCHL)

Mike:
Brought in over the Christmas break, Ambrosio had played parts of four seasons with the Coquitlam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League. With the injuries sustained by the forward unit, Ambrosio stepped right into the Laker lineup against Bemidji State. Although he only tallied one assist in 14 games, the native of Burnaby, B.C. was very noticeable on the ice, and, apart from scoring, showed little difficulty adjusting to the college game.

Dennis:
I can’t say enough about this kid. Mid-season acquisitions seem to be rare in the college world, and making the switch and traveling almost an entire continent, Ambrosio really shone through the darkness that was the start of the second half of the year. He helped solidify the middle of the ice, and though he is only listed at 5’10”, he was not afraid to drive the net, or get into those dirty areas. Having a full offseason dedicated to college hockey will make this kid a force come next season.

  • Josh Nenadal (F) – left team

Mike:
Junior forward Nenadal found himself separated from the team following an off-ice incident in December. While little was said by the coaching staff, it was generally understood that Nenadal was still a member of the team. That appeared to change after another off-ice incident in late January, when he was identified as the male suspect that knocked over an ice sculpture in front of Cup of the Day. After that incident, his name was removed from the team roster. Although there has been no word from the team since, the removal of his name can best be interpreted as his dismissal from the team.

Dennis:
In the weeks leading up to his initial dismissal from the team in December, the team was really starting to sink after having a decent start to the season. After being told he was still with the team, just suspended (essentially), play did not initially improve. It wasn’t until the Cup of the Day incident, and his removal from the roster, that play seemed to improve. Hopefully without Nenedal returning next season (presumably, at least), the future is looking brighter for the Lakers, as it seems like whatever dark cloud was hovering over the locker room is now gone.

I personally have a lot of questions surrounding how the Nenedal incident was handled, but as it’s been proven time and time again, it’s hard to get any real information out of the locker room, so we may never know key details to it all.

The Final Word (a.k.a. TL;DR)

Dennis:
While the forward unit seemed to be snake bitten for most of the season, I feel like a large part of the issues came down to the back end of play. Inconsistent play from the blue line helped lead to inconsistencies in net. Combine all this with a questionable locker room atmosphere (there was a players-only meeting in December), and you’re going to have a bad time.

Mike:
The front unit did seem snakebitten at times, but to be fair, the Lakers had the 2nd best offense out of the four years that Whitten has been at the helm. It does feel as though many of the issues were tied into the defense. With three blueliners graduating this year (all of whom logged significant time in their careers), it will be up to the next classes to come in and fill those skates. There was much potential on display, particularly from the players who played little due to injuries and eligibility. It has me wondering what a full season from them will look like. All in all, there is promise for the future.

Is it October yet?

Release: Whitten inked to four year extention

Lakers head coach Damon Whitten (shown here during the annual Blue vs White game) was recently inked to a four year contract extension, per a press release from LSSU (Brittany Litchard/LHB).

SAULT STE. MARIE — Lake Superior State University announced today that head hockey coach Damon Whitten has been signed to a four year contract extension.

Whitten, who has been head coach of the Lakers since 2014, has compiled a 43-90-18 record in his first four years behind the bench.

Before being named head coach of the Lakers, Whitten served as an assistant coach for four seasons at Michigan Tech, where he worked under Jamie Russell at first, and later Mel Pearson.

Prior to that, Whitten had stints at Alaska Anchorage on Dave Shyiak’s staff, and at Wayne State under Bill Wilkinson.  In addition, he worked as Director of Hockey Operations from 2008-10 at his alma mater, Michigan State.

A native of Brighton, Michigan, Whitten played under one-time Lakers head coach Ron Mason at MSU from 1997-2001, where he scored 35 goals and 40 assists in four seasons, eventually serving as an assistant captain his senior season.

From the press release:

“University presidents look for qualities of character more than records when assessing coaches,” said Lake Superior State President Dr. Peter T. Mitchell. “Damon Whitten is a person of great personal integrity and genuine compassion for his players. He emphasizes sportsmanship, hard work, and a commitment to excel on the ice and in the classroom. His team’s GPA is consistently above 3.0 and the current players are great ambassadors in the community.

“Winning traditions in collegiate and professional sports have one thing in common, they trust and support a coach of integrity and they eventually become winners. I trust Damon and his assistant coaches; I believe in them and in the players. I have been particularly proud of the way they all have responded to adversity and finished the season with sweeps at Bemidji and Anchorage. With this new contract, I look forward to Coach Whitten building a hockey program at Lake State known for integrity, grit, and class, on and off the ice.”

In his four years at the helm of the program, Whitten has made it priority to rebuild the Lake State Hockey tradition, while targeting increased community involvement, connection with the student body and excellence in the classroom. 

“On behalf of our staff and our families I would like to thank Dr. Peter Mitchell and Dr. David Paitson for their support and the opportunity to continue to lead the storied hockey program at LSSU,” said Whitten.
 
“We are privileged to be at a University and in a community where we are able to build quality relationships.  We look forward to continuing that work with our student-athletes, within the campus community and across the twin Soo communities.”

In 2017, the LSSU hockey team was awarded Community Partner of the Year by the United Way of the Eastern Upper Peninsula for their involvement in outreach events throughout the Sault Ste. Marie community.

Narrowly missing out on a postseason berth this season, Whitten has still managed to lead the Lakers to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament in his first three seasons while navigating the significant obstacle of losing top talent to professional hockey.

With an assistant coaching staff consisting of Sault Ste. Marie native, Rich Metro and NHL veteran Mike York. The Laker hockey program has continued to focus on recruiting high-level talent with an emphasis on individuals seeking a complete student-athlete experience.

“We are very excited to continue to have Damon at the helm of the Lake State hockey program,” said Director of Athletics Dr. David Paitson.  “We believe Damon’s leadership and dedication will help reestablish the Laker Hockey program as one of the elite programs in college hockey.

“As a department, we are aiming to build stability throughout our coaching staff and retaining a high-level leader with a commitment to our vision, such as Damon, goes a long way in helping us reach our goals.”

Full press release: http://www.lssulakers.com/general/2017-18/releases/20180301nyxmn1

Reading Royals sign Chatham

Senior defenseman Kyle Chatham (seen here in a game against Alaska) signed with the Reading Royals of the ECHL, becoming the 2nd senior to sign this year (Mike Barrett/LHB).

READING, Pa. — Another Laker senior has signed a professional contract.

Defenseman Kyle Chatham has signed a deal with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.

Chatham recently concluded a remarkable career with Lake Superior State, where he was a consistent force on the blue line.

In his sophomore and junior seasons, he was voted Defensive Player of the Year by his teammates.  In addition, he was also named Most Improved Player after his sophomore year.

Over his four years donning the anchor, Chatham netted five goals and 19 assists for 24 points in 145 games.  There were only six games in which he did not play over his career. 

A well-disciplined player, he never took more than 14 penalty minutes in a season.

The native of Belleville, Illinois, is the second senior to sign a pro contract following the conclusion of the Lakers’ season.  Forward J.T. Henke recently signed with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits, also of the ECHL.

Chatham’s brother Connor also plays in the ECHL, where he is a forward for the Idaho Steelheads.

The Royals are the ECHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers and the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms.

Henke inks deal with ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits

An offensive leader for Lake Superior in his 3 seasons, J.T. Henke signed a contract with the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits (Mike Barrett/LHB).

GREENVILLE, S.C. — A Lakers senior has signed a professional contract.

Forward J.T. Henke has signed an entry-level contract with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits of the ECHL.

A native of Trenton, Michigan, Henke joined the Lakers after playing a season at the University of Maine.  With Lake Superior, Henke has scored at least 22 points in each of his three seasons.  During his sophomore and senior campaigns, he led the team in scoring with 22 and 27 points, respectively.

His best season was his junior year, when he had 30 points, second on the team behind Mitch Hults.  That season saw him named the recipient of the Soo Blue Liner Award, as voted by the Blue Liner Club.

As a nod to his scoring prowess, Henke is the most recent Laker to record a hat trick, which he did Friday, October 30, 2015 against Alabama Huntsville.

Despite his offensive prowess, he was honored by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) only once as Offensive Player of the Week — when he had five points against Michigan Tech on October 13-14.  On that weekend, Henke factored in on all five Laker goals.

Henke will join former Lakers Austin McKay, Garret Clemment and Matt Johnson on the Swamp Rabbits roster.

An affiliate of the New York Rangers, the Swamp Rabbits have been around since 1987, when they were established in Johnstown, Pennsylvania as the Chiefs (a homage to the 1977 hockey film Slap Shot).  They came to Greenville in 2010, becoming the Road Warriors, before changing their name to the Swamp Rabbits in 2015.

 

Lakers season draws to close with 4-2 loss to Ferris State

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — The Lake Superior State playoff hopes came down to the final game of the regular season.

Needing a win against Ferris State to stay alive, the Lakers could not find the equalizer late, as the Bulldogs netted two empty netters en route to a 4-2 win.

With the loss, the Lakers failed to qualify for the WCHA postseason for the second time since joining the league, and the first time under head coach Damon Whitten.

Lake Superior got the important first goal of the game when defenseman Collin Saccoman collected a pass from Bryan Basilico and beat Darren Smith.  Although the Bulldogs outshot the Lakers 14-12 through the first 20 minutes, netminder Mareks Mitens kept Ferris State off the board.

Early in the second period, Coale Norris found the back of the net for Ferris State, tying the game in the process.  Norris, who had the empty-netter the previous night, earned his 9th goal of the year.

At 7:37 of the third period, Norris put Ferris State ahead for good.  Despite numerous chances for the Lakers (including a post for Anthony Nellis,) Lake Superior could not find the crucial goal to force overtime.

With Mitens pulled for an extra skater, the Bulldogs’ Mitch Maloney put the game out of reach by hitting the empty net.  Their season in jeopardy, the Lakers pulled Mitens again, trying to surmount a two goal deficit.  Again, Maloney put the puck in the back of the empty net, making the score 4-1 Ferris State.

A fair amount of action took place shortly after the ensuing faceoff.  Lakers defenseman Tyler Anderson took a Ferris State player hard into the boards, which led to everybody on the ice pairing off.  43 penalty minutes were assessed on the play, including 15 to Anderson (5 for contact to the head, plus a 10 minute disqualification).

As the game was winding down, Gage Torrel managed to get around the Bulldog defense and beat Smith.  Torrel’s fifth goal of the season came with just 26 seconds remaining in play — not enough time for a Laker rally.

Mitens finished the night with 34 saves on 36 shots faced.  In picking up the win, Smith 30 of 32.

With the loss, the collegiate careers of Aiden Wright, Kyle Chatham, Ryan Renz and J.T. Henke came to an end.  Henke, the lone forward of the group, finished his Laker career with 79 points in three seasons.  Had he played his freshman season with the Lakers (as opposed to the University of Maine), he could have potentially become the first Laker to earn 100 career points since Dominic Monardo in 2013.

Bulldogs drop Lakers, playoff hopes dwindle

BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — Needing at least one win for any hope of qualifying for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) postseason, the Lake Superior State hockey team could not connect, as the Bulldogs of Ferris State took a 4-1 win at Ewigleben Ice Arena.

Ferris State (13-21-1, 10-16-1 WCHA) snapped the Lakers’ four game winning streak — all of which came on the road.  

Lake Superior (10-21-4, 8-16-3 WCHA) hoped to go into Ewigleben and get a quick goal to silence the crowd.  A quick goal was scored, but by the home team, as Captain Corey Mackin put the Bulldogs up 1-0 just 45 seconds into the game.

Despite surrendering the early lead, the Lakers remained determined, giving Ferris State netminder Darren Smith plenty to do, as the shots favoured Lake State 13-10 after twenty minutes.

The Bulldogs got another early goal in the second period, as Mackin again capitalized.  The captain collected a pass from Mitch Maloney behind the net and beat Lakers goaltender Nick Kossoff on the right side.  Ferris State added another goal later in the period from Zach Szajner, sending the Lakers back to the dressing room trailing 3-0 after two periods.

Lake Superior, after peppering Smith with shots all night, finally managed to get one by him, as Hampus Erikkson got a piece of an Anthony Nellis shot, cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to two goals.

Despite pulling Kossoff for an extra skater at various points throughout the period, the Lakers could not solve Smith again.  An empty netter with 5 seconds remaining from Coale Norris sealed the Lakers’ fate.

In goal, Kossoff made 27 saves on 30 shots.  Across the ice, Smith was credited with 37 saves on 38 shots.

Coupled with an Alabama Huntsville win over Bowling Green, the Lakers’ postseason hopes appeared to be all but over.  However, the series between Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage also has bearings on the WCHA playoff picture.  With the Seawolves playing spoiler by earning a 5-3 win, the Lakers are not yet eliminated from the postseason picture.  Their fate will come down to what they can do in their game against the Bulldogs tonight.

Playoff scenarios entering final series against Bulldogs

The final two games of the regular season are here and the Lakers are still in a fight for the playoffs.

Coming out of this past weekend, the standings in the 6 thru 9 slots in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) are as follows:

6 (tie) Alabama Huntsville and Alaska – 30 points
8 – Ferris State – 28 points
9 – Lake Superior State – 27 points

Last weekend, the Lakers and Chargers had byes, while Ferris State was swept by Minnesota State and Alaska claimed one point against Bemidji State.  In other words, the Lakers’ bye could hardly have gone better.

While it is entirely possible that Lake Superior could propel itself as high as 6th place after this weekend, the chance that their season ends down at Ewigleben Ice Arena is still in play.

The fact that LSSU and Ferris State play each other is huge.  A sweep by either team will ensure the winner qualifies while the loser stays home.  

Below is an analysis of what will become of Lake Superior given the seven possible point outcomes of this weekend:

0, 1 or 2 points – Lake State finishes with either 27, 28 or 29 points and fails to qualify for the postseason.  Since their opponent is the team directly ahead of them in the standings, failing to take at least half of the points guarantees they will place behind the Bulldogs and not overtake either UAH or UAF.

4, 5, or 6 points – Lake State finishes with either 31, 32 or 33 points, eliminating Ferris State from playoff contention.  4 points on the weekend ensures that the Bulldogs cannot earn more than 30, edging the Lakers past FSU.  Where exactly the Lakers sit in the standings after this is dependent on what happens with UAH and Alaska.  The Chargers host Bowling Green (who will finish either 2nd or 3rd) while the Nanooks play Alaska Anchorage (who will miss the WCHA postseason for the the fourth straight year).

3 points – Earning exactly three points is a dangerous situation.  This will give the Lakers 30 points, while Ferris State will have 31.  Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not will depend on the results of the previously mentioned games.  Should a three-way tie exist, the WCHA tiebreakers will come into effect.

  • Tiebreaker A – This tiebreaker is only used if all teams have played 4 games against each other.  This is not the case, as LSSU, UAH and UAF all have played each other twice.
  • Tiebreaker B – This one says the teams are seeded in order of the highest number of conference wins.  Currently, UAH and UAF have 9 wins, while LSSU has 8.  In order for a tie to happen at all, UAH & UAF must lose both of their games.  If LSSU earns 3 points from a win, then there is a tie at this tiebreaker.  Should the Lakers get 2 points from a shootout win and 1 from a shootout loss, the Lakers would be eliminated.
  • Tiebreaker C – This tiebreaker seeds teams in order of fewest league losses.  If UAF and UAH both get swept, they would both have 17 losses.  Given that the only way for this tiebreaker to matter is for the Lakers to have a series split, the Lakers would have 16 losses, putting them ahead of both teams.

For those unfamiliar with the WCHA’s tiebreakers, which go all the way to G (a coin toss), they may be found here:  http://www.wcha.com/men/standings.php

 

Series Preview: Lake Superior State @ Ferris State

Ferris State: 2016: 13-19-5 2017: 12-21-1

Lake Superior State: 2016: 11-18-7 2017: 10-20-4

 

“It’s the Final Countdown!” – Europe

 

This is it, boys and girls. We’re in the final week of the 2017-2018 WCHA regular season, and it all comes down to this. While there are other games to watch, these two teams control their own playoff destinies.

The Bulldogs had a rough weekend, facing off against #5 Minnesota State in Mankato, dropping both games – Friday 7-1, then Saturday 4-2.

This year’s Ferris State team has three 20+ point scorers in Corey Mackin (8-14-22), Mitch Maloney (13-8-21) and Ryker Kilins (8-13-21), with Kilins being the lone defenseman of the group. In net, the two goaltenders, Darren Smith (junior) and Justin Kapelmaster (sophomore) have split time in the next 20 games to 17 and they have similar stats to each other, so once again we have a team with competent goaltenders.

I, for one, believe this Bulldog team is better than what they’ve been this year, so the Laker cannot sleep on this team.

“Do-do-do do dooooo” – also Europe

If you would have told us, or any other Laker fan at the end of December through January that the Lakers would be fighting for a playoff spot, we would have laughed at you, after going through a large losing streak that involved a few shutouts and poor overall play. The last two weeks they have been in action (before the bye last week), has put their fate in their hands.

As stated in Mike’s article from last weekend, the bottom four teams are only separated by three points, with both UAH and Alaska being tied at 30 points, Ferris at 28, and the Lakers out of the picture at 27. Alaska plays in-state rivals Anchorage who has already been elimated from the playoffs, while Huntsville faces off against Bowling Green.

So, what does this mean? It means that even if the Lakers split the weekend in Big Rapids, there is a chance they make the playoffs. Getting at least 4 points on the weekend is what we really have to hope for, as that will put us past either Alaska or Huntsville, assuming one gets swept. A sweep on the weekend would guarantee at least the final playoff spot, with a potential to get a better matchup.

It’s possible that the Lakers will know their playoff fates at the end of the game Saturday, but it could come down to the Alaska series, which you can almost guarantee they will be listening to on the 5+ hour drive back to the Soo.

The Lakers have been scoring by committee these last few weeks, but of course are still led by senior J.T Henke, who has 27 points on the season, followed by Max Humitz (13-9-22) and Diego Cuglietta (7-15-22). Despite the lack of point production, coming onto the team late in the season, Alexandro Ambrosio, Yuki Miura and Steven Ruggiero have seemed to give this team more depth, speed and hope.

Statistically speaking, Nick Kossoff is still the clear-cut better goalie on this Laker team, but again over the last couple of weekends, former NAHL standout goalie Mareks Mitens has started to close that gap and assuming both goalies stay with the team come the offseason, I fully expect to see either a true goalie tandem, or a really fun fight for that starter slot.

Despite all of this, nothing is guaranteed this weekend. The Lakers have only won a single game cleanly at Ewigleben Arena since the 2009 season and recording a shootout win during this time frame too. But if there a time to rewrite that narrative, it’s this weekend.

As usual, YESFm will have the game locally at 99.5 or online at www.yesfm.net, or through the TuneIn app on your smartphone. WCHA.tv will have a live video feed of the game if you want to watch first hand.

Scoreboard watching on a bye week

Conventional wisdom says a team cannot lose on its bye week.  Conversely, it cannot win either.

Those adages are not neccesarily true.

Lake Superior State enters their final bye week of the season scoreboard watching, as the outcomes of a number of games can make Lakers’ playoff hopes much more dire before the puck drops the following weekend against Ferris State.

The bottom of the WCHA standings is the typical logjam it has been for the past few seasons.  Alabama-Huntsville sits in 6th place with 30 points.  Alaska has 29 points in 7th place, Ferris State is in 8th with 28 points and the Lakers sit in 9th with 27.  In short, 6th and 9th are separated by just three points – or one league win.

The Bulldogs and Nanooks play Minnesota State and Bemidji State respectively this weekend; the Chargers, like the Lakers, are idle.

The following is a small breakdown of each team ahead of Lake Superior State that the Lakers can potentially pass, qualifying for the postseason in the process:

Alabama Huntsville – 30 points, 6th place

Remaining schedule – Home vs Bowling Green

The Chargers are 2-4-0 in their current homestand, being outscored by their opponents 21-16.  They were swept last weekend by the Mavericks, but took the fifth-ranked team to overtime on Friday night before falling 6-1 the next night.  

UAH and Bowling Green met back in December, with the Falcons taking 4 of 6 points in Ohio.  

Alaska – 29 points, 7th place

Remaining schedule – Away vs Bemidji State, Home vs Alaska-Anchorage

The Nanooks have been inconsistent for much of the season.  Their 5-0 win over then No. 7 Minnesota State was followed by three straight losses.  Alaska then followed a home sweep of Ferris State up with a trip to Marquette, where the 20th ranked Wildcats broke out their own brooms.

Alaska and Bemidji State split earlier in the year, with the Nanooks winning in overtime on Friday before falling 3-2 to the host Beavers the next night.  

Concerning the Seawolves, Alaska has won four games against their interstate rival (although two were played as a non-conference series).  All bets are off for a rivalry series, but the Nanooks should be favoured.

Ferris State – 28 points, 8th place

Remaining schedule – Away vs Minnesota State, Home vs Lake Superior

Ferris State has been about as streaky as they come.  Following a three game win streak in the beginning of December, the Bulldogs proceeded to go 1-9 in their next 10 games.  The lone win in that stretch was a 4-0 win over Lake Superior.  While a sweep of Michigan Tech gave the Bulldogs some life, a trip to Alaska the following weekend proved fruitless, as the Nanooks had their brooms in hand.

The Bulldogs face fifth ranked Minnesota State this weekend in Mankato before hosting the Lakers to end the season.  Ferris State has not played the Mavericks yet this year, a team that has laid waste to the rest of the conference (and much of college hockey).

Lake Superior State – 27 points, 9th place

Remaining schedule – Away vs Ferris State

The Lakers will enter their final weekend on a four game winning streak.  Making a desperate Northern Michigan-esque push to make the playoffs, Lake Superior swept Bemidji State on the road before flying to Anchorage and claiming two more wins.

Lake State’s final games of the regular season will take place at Ewigleben Arena, a place that has not been friendly to the Lakers over the years.  Then again, neither Bemidji nor Anchorage have been kind to the anchor either.

While the actions of other teams will play into the Lakers’ postseason hopes, one thing is certain — the Lakers must win one of their final games to have any hope of qualifying. 

The picture will become more clear after this weekend.  It is possible Alaska and Ferris State pull off sweeps, putting them beyond the reach of the Lakers.  Likewise, it is possible they both get swept, leaving them within striking distance.  The Lakers can catch Alabama Huntsville and, depending on how things go, may be crowded around a radio on the bus back to Sault Ste. Marie, intently listening to learn of their postseason fate.