SAULT STE. MARIE – The Lake Superior State Lakers kicked off the 2017-18 season on Sunday, October 1st with a matchup against Laurentian University at the Taffy Abel Arena. The Lakers, under head coach Damon Whitten, overcame a slow start to defeat the Voyageurs 3-2 on the strength of two third period goals.
The Voyageurs got on the board first when defenseman Jayme Forslund put the puck past Laker netminder Nick Kossoff for a power play goal. The visitors from Sudbury controlled play throughout much of the first period, outshooting the Lakers 10-5 in that period.
The Lakers tied things up later in the period when forward Jake Hand slipped the puck behind Voyageurs goaltender Joel Vienneau. Vienneau was the goaltender for Laurentian when the Lakers played them in an exhibition game to start the 2016-17 season, making 50 saves in that game.
In the second period, Laurentian reclaimed the lead early, when Tyler Shaw intercepted a pass and streaked in on Kossoff. Shaw put the puck over the left pad of Kossoff to make the score 2-1. The Lakers gradually shook off their sluggish start, outshooting the Voyageurs 17-8 for the period. Despite the shot differential, Shaw’s goal was the only one of the second period.
“I thought we responded well and really began to handle the pace,” said Whitten. “We had a really strong finish, from halfway through the second period on. We controlled play and did a really good job.”
To start the third period, Laurentian pulled goaltender Vienneau in favor of Charlie Millen. The Lakers’ offensive pressure finally enabled them to cash in with a power play goal by Diego Cuglietta. Cuglietta collected a rebound off the stick of freshman forward Hampus Erikkson and scored on Millen’s right side to tie the game.
Barely a minute later, forward Max Humitz knocked the puck over the left shoulder of Millen, putting the Lakers ahead for good. Humitz was one of the leading scorers for the Lakers last season, and was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) All Rookie team.
Lake Superior outshot Laurentian 41-21 on the game, and dominated the shots in the third period, 19-3.
“After watching the blue and gold game, I was concerned with our conditioning, but I thought we looked good out there in the third period,” said Whitten. “We had a couple of guys who played some minutes, but we had a good pace, good legs, so maybe we’re a little bit better than we thought following Saturday.”
Following the game, Whitten praised the play of many of his players, including Hand and defenseman Matt McArdle as well as his senior class.
Kossoff finished regulation with 19 saves on 21 shots. Laurentian’s Vienneau had 23 saves on 24 shots and Millen chalked up 15 saves on 17 shots for a composite total of 38 saves on 41 shots.
On special teams, Laurentian had one power play goal on four opportunities, while the Lakers cashed in on one power play goal on nine chances. Neither team allowed a shorthanded goal.
Despite the Lakers winning the game in regulation, a five minute 3 on 3 overtime period was played to help Lake Superior get some practice in 3 on 3. Last season, the WCHA implemented a 3 on 3 overtime to be played if a game was tied after regulation and still tied following the NCAA-mandated five minute 5 on 5 overtime.
In the overtime, junior forward Anthony Nellis slipped the puck through the five hole of goaltender Millen to end the session.
“I guess we’ll count that as two wins,” Whitten joked. “We won in regulation and in overtime too.”
Lake Superior officially opens the season on Friday, October 6th with a non-conference home-and-home series against Upper Peninsula rivals Northern Michigan. The Wildcats will have a new face calling shots behind the bench, as former Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny replaces longtime head coach Walt Kyle.
“They are a total unknown this year,” said Whitten on Northern Michigan. “I’m expecting a much different style of play or some differences for sure. We will have to be sharp on the bench to help our players adjust.”
The Friday game starts at 7:07 p.m. at the Taffy Abel Arena, while the Saturday matchup will take place at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, Michigan, also at 7:07 p.m.