NMU: 13-22-4, 10-15-3-1 WCHA
LSSU: 11-18-7, 8-13-7-4 WCHA
This week opens up regular play for the Lake Superior State Lakers, and it just so happens to be against in-state, in-U.P. rivals the Northern Michigan University Wildcats in a home-and-home non-conference set. Both teams are coming off of disappointing seasons and both have had some major changes in the locker room. But both teams have the same goals on their minds: First, win the Cappo Cup. Second, get into the NCAA tournament.
Wild(cat) changes in Marquette:
The Wildcats made the WCHA playoffs as the 8th seed and took the eventual champions, Bemidji State, to three games. Just making the playoffs was an accomplishment for Northern Michigan, however, as very little went right for the ‘Cats in the first half of the season. As a result, NMU stood with a woeful 4-16-2 overall record at the start of 2017. It took the patented Walt Kyle second half turnaround to get the Wildcats to even contend for a playoff spot. In addition, they tied Wisconsin(B1G) 2-2 in two non-conference series; and a nine game winning streak, sprinkled with a five game shutout streak for goalie Atte Tolvanen, which fell just short of former Lake State star goalie Blaine Lacher. Tolvanen went for 339:05 without a goal against, where Lacher went 375:01 in route to the 1994 NCAA championship.
Lucky for NMU, Tolvanen will be coming back for what will be his junior season. Also returning is senior Robbie Payne, who had the second most points on the team behind the now graduated Dominik Shine. On the blueline, sophomore Philip Beaulieu and Jordan Klimek return.
Northern will also be carrying seven freshman this year: one goalie, two defensemen and four forwards. They will have to step up and help lift this team up.
The major news in the offseason was the firing of head coach Walt Kyle. There was some controversy surrounding Kyle’s departure that came out in the days that followed the announcement, but they hired former Minnesota assistant coach Grant Potulny, who helped the Gophers to a half-dozen regular season championships and nearly as many NCAA appearances. I think everyone who follows college hockey knows just how strong Minnesota has been, so this hiring should have Northern fans excited.
Lakers setting sail for playoffs
If you just looked at the first month of the 2016-2017 season, you would have expected the Lakers to make it to the WCHA finals, or at least host a game on their home ice. The Lakers started the season 5-0 against NCAA opponents, outscoring the opposition 27-11 in that time, and 30-15 for the month of October. November started the same way, beating Minnesota State 5-1, but after this, the team was inconsistent but showed flashes of brilliance before being trounced by Michigan Tech in the WCHA quarterfinals, being outscored 14-4 in two games.
The Lakers have had their fair share of changes in the offseason. Last year’s leading goal scorer, sophomore Mitch Hults, left the Lakers at the end of the season to join the San Diego Gulls of the American Hockey League. Likewise, standout blueliner Kristofers Bindulis joined the Hershey Bears of the AHL following the season finale. Luke Morgan transferred to Michigan after only one year with the Lakers after netting 22 points in 36 games. Goaltender Gordy Deifel used his last year of eligibility and is now with the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL.
Returning players include forwards J.T Henke, Diego Cuglietta and Anthony Nellis, who each had outstanding seasons and Collin Saccoman will be anchoring the blueline alongside the newly named captain Aiden Wright. Saccoman ended last season tied for fourth in blocked shots across the entire NCAA with 94 blocked shots, which is 2.61 blocks per games played.
Once again the Lakers have their fair share of freshman, with eight freshmen and one sophomore transfer coming in. Included in these players are two goalies, Mareks Mitens and Roman Bengert, each have impressive resumes, having been named Goaltender of the Year in each of their leagues, and Mitens being named the NAHL MVP after a record –setting season.
The blueline will have four new members battling each week for a spot, and they are some big guys, averaging a height of nearly 6’3.
Three players join the forward corp, with Hampus Erikkson being the most noteable standing at 6’6”. Hailing from Sweden, Erikkson joined the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL last season, Posting 17-38=55 points in 57 regular season outings. He had 2-6=8 in 7 playoff games. The Lakers hope that will transition to the NCAA level.
With just these notable examples, this writer believes that the Lakers have shore up some of the deficiencies that many fans thought they would have after the losses from last season.
Give me a Cup of that Cappo:
The Cappo Cup was first awarded by the late Reverend Monsignor Louis Cappo, a pastor from Baltic, MI, but spent much of his life along the shores of Lake Superior. He was a member of the LSSU Board of Trustees, was given the Northern Michigan University President’s Award; These are what links the two schools, and what lead to him creating the Cappo Cup in 1991.
The cup goes to whichever team takes either 1) the season series or in the event of a tie 2)outscores opponents during the season series. NMU holds the series record, by our count of 15-9.
The puck drops Friday at 7:07 PM at the Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Sainte Marie, MI & Saturday at 7:00 PM at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, MI. Both games can be heard both locally and on the net at 99.5 YesFM.