Category: Series Previews

Series Preview: Lake Superior State AT Alaska

 

Alaska: 4-10-2

LSSU: 7-6-1

 

Striking Iron

It was just a few short weeks ago that the Nanooks and Lakers faced each other for the first time this season, where the Nanooks got not only their first win of the year, but the first sweep (albeit with an official tie). Since then they’ve split with Alabama-Huntsville, were swept against Michigan Tech and swept Ferris State. Last week against the Bulldogs marked the start of a three week stretch for the Nanooks of home games before travelling back south to Bemidji.

 

The top three scorers consist of Steven Jandric, Colton Leiter and Chris Jandric, all of whom have 10 points each, with Jandric having 3 game winning goals. Junior netminder Anton Martinsson has started in 10 of Alaska’s 18 games, losing all but two of them, with the two being ties. Freshman Gustavs Grigals has given them all four of their straight wins.

 

Expected Results

In the last two series, the Lakers have won 1 of 4 games, that being against U.P rivals Northern Michigan, where they currently lead in goal differential of +1, with the Cappo Cup series currently tied, and won’t reach it’s conclusion until the second to last series in February. Last weekend’s series against #3 Minnesota-State Mankato went about how I expected, a sweep in favor of the Mavericks. They’re playing at a completely different level than the rest of the league (without having seen Tech play yet), and certainly deserve to be in consideration for #1 in the country.

Nellis, Cuglietta and Torrel still lead the team in scoring, with Anthony Nellis running away with 15 points. Colin Saccoman and Jacob Nordqvist earned WCHA honors for November, those being Defenseman of the Month and Rookie of the Month respectively. Saccoman is certainly an important piece on the Laker’s backend. Nordqvist, a freshman defenseman, is looking to be that next anchor piece on the blueline after Sacco. Congrats to those two! In goal, Kossoff has pretty much run away with the starter, having a 5-2-1 record compared to Mitens 2-4-0 record.

There will be a lot for the Lakers to deal with this week: Travelling across the country, the jetlag, maybe actual polar bears and moose. But the Carlson Center features an Olympic sized sheet of ice. With our slate of international players, managing this should be easier than it has in the past, as most international leagues use the large sheet. 

 

The games this weekend start at 11:07pm local time, or 7:07pm Alaska time. 99.5 YesFM will have a feed, both locally over the air and online at  YesFM.net and on TuneIn. I am not sure if it will be Bill Crawford, Matt Pocket or if we will be hearing Alaska’s feed like we normally do. And like every weekend, FloHockey, the official streaming service of the WCHA will be carrying the game. As of now, I am unaware of any viewing parties, probably due to the late start time.

#4 Minnesota-State Mankato AT #20 Lake Superior State

 

#4 Minnesota State-Mankato: 10-2-0
#20 Lake Superior State: 7-4-1

Mighty Magical Minnesota Mavericks May Muster Men

Another year, another Mankato team in the national rankings, and for good reason. They swept now #8 Boston University , stole a game at #16 North Dakota (and came within a goal of tying for the Saturday game), swept instate rivals #10 Minnesota. In addition to these ranked wins, they’ve also handedly swept Alaska & Ferris, but split last weekend against Bemidji.

Leading the team in scoring are a pair of juniors and a sophomore: Parker Tuomie, Marc Michaelis and Jared Spooner. The three combine for 48 points. The netminders are a whole ‘nother animal, having the duo of senior Mathias Israelsson and freshman Dryden McKay split time. Israelsson has won all 8 games he has appeared in, whereas McKay is 3-2-0 in five appearances.

Lucky Lakers Last

After splitting with Upper Peninsula rivals Northern Michigan University, may people, myself included, did not think the Lakers would remain in the rankings, despite the loss being sealed with an open net. The loss also marked the fourth straight Saturday that the Lakers have lost on.
Gage Torrel, Ashton Calder & Brendan McKay each had a multi-point weekend, with defenseman Steven Ruggiero scoring the lone goal Saturday night.
Minnesota-State has been the Lakers kryptonite since the nWCHA started, having won all but a single regular season game, having won 5-1 in the 2016-2017 series, and won game 2 of 2015-2016’s WCHA playoffs.

While they did lose on Saturday night, other than some slow skating, the team seemed to play better than what we’ve been used to for a Saturday, which is great, though there are things that need to be cleaned up

As always, show up to support your Lakers at the Taffy Abel Arena this weekend. Puck drops at 7:07pm. Those of you that are out of town can listen to the game with Bill Crawford and John Forest on 99.5 YESFM, at yesfm.net or on TuneIn.

Series Preview: NMU @ #20 LSSU – Cappo Cup, Round 1

 

Northern Michigan: 5-7-0

#20 Lake Superior State: 6-3-1

 

“I am Boo the little tiger…”

The early part of the season has been tough on Northern Michigan, who coming off a fantastic season last year was hoping to start out strong, but they have faced three ranked opponents before this weekend (#4 St. Cloud State, #9 Bowling Green and #17 Cornell), before coming to Sault Sainte Marie and taking on the new #20 Lakers. Of the three previous series, Northern has stolen one game from Bowling Green, a 2-0 shutout for Atte Tolvanen, who has come out of nowhere for the Wildcats over the last few seasons.

 

NMU’s top three scorers for the year involve a pair of senior defencemen – Troy Loggins and Adam Rockwood, and surprisingly a defenseman, Philip Beaulieu. In terms of straight goals, you can add Darien Craighead to the list, a junior with 5 goals on the year.

 

Grant Potulny, 25-15-3 in his second season at Northern Michigan has been riding Atte Tolvanen in net, who has appeared in all 12 games this season. It’s only 12 games in, but one has to imagine that Tolvanen has got to be feeling that workload, and the Lakers may be able to exploit that this weekend.

 

“Tomorrow, noon, we hit the air and then take up the strain/And watch the Mary Ellen Carter rise again”

The Lakers this year have been on a bit of a wild ride. Starting the season with sweeps at both Merrimack and Alabama Huntsville, stealing a game from #12 Michigan, getting swept by an upstart Alaska team and really giving it to Bowling Green 5-0 Friday night. 

If you’ve been following some of the various media outlets for college hockey, it’s been a fun week being a Laker fan. Anthony Nellis was featured in a USCHO article, the Lakers were ranked #20 by USCHO with 78 points, Sault native Ashton Calder scored his first collegiate goal; was named WCHA Co-Rookie of the week; and that goal was also the game winner in the 5-0 blowout of Bowling Green which also made the WCHA Plays of the Week.

Hopefully the team doesn’t eat too much turkey tonight, as they’ll need to be in top shape this weekend. The Lakers have come out of the gate swinging, and I believe could be ranked higher both within the WCHA and nationally if it wasn’t for the plague of late goals. This Wildcat team won’t just lay down, especially with the rivalry the way it is.

 

Puck drops both nights at 7:07pm. They can be heard locally at 99.5 YESfm, or online at www.yesfm.net or on TuneIn. You can see the action yourself at the Taffy Abel Arena, or online at Flohockey.tv.

Series Preview: Lake Superior State at Bowling Green University

Bowling Green: 7-2-2

LSSU: 5-2-1

 

Flying into #10

The Falcons this year have had an interesting schedule, having played 8 non-conference games, and only two series worth of WCHA play. Amongst those NC games, they split a home-and-home with Robert Morris, where the home team took the win, went up 3 points on #19 Western Michigan and dunked #4 Ohio State 8-2. This kind of play has landed them in the #10 spot this week, after splitting with Northern Michigan and forcing a tie & win with UAA.

 

They are led in scoring by a trio of sophomores: Max Johnson  (6-7-13), Brandon Kruse (3-10-13) and Connor Ford (6-5-11). Ryan Bednard looks to be their go-to netminder so far this season, having played in 9 of the 11 games. He currently has a 1.33 GAA and a .943 Save %. Eric Dop has similar numbers, though he does only have 3 goals against to Bednard’s 12.

 

Chris Bergeron returns for his 9th season as the Falcons head coach, with a record of 146-143-39.

 

“If it’s brown, lay down. If it’s black, fight back. If it’s white, goodnight.”

The Lakers learned the hard way the above phrase. They both fought back against the Nanooks and was fought against. Even though it was stated both on this website along with other online outlets, the Nanooks were a better team than their record gave them credit for, but it doesn’t make the sweep any easier to swallow.

 

Not only will the Lakers have to fight back against a very good Bowling Green team. The good news is that the Lakers tend to play pretty well against them, and have been some of the more fun games that I’ve been able to witness.

 

There is one takeaway from the last couple of weeks that the coaching staff will need to clean up: Using the bottom two lines more. I don’t have the numbers, but it certainly seemed to me that the fourth line had maybe 4 minutes total last weekend, with the third getting just a few more. Yes, it’s great that the top 2 lines are firing on all cylinders, but history has proven, both in the NCAA and the NHL that you need to be able to roll all 4 lines to win championships.

 

As always, the game will be on http://www.yesfm.net, or can be seen on Flohockey.tv. If you living near Bowling Green, please support your Lakers at the Slater Family Ice Arena. Puck drops at 7:37pm Friday and 7:07pm Saturday. Also, for those in the Sault, Laker Athletics will be hosting a viewing party at Buffalo Wild Wings starting at 7:30pm Friday.

Series Preview: University of Alaska at LSSU

 

Alaska: 0-7-1

LSSU: 5-1-0

 

Bad Intros and Bad Scoring

(Seriously, look up the Nanook’s old intro video).

Alaska has had a very tough schedule to open their season which has only allowed them to score 9 points in 8 games. Their top three in scoring have a total of11 points between them, and only 3 goals. After lighting up Simon Fraser for 13, the Nanooks have faced Arizona State, #5 St. Cloud State, #9 Denver & #7 Minnesota State on the road, save for St. Cloud, which was played in Fairbanks.

This week, they travel to the lower 48 yet again to Sault Sainte Marie. They bring in 10 Freshman, with only 4 seniors returning this season. Their head coach is a man named Erik Largen, who previously coached for Marian down in Division III hockey, where he went 18-4-4.

The University of Alaska skates on a large Olympic sized ice sheet at home, so they are nearly always a good skating team, and with all the traveling they’ve done as part of the early season, they are a team that the Lakers can’t underestimate. Hell, they only lost to Denver in regulation once, losing in Overtime that Saturday night.

 

All Aboard The Hype Train!

The Lakers have started their year out at 5-1, losing last Saturday to their former CCHA rivals, Michigan and their head coach Mel Pearson. They’ll be looking to built that momentum, and on paper, there doesn’t seem much that Alaska can really do to slow it down, but the team has to give it their all.

The Laker’s scoring leaders are led by two seniors, Anthony Nellis (5-5-10) and Gage Torrel(0-7-7), followed closely by upstart freshman Jacob Nordqvist (1-5-6). Add in Hampus Eriksson, and you have 4 point-per-game players.

The goaltending save % looks good for both Mitens and Kossoff, at .933 and .900 respectively. Their Goals Against Average is a bit subpar, as they’ve been getting peppered with shots. Whoever stands in net this weekend will have to try and stay awake and not let any soft goals in.

 

Puck drops both nights at 7:07pm. They can be heard locally at 99.5 YESfm, or online at www.yesfm.net or on TuneIn. You can see the action yourself at the Taffy Abel Arena, or online at Flohockey.tv.

Series Preview: GLSW Weekend! #12 Michigan at Lake Superior State

 

(#12) Michigan: 3-2-0

Lake Superior State: 4-0-0

 

From #4 to #12 – Hail to the…Victors?

Michigan started the year off at #4 in the national polls, but slipped after a drumming put on by unranked Vermont, maintained their rank after beating Waterloo, but slipped to #9 before losing 6-3 to a stacked USNTP U-18 Team, then to #11 for their match with WMU. After splitting with #19 Western Michigan, they dropped to #12, even after sweeping St. Lawrence at home.

The Wolverines return only two of their top 5 scorers this season: Defenseman Quinn Hughes and forward Jake Slaker. Their top scorer last season was Cooper Marody, a junior, but he decided to go pro, and is currently with the Edmonton Oilers organization. This will also be a homecoming of sorts for Luke Morgan, who decommitted from the Lakers after an outstanding freshman year. It just so happens that former Michigan Tech head coach, and Damon Whitten’s former boss Mel Pearson was tapped to replace longtime & Hall of Fame head coach Red Berenson.

While this will not be the first time the Wolverines and Lakers have faced each other since the dissolution of the former CCHA, this will mark the first time Michigan has been back to Abel Arena since the 2012-2013 season, where the two teams split the weekend.

Even Keel for the Lakers

There’s been some nervous optimism going through the fanbase here in the Sault going into this weekend, with the Lakers being 4-0 on the year and 6-0 counting the exhibition series.

Of course, we’re hoping that the record goes to 6-0, especially considering that this weekend is Great Lake State Weekend! And we will have two Laker Legends in the house, being inducted into the LSSU Hall of fame: Former goaltender Darrin Madeley (1989-1992) and Mark Astley (1988-1992). Madeley had a fairly long post- college career, filling in for the Ottawa Senators. Astley played primarily in Switzerland, but had a few stints with the Buffalo Sabres. He also has his own banner hung up in Abel Arena, as he played with the Canadian National Team for 54 games, ultimately winning silver in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.

This will be the first major test for the Lakers, going against a nationally ranked team.  I don’t know if anyone can say that Michigan has more to lose than the Lakers have more to gain. Either way, it will be fun to see the blue and maize return to the Sault, and the stands ought to be packed.

 

On Friday night, the puck will drop at 7:37pm at Taffy Abel Arena, and 7:07pm Saturday night. If you have not ordered your tickets, I would urge everyone to order ahead of time to 1) guarantee your seat, and 2) avoid the long lines. If you are not able to make it to the game, or you are out of town, you can listen to the Voice of the Lakers Bill Crawford on 99.5 YESfm over the air or online, or watch the game on FloHockey.tv.

Series Preview: Lake  Superior State vs University of Alabama-Huntsville

UAH: 0-6-0

LSSU: 2-0-0

 

Charging in the Wrong Direction

The Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville are off to a pretty rough start this year, opening their season with four straight road losses, then two more at home against Arizona State. To be fair, however, the road losses were all against NCHC powerhouse teams, having faced the top three teams in that conference.

Mike Corbett returns as the bench boss, also returning are two of their top 4 points –getters in Defenseman Kurt Gosselin and Christian Rajic – Josh Kestner graduated last season, who was the top point-scorer, and Tyler Poulsen, who is now with the Rapid City Rush of the ECHL.

The Chargers in the coaches’ poll came in 9th in voting, 5 points behind #7 LSSU. In the media poll, conducted by UAHhockey, however, they were chosen to be #7, 12 points ahead of #8 LSSU. While the preseason polls don’t really mean much, it does show that these two teams are behind the same eight-ball, and this series could help decide who gets into the playoffs come March.

A New Seasons Means A New Hope

It was quite the offseason for the Lakers this summer. J.T Henke, Kyle Chatham, Aiden Wright and Ryan Renz all graduated, with Henke being the top scorer for the Lakers. Along with them, defenseman Matt McArdle graduated, and decided to transfer to Merrimack. Luckily the reunion went our way. All of this was topped off with a four-year contract extension for bench boss Damon Whitten, the departure of longtime assistant coach Rich Metro to Shattuck-St. Marys and the hiring of Zack Cisek from Notre Dame.

While the Lakers may have lost Henke, they have gained some talent in return. Many of the incoming freshman forwards have been noticeable on the ice. Looking at just the two Merrimack games, two freshmen, Pierre-Luc Veillette and Jacob Nordqvist are both tied for first in total points.

They return all three goalies. While it sounds like the starting two are basically set in stone, Bengert certainly has a chance at starting at some point this season if either Kossoff or Mitens gets into a slump. This is also the first time in a while where it feels like the third goalie will really push the top two to be better & to keep their spot. All in all this is a good thing, and should make for an entertaining season.

This weekend’s series will be hosted at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville, AL. Puck drop is at 7:07CT, so you can catch Matt Pocket on 99.5 Yesfm at 8:07 EST. You can also stream the series from FloHockey.tv

Series Preview: Barrett Wedding

 

Brittany & Mike Record (as of 10/13/2018): 2243.5-0-0

 

“A long time ago in a (county) far, far away…”

So, normally in this spot we’d be talking about who the Lakers are playing this weekend, and look at the matchup, but this week we have an exhibition series against NIppising University, which will likely be more about line combinations than anything else.

Instead, there is a more important match being made this weekend, and that’s the wedding of two of my best friends, Brittany Litchard and Mike Barrett. It’s been six long years since they’ve started dating, and after about a year of being engaged, they will finally be tying the knot. But how did we get to this point?

“…That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you…”

Mike & Brittany started dating in the waning days of the summer of 2012. I had known Brittany for about a year, as she had previously dated one of my roommates in college. My only impression of Mike at the time was based off of what Brittany had told me about him, which painted him in a much different light than how he was.

Having moved back to the Sault at the tail end of that year, after graduating in April, I’ve been lucky enough to witness their relationship grow. They’ve been through some trying times together and have come out on top.

It’s certainly a cliché to say that a couple is perfect for each other, but for these two, it seems to hold true. A weakness of one is the strength of another, and because of that both have grown in ways that nobody could’ve expected having seen them together in their early days.

 

Saturday will mark their 2243rd day as a couple. Surrounded by a slew of family and friends, they will tie the knot near the Straits of Mackinac, which fittingly joins two of the Great Lakes, Michigan and Huron. It’ll mark the end of one six year journey and the start of the rest of their lives.

From me, personally, I just want to thank Mike and Brittany for allowing me to be a part of their special day & a part of their lives. Congratulations.

Series Preview: Lake Superior State @ Merrimack

Merrimack: 0-0-0

LSSU: 0-0-0

 

Merrimack’s Mother is making Scott Borek Marry Merrimack

This weekend will have a couple of familiar faces for long time Laker fans. Former LSSU bench boss Scott Borek (LSSU record of 76-94-15 between 1996-2001) is now the head coach of the Merrimack Warriors, after spending some time as an assistant at the University of New Hampshire (2002-2015) & most recently with Providence (2015-2018). 

Joining him on the bench is recent LSSU grad and defenseman Matt McArdle. McArdle while with the Lakers played in 83 games and tallied a total of 10 points. He was able to transfer as a graduate at the end of last season, and it appears he moved back east, though I’d like to believe he just got a bit confused since both the Warriors and Lakers wear the same colored uniforms.

The Warriors lost their top 3 point scorers last season, but looks like they, like the Lakers, return all three of their goaltenders. There isn’t much else to be said about this team, with it being the first weekend of the season, but they do have a Winnipeg draft pick on their team in Johnathan Kovacevic (74th overall, 2017), but they were picked to be dead last in the Hockey East.

 

“There’s this neat little lass and her name is (Merrimack)/Make no mistake, she’s the girl I’m gonna track”

After a four year contract extension this past summer, head coach Damon Whitten is back for his fifth year behind the Laker’s bench. He is joined again by long time NHLer Mike York and newly hired Zack Cisek. The trio have a few things in common: They are all from down state & are graduates of Michigan State. This has nothing to do with the series, but it is a ‘fun’ fact.

I’m going to opt to link to our season preview here rather than talk about who the Lakers are returning and such (remember, work smart, not hard). 

Now, while the Lakers were not listed as last in the WCHA in either the coach’s or media polls (that honor went to Alaska-Anchorage), there are many that think the Lakers will again miss playoffs this year, so both of these teams have that in common. This weekend’s series will be a good indicator as to what we may expect to see for the rest of the season. But it is important to remember that it’s also a 15 hour bus ride for our boys in blue.

This is also the first time since playing Vermont in the Catamount Cup in 2015-2016 that the Lakers have seen a Hockey East team, and the first series since Notre Dame in 2014-2015.

 

For you Laker fans out east, the games will be held at the J. Thom Lawler Rink in North Andover, MA at 7pm Saturday and 4pm Sunday. For those who cannot go to the game, like most of us, YesFM will be streaming the games at http://www.yesfm.net, though I am not sure if it will be the Merrimack feed or if the great Bill Crawford is making the journey. In order to stream the game, you will need to purchase a 24 hour pass from https://merrimackathletics.com/watch/, which will cost $6.95. It also appears that Merrimack is offering the audio for this weekend’s series for free if there are any issues with the YesFM stream.

2018-19 Season Preview

SAULT STE. MARIE — Season number 53 of Laker hockey is ready to commence.

The Lake Superior State Lakers will begin their fifth season under head coach Damon Whitten on October 7th, as they travel to North Andover, Massachusetts to face the Merrimack Warriors.

The 2017-18 Lakers finished 10-22-4 overall, and 8-17-3 in conference play, losing out on the final playoff spot on the last day of the regular season.  Lake Superior hopes to return to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) playoff picture.

Before the season gets underway, a quick look at the roster is in order.  21 players return to the squad.  Joining them are eight newcomers all of whom are freshmen.  Four members (one forward and three defensemen) were lost to graduation and two (one forward and one defenseman) did not return.

As we did in our season wrapup back in the spring, both of us are putting our own thoughts on each position as we go along.

Offense:

Dennis: Of the eight freshmen, five are forwards, including local standout Ashton Calder.  Also new to the team is Pierre-Luc Veillette, Miroslav Mucha, Melvin Karlsson & Owen Guy. There is one thing this whole class has, and that is scoring ability. Each one of these guys were either above, or just below, the point-a-game mark. This is huge, although Karlsson, coming from Sweden, would’ve played on the larger ice surface so let’s hope his game transitions well onto the North American sheet.

In addition to the freshmen, we have plenty of returning firepower, including captain Diego Cuglietta and speedster Max Humitz (who had a team high 13 goals last year). The rest of the stable also look solid, but personally I am excited to see what Yuki Miura will do with a full season under his belt, as he was hindered by injury and NCAA clearing issues for most of last season, along with relative newcomer Alex Ambrosio who really impressed me when he came in after the holiday break.

Mike: Cuglietta, along with Gage Torrel, will be co-captains this season and fellow senior Anthony Nellis will don an A as an alternate captain.  All three have been productive throughout their time in Sault Ste. Marie and are poised for big years as seniors. While Torrel did seem snakebitten last season, he still had 16 points, good for 6th on the team. The three seniors all saw their production go down a bit in 2017 — Torrel’s was just the most noticeable.

In addition to J.T. Henke, who graduated, the Lakers will also not see Jake Hand return.  Early last season, it looked as though the Torontonian was going to break out. While he did have a career high 12 points, much of his production came early in the year as he was unable to keep his success going.

There are eight upperclassmen forwards on this squad, which the Lakers haven’t seen in many years.  The majority of them have been major point producers in their time here (each has at least two double digit point seasons), but the likes of Bryan Basilico, Ian Johnston and Brendan McKay have struggled to get on the score sheet.  Basilico had four points in 2017-18, which was the most for any of the three in their first two seasons. Good play can be contagious, however, so maybe if the rest of the offense can be productive, it can rub off on these guys too.

Defense:

Mike: On the blueline, Lake Superior lost four defensemen, all of whom saw significant time in their Laker careers. Captain Aidan Wright, assistant captain Ryan Renz and three-time recipient of the team’s Most Valuable Defenseman award Kyle Chatham, all graduated last spring.  Throw in Matt McArdle, who will be playing as a graduate transfer at Merrimack, and the Lakers have lost a group that logged many minutes on the back end.

Sophomores Tyler Anderson and Will Reidell saw plenty of action in their rookie season.  While it was apparent that they were fresh to the college level, they showed flashes of promise.  It awaits to be seen how they will develop.

Dennis: This is the most worrisome part. We lost some very solid players. It’s hard to gauge defensemen using websites like Elite Prospects, since it doesn’t show time on ice, but I feel comfortable saying that Mitchell Oliver, an incoming freshman, will be picking up a lot of that slack. Oliver, in 54 games as the captain of the Alberni Valley Bulldogs of the BCHL logged an impressive 39 points while also earning 64 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he had six points in seven games.

(editor’s note: on the October 2nd edition of the Laker Hockey Show, Whitten said it’s looking as though Oliver may not be eligible this season due to an academic requirement)

But also returning are juniors Collin Saccoman and Steven Ruggerio, along with sophomore Lukas Kälble. Saccoman and Kälble both were hurt on the Denver trip last season, which crippled the team, and Ruggerio, an Anaheim Ducks draft pick (2015, #178 overall) , was dealing with his own injuries while sitting out for half the year due to him transferring from Providence. When these three guys were healthy though, the team changed completely. We also didn’t see much of Bennet Vida last season, outside of some of the exhibition games, where he looked solid, but apparently needed some more time to develop.

Even with these returning players, along with the incoming players, I’m nervous about injuries, and who we have to step into those roles. I’m hoping whomever the odd-men out are really stepped up their game in the offseason.

Goaltending:

Dennis: There isn’t much to say here. We return all three of our goalies (Roman Bengert did not play last season). There are some questions going into the season though. The Kossoff/Mitens tandem was shakey to say the least last season, but each showed flashes of brilliance. Nick really needs to return to his freshman form. Mareks’ goaltending style seems to be really flashy, which can be fun to watch, but if he doesn’t get that puck, he seems to find himself on the ice, scrambling to get back up. Honestly, I don’t care if that’s the case as long he can recover quickly and not let in soft goals.

But with Roman seemingly ready to go this season, having a third goalie push the starting two, whomever they may be. Competition is a good thing.

Mike: The only time we’ve seen Bengert in any kind of action was during last year’s Blue vs Gold game.  In that game, he had very little to do, as most of the action was in the other end in his period of play.

While we did see more goalie changes than usual last season, I don’t believe we can fully fault the guys between the pipes.  When they could see the shots, they were stopping them most of the time. Kossoff had a save percentage of .911 while Mitens was at .897.  Often times, coaches use pulling a goaltender as a move to try and energize the team. It’s also worth noting that Kossoff played the game of his life in Denver last season, making 63 saves on 66 shots and setting a school record in the process.

Coaching staff:

Mike: Damon Whitten, as mentioned, is back for his fifth season behind the Laker bench.  In his first four seasons, he has compiled a record of 43-80-18. The Brighton, Michigan native signed a four year extension during the off season, meaning expectations are high that Whitten will be able to turn the team around.  Also returning is assistant coach Mike York, who will be in his second season with the Lakers.

Perhaps the most notable news to affect the Lakers over the summer was the departure of assistant coach Rich Metro.  A Sault native, Metro accepted an offer to coach the boys U-16 team at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minnesota. One of the most prestigious prep schools in the nation, SSM gains Metro after spending eight years (in two stints) behind the bench at Lake Superior.

Replacing Metro is a Zach Cisek (pronounced SIZE-ick).  A graduate of Michigan State, Cisek spent a couple of seasons at Miami University as a graduate assistant before moving on to Notre Dame.  A former goaltender, he worked closely with their goaltenders, including Cale Morris, who went on to win the Mike Richter Award as the top collegiate goaltender.

Dennis: While this isn’t the place to debate coach Whitten’s extension, I think that will be a sort of cloud hanging over his head heading into the season. I also don’t have much to add concerning Mike York or Zach Cisek. I do hope that Coach York will continue to impress upon the players, namely forwards, what it takes to be successful on the ice, seeing as he played in 579 NHL games. Also to note, Zach Cisek helped Notre Dame to a Frozen Four appearance last season, ultimately losing to winners Minnesota-Duluth.

But the loss of Rich Metro is the biggest news going into the season. We’ve heard all sorts of rumors about how the coaching staff got along, but Rich always felt like he was kind of the emotional core of the staff, never seemed to have a bad thing to say about anybody and would spin even the worst trait into something to look forward to – that’s something that’s hard to replicate. But these things should serve him well at Shattuck.

Schedule: Following with the four year pattern the WCHA appears to be following with its scheduling, the Lakers will essentially play a similar slate to their 2016-17 campaign.  The five squads they played four times that season (Ferris State, Minnesota State, Alabama Huntsville, Northern Michigan and Alaska) will be seen four times this year. Michigan Tech and Bemidji State play the Lakers twice in Sault Ste. Marie, while Alaska Anchorage and Bowling Green will host Lake Superior in their only meetings of the season.

As per usual, Ferris State will be the final opponent of the regular season.  Unlike last season, the games will be at the Taffy Abel Arena, meaning the home slate will not end in January this year.

The non-conference schedule is a mixed bag; Lake Superior will host Michigan, travel to Merrimack, and play Michigan State and either Michigan Tech or Michigan again at the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI).

Michigan returns to the Soo for the first time since the dissolution of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).

As mentioned, the Lakers will open their season against Merrimack — only the second Hockey East school (after Vermont) that Lake Superior has faced since Whitten became head coach.  This series is full of intrigue, as former Lakers head coach Scott Borek was named bench boss of the Warriors in May.

Finally, the Lakers will be making a return to the GLI in Detroit for the first time since 1999.  The GLI has been held annually since 1965 and has traditionally involved Michigan Tech, Michigan, Michigan State and a fourth team chosen at-large.  This will be the Lakers fourth appearance. They finished 3rd in 1977, 2nd in 1996 and 4th in 1999.

Outlook:

Mike: On paper, there are many things to look at that both give hope and cause concern.  The question marks on the blue line and the comparatively down years of some players on the forward unit do raise some concerns.  On the flipside, the goaltending showed last season that it could keep the team in a game. And while some of the big point producers of years past had down years in 2017-18, the law of averages says they should be able to bounce back this year.

Unlike in previous seasons, the Lakers looked better after Christmas than before.  Maybe it was the team jelling, maybe it was the presence of Ruggiero, Miura and Ambrosio in the lineup.  Nobody can argue February was a bad month with four straight road wins. On paper, the team should be able to build off that late season push and put the rest of the WCHA on notice.  On paper.

In practice…that awaits to be seen.

Dennis: A number of fans have been asking how I think the team will do this year, and my standard reply is thus: On paper, I think this team has the skill to shock not only the league, but the NCAA at large. With these powerhouse freshman forwards coming in, along with some leadership on the back end, the Lakers are poised to make their games a high scoring affair.

However, there is one big unknown stopping me from getting too excited: the coaching staff.

I had a paragraph set up talking about why, but I think summarizing it up with Coach Whitten’s overall record of 43-90-18 over his first four years tells the story here. Lake States’ new Athletic Director David Paitson must have seen something in Whitten to give him a four year extension with that record, and he does have a bit of hockey operations experience, so like most of last season, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here, but the extension does have many fans worried, so the team will have to have continual success throughout the season, not just a hot streak at the start and end of the season like we experienced last year.