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.

Eriksson goal propels Lakers to sweep of Chargers

Hampus Eriksson (24) netted the game winner for Lake Superior against Alabama Huntsville, giving the Lakers a series sweep (Mike Barrett/LHB)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Minor penalties come with power plays that last exactly two minutes of game time.  No more, less only if a goal is scored by the team with the power play.

Anybody who has been around the game, however, will say the power play doesn’t truly end until the penalized team regains control of the puck.

Hampus Eriksson’s game winner Saturday night is not on the books as a power play goal.  But, with the goal coming just four seconds after the expiration of a penalty, the argument exists that it was a power play tally.

Lake Superior (4-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) needed a two goal third period to rally past Alabama Huntsville (0-8-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) in the second game of their weekend series, picking up a series sweep in the process.

The Chargers, who are hungry for their first win of the season, struck first early in the second period on a goal by Jack Jeffers.  The freshman potted his second goal of the season on Lakers goaltender Mareks Mitens, who earned the start from head coach Damon Whitten.

With the shots close to even after two periods (18-17 in favour of the Chargers), Alabama Huntsville, in front of a home crowd of 3083, came out firing away at Mitens in the final period.  The native of Ventspils, Latvia, made several big saves to keep his team in the game.

Lake Superior found the back of the net just past the 7:00 mark of the third period when Anthony Nellis connected for his third goal of the season.  Assisted by Gage Torrel and Eriksson, the Breakyville, Quebec native got in all alone on Sinclair and now has five points (3-2—5) so far on the season.

Looking for the go ahead goal, the Lakers got their chance when Bailey Newton was called for interference with 9:46 to play.  While the 2:00 power play itself yielded no goal, one was scored by Eriksson just after the penalty expired and before the Chargers could gain control of the puck.

Holding down the fort, Mitens and the Laker defense held back Alabama Huntsville’s furious effort to tie the game, collecting the 2-1 win in the process.

In net, Mitens had 29 saves on 30 shots.  For the Chargers, Sinclair came up with 24 saves on 26 attempts.

Dating back to last season, the Lakers are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games on the road.  The flipside of that, however, is that, in the last 10 home games, Lake Superior is 2-8-0.  The Lakers will look to amend that this coming weekend when they play host to the University of Michigan.  Friday’s game is set for a 7:37 p.m. puck drop, while the Saturday game is at 7:07 p.m.

Three goal third period leads Lakers past Chargers

Alex Ambrosio (seen here taking a penalty shot last season) scored the game winner on an empty net in the Lakers’ 4-3 win over Alabama Huntsville (Mike Barrett/LHB)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — An oddity that the Lake Superior State Lakers fell victim to in their 2017-18 season finale against Ferris State occurred again in their Friday night matchup against The University of Alabama in Huntsville.

This time, the oddity worked out in favour of the Lakers.

Alex Ambrosio’s first career goal was the difference maker as Lake Superior (3-0-0, 1-0-0 WCHA) survived a late rally by Alabama Huntsville (0-7-0, 0-1-0 WCHA) in a 4-3 conference win.

What makes the game winner by Ambrosio an oddity is that the goal was an empty netter.

The Lakers came out of the gate strong, peppering Chargers goaltender Mark Sinclair with 19 first period shots.  Sinclair was sharp, turning aside all but one of those shots.  Lake Superior converted when Anthony Nellis intercepted a pass on a penalty kill and found Brayden Gelsinger going the other way.  Coincidentally, Gelsinger’s second goal of the season was also the second shorthanded goal for Lake Superior this year.

Alabama Huntsville’s offense did a much better job of generating shots in the second period, equaling the Lakers’ 9 shots in the middle frame.  The Chargers tied things up on an early power play goal when Tyr Thompson took advantage of Lake Superior’s Ashton Calder sitting in the box for tripping.  The goal sent the teams to the dressing room after 40 minutes tied one apiece.

The third period saw the Chargers, who were looking to get in the win column for the first time this season, outshot the Lakers 15-7.  It was the Lakers, however, that found the back of the net first when the Lakers’ alternate captains each found the back of the net.  Defenceman Collin Saccoman scored his first of the season early in the period, while Nellis picked up his second goal of the year with less than 8:00 remaining in the game.

Their backs against the wall, Alabama Huntsville cut the Lake Superior lead to one with 4:35 left in the game.  Brandon Salerno got the puck past Kossoff for his first of the season, making the score 3-2 Lakers.

Needing another goal to force overtime, the Chargers pulled Sinclair for a sixth skater.  Less than 10 seconds after Sinclair made it to the bench, Lake Superior came up with the puck and Ambrosio, earning his first goal as a Laker, appeared to ice the game with only 1:21 left.

Alabama Huntsville showed their resolve, pulling Sinclair again to try and force overtime.  With 22 seconds remaining, Connor James put the Chargers within one and kept his team very much alive.

Although they were a goal away from overtime, the Chargers could not gain the zone long enough to pull their goaltender again for another extra attacker.  A couple shots by Kurt Gosselin did no harm as the Lakers pulled out a tense 4-3 victory.

In goal, Kossoff stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced, while Sinclair made 31 stops on 34 shots.

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.

Veillette, Mitens earn WCHA weekly accolades; Nellis play named USCHO Play of the Week

Mareks Mitens stretches during a pregame warmup prior to his first collegiate start. The sophomore goaltender earned his first WCHA weekly award with his 31 save shutout against Merrimack (Dennis Menard/LHB)

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — The Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) announced its weekly award winners for the weekend of October 6th and 7th.  Among the recipients of the honors this week were sophomore goaltender Mareks Mitens and freshman forward Pierre-Luc Veillette.

Mitens, a native of Ventspilis, Latvia, started his first game of the season on Sunday, October 7th.  In the game, he earned the second shutout  of his collegiate career by stopping all 31 shots he faced as the Lakers won a tightly contested 1-0 victory over the Merrimack Warriors.  The sophomore edged out Bowling Green State junior goaltender Ryan Bednard to capture the honors.

Although he was nominated for Rookie of the Week twice last season, this is the first time he has won a weekly conference award.

Veillette, a freshman forward from Drummondville, Quebec, earned two assists this weekend, both coming in a 5-4 Saturday evening win.  As this was the first week of play in his first season in college, it naturally follows that this is the first time he has either won or been nominated for weekly conference honors.  In winning the award, Veillette beat out defenseman Tim Theocharidis of Bowling Green.

Also receiving nominations for Lake Superior this weekend were junior forward Max Humitz and freshman defenseman Jacob Nordqvist.  Humitz had two goals over the weekend, including the game winner on Sunday afternoon, while Nordqvist had two assists in the Saturday evening win.  Coincedentally, Nordqvist’s two assists both came on goals by senior forward Diego Cuglietta and were the same goals that Veilletts had his two assists on.

Penalty shot named Play of the Week by USCHO

In addition to the awards garnered by Veillette and Mitens, Anthony Nellis’ game-winning penalty shot was selected as the top play of the week by U.S. College Hockey Online (USCHO).  His play beat out Arizona State goaltender Joey Daccord earning an assist and a goal by Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick.

 

Mitens earns shutout, Lakers earn sweep over Warriors

Mareks Mitens (seen here from an exhibition game against the USNTDP’s Under 18 squad last season) made 31 saves in picking up his second collegiate shutout (Mike Barrett/LHB)

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — And now for something completely different.

An afternoon after Lake Superior State and Merrimack combined for nine goals, only one goal was tallied for either team, but the Lakers were the squad to come up with the difference maker as they picked up a series sweep with a 1-0 win at Lawler Rink.

Owing perhaps to the quick turnaround from the previous day, both teams were sluggish out of the gate.  The game started at 4 p.m., about three hours ahead of the typical start time.

While the Lakers (2-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) outshot Merrimack (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) 10-6 in the opening period, they were unable to solve Warriors goaltender Craig Pantano, who earned the start from coach Scott Borek in place of Drew Volger, who was victimized five times on just 19 shots.

Early in the second period, the Lakers’ efforts cashed in when Max Humitz, who had 13 last season to lead the team, picked up his second of the young season.  Nabbing the only assist on the goal was Brayden Gelsinger.

Noticeable throughout the game was the steadfast play of sophomore goaltender Mareks Mitens.  The native of Ventspilis, Latvia withstood a barrage of shots from the Warriors, who outshot the Lakers 25-14 over the final 40 minutes.

As time began to run short, the offensive pressure built for Merrimack, but Mitens held firm, making a few sensational saves along the way.

All in all, Mitens stopped all 31 shots he faced for his second career shutout.  His first came on February 3rd, 2018 in a 2-0 win over Bemidji State in which he made 36 saves.

In the other crease, Pantano took the loss with 23 saves on 24 shots.  One of two senior netminders for Merrimack, Pantano was sharp as well, taking a hard luck loss.

The Lakers open their home slate with a two game exhibition set against Nipissing College.  Both games are set to begin at 7 p.m.  A special ticket deal is available online only for $3.50 tickets to each game (in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Sault Ste. Marie).

Nellis penalty shot helps Lakers win wild season opener over Merrimack

Anthony Nellis (seen here against Bemidji State last season) picked up the game winner on a penalty shot in the season opener (Mike Barrett/LHB)

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. — An early season shootout between Lake Superior State and the Merrimack Warriors was decided on a late penalty shot by Anthony Nellis, as the Lakers earned a hard-fought 5-4 win to open the 2018-19 season.

Merrimack (0-1-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) opened the scoring on a goal from Jackson Bales.  Recovering, the Lakers (1-0-0, 0-0-0 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) began peppering Warriors goaltender Drew Volger with shots, eventually accumulating a 9-4 advantage when Brayden Gelsinger scored the first Laker goal of the season.  Gelsinger got the puck in alone on a shorthanded breakaway and put the puck past Volger.

A recurring issue facing the Lakers last season — late period goals — reared its ugly head when Merrimack’s Laine McKay potted a power play goal with under a minute to play in the opening period, restoring the Warriors’ lead.  Undeterred, Lake Superior managed to tie things back up before the end of the period, as Diego Cuglietta scored with just 5 seconds remaining in the period.

Early in the second, Merrimack came out firing away at Lakers goaltender Nick Kossoff.  The native of West Des Moines, Iowa, kept the Warriors off the board early.  Another power play opportunity for Lake Superior arose when Simon Loof went off for slashing.  A long shot from Jacob Nordqvist was redirected by Cuglietta, giving the Lakers the lead.

Another power play goal, this time from Max Humitz, gave the Lakers a two goal lead with just over 6 minutes in the period.  The bad habit struck again, however, as two late goals (both with under 3 minutes in the period) tied the game back up, making the score 4-4 after 40.

Much like they did in the second period, Merrimack came out and put pressure on Kossoff again early.  As he did earlier, the senior netminder didn’t allow the puck past him.  Even as the Warriors retook the advantage in shots, Kossoff held firm.

With 4:06 left to play, Lake Superior received a golden opportunity when senior forward Anthony Nellis was taken down coming into the zone, causing him to be granted a penalty shot.  The Breakyville, Quebec native, who has been one of the Lakers most consistent scorers in his career, beat Volger, making the score 5-4 Lake Superior.

In a strange twist, the Merrimack defenseman who hooked Nellis in the first place was former Laker defenseman Matt McArdle, who joined the Warriors as a graduate transfer in the off season.

Despite a furious rally by the Warriors, Lake Superior held on for the 5-4 win.  A scrum broke out as time expired.  It awaits to be seen if there will be any extra disciplinary measures exacted.

In net, Kossoff picked up the win by making 28 saves on 32 shots.  Volger, in taking the loss, had 14 saves on 19 shots.

For the Lakers, all five goals came on special teams: 3 on the power play, 1 shorthanded and 1 on a penalty shot.

The Lakers and Merrimack had not played since March 26, 1988 in the NCAA Tournament.  The Lakers prevailed 5-1 to claim victory in a two game, total goals series on their way to their first national title.

The two teams will conclude their series tomorrow.  The opening faceoff is set for 4 p.m.

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.