Mitens outstanding in net as Lakers win fourth straight on road, sweep UAA

Mareks Mitens (seen here from an exhibition game against the USNTDP’s Under 18 squad) prevented a furious rally by Alaska-Anchorage, enabling the Lakers to hold on for a 2-1 win and series sweep (Mike Barrett/LHB)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Anthony Nellis claimed his second consecutive game winning goal and Mareks Mitens slammed the door shut as the Lake Superior State Lakers  (10-20-4, 8-15-3 WCHA) earned their fourth straight win in a 2-1 win over Alaska-Anchorage (2-24-4, 2-19-3-3 WCHA).

Entering the final month of the season needing to essentially win out in order to qualify for the WCHA Tournament, the Lakers have risen to the task.  

Perhaps even more impressive is that they have had to do this completely on the road.

Neither team found the back of the net in the first period.  Both teams made a change in net from the previous night, as Mitens got the start in place of Nick Kossoff, while Olivier Mantha was replaced in the Alaska-Anchorage net by Brody Claeys.

The Seawolves opened the scoring when Trey deGraaf capitalized on a power play opportunity.  The third goal of the year for deGraaf resulted in the first lead of the weekend for Alaska-Anchorage.

Just moments after Jake Hand was denied by Claeys on a great 5 on 3 chance, Max Humitz tied the game with just 1.7 seconds remaining in the period.  A lengthy review of a potential offsides call did not overturn the goal, resulting in a 1-1 tie after 40 minutes.

Shortly before the midway point of the third period, Anthony Nellis cashed in for his second goal of the weekend.  A turnover led to an odd man rush, which Nellis capitalized on, earning his 12th goal of the year and his third in four games.

With just over five minutes left in regulation, Bryan Basilico appeared to put Lake Superior up 3-1.  What would have been his second goal of the season, however, was waived off after a review due to goaltender interference.

Down late, the Seawolves cranked up the pressure on Mitens, peppering the Latvian netminder with everything they could.  The freshman remained steady in net, despite point blank shots and odd deflections, as the Lakers held on for a 2-1 win.

Both teams had 23 shots on net.  In picking up his third win of the season, Mitens stopped 22 of 23 (including 10 in the third period), while Claeys made 21 saves.  

In addition to being equal on the shot counter, both teams were also equal on the power play, as the Seawolves and the Lakers each went 1 for 4 with the odd man.

The Lakers are idle next weekend and will be keeping a close eye on Ferris State.  The Bulldogs have a one point lead on Lake Superior and will play Minnesota State this weekend.  The two teams will face each other in the following week in Big Rapids before the start of the WCHA Tournament.

Nellis hits OT winner, Lakers win third straight

Anthony Nellis (seen here against Bemidji State) potted the overtime winner for the Lakers, sending them to their third straight win (Mike Barrett/LHB)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Anthony Nellis’ eleventh goal of the season propelled Lake Superior State to a 3-2 overtime win over the last place Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves in late night hockey action at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.

The win was the third straight for the Lakers (9-20-4, 7-15-3 WCHA), who swept Bemidji State last weekend.

Will Riedell got the scoring started when he rifled a shot from the top of the circle past Seawolves goaltender Olivier Mantha.  For Riedell, it was his second goal of the season, and his first since November 3rd.  Coincidentally, that goal also came against Alaska-Anchorage.

Lake Superior made it 2-0 later in the period on a power play.  With Tad Kozun off for tripping, Hampus Erikkson collected a pass from Gage Torrel right in front of Mantha.  The native of Forsbacka, Sweden, knocked the puck in the net off of the crossbar.

The Seawolves (2-23-4, 2-18-3-3 WCHA) struck back before the period ended, as Jeremiah Luedtke deflected shot from the blue line by Kozun behind Lakers goaltender Nick Kossoff, closing the gap to one goal.  With 1:09 left on the clock, the Lakers went into the dressing room after one period holding a 2-1 lead.

Nether team found the back of the net in the second period.  The Seawolves, who outshot Lake Superior 12-8 in the opening session, continued their barrage on Kossoff, as they held a 24-14 advantage after 40 minutes.

Alaska-Anchorage tied the game exactly midway thru the third period, when Nicolas Erb-Ekholm fed a pass to Alec Butcher, who beat Kossoff on the short side.

With neither goaltender surrendering a goal thru the remainder of regulation, the teams went to overtime for the second time this season.  Just like last time, the Lakers were victorious, as J.T. Henke dug a puck out of the corner and slid it through two Seawolf defenders to a streaking Nellis, who buried the puck for a 3-2 win.

In goal, Kossoff picked up his seventh win of the year by making 31 saves on 33 shots.  Across the ice, Mantha had 22 saves on 25 opportunities.

The win helped move Lake Superior to 24 points in league play, four behind Ferris State, who currently holds the final playoff spot.  The Bulldogs are idle this week and play Minnesota State next weekend before the final games of the regular season against the Lakers.

By taking the loss, the Seawolves were mathematically eliminated from the WCHA playoff race.  Alaska-Anchorage currently has 12 points on the season, and cannot pass Ferris State’s 28 points with their remaining schedule.

The two squads will conclude their series tonight.  Faceoff is set for 11:07 p.m. Eastern.

 

Series Preview: Lake Superior State @ Alaska Anchorage

 

Alaska Anchorage 2016: 7-21-6 2017: 2-22-4
Lake Superior State 2016: 11-18-7 2017: 8-20-4

Pairwise #57 meets #60
To say it’s been a disappointing season for these two clubs would be an understatement, and neither had much to build off of from the end of last season.

The Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage ended last season with 7 wins on the season, but have only won two contests this season – one coming from Lake Superior State and the other from Alabama-Huntsville, though to their credit they’ve also won three games in the shootout and somehow managed to tie North Dakota, then ranked #7 at the Ralph.

It’s not hard to see why when looking at the stat sheet. They’re led in scoring by senior forward Austin Azurdia, who has 11-5-16 in 23 games this season. Following him you have (A)Tad Kozun, another senior forward with 5-8-13 in 27 games.

In net you have the outstanding Olivier Mantha, now a senior he has played in all but 151 minutes, but has a 3.58 GAA and a .900 Save %. I say outstanding since, despite the team he has in front of him, he has played fairly well, peaking at a .913 Save % and a 2.82 GAA last season. He’s been the backbone of these Seawolves, having played in 118 games and totaling 6730:51 minutes in his career going into the final weeks of the season. He is currently #3 in the number of shots he has faced this season with 920 and has had to face 3671 shots so far in his career – it’s not wonder some of the scores get run up with nobody playing defense in front of him.

While technically not out of the playoffs, as they could potentially catch up to Ferris State (they are 16 points behind), they’d have to essentially sweep the next three weekends & get a lot of help along the way.

Late Season Lakers Surge Forward

Everybody listening to the Bemidji State homers on the radio last weekend, or anyone following our coverage here at LakerHockeyBlog probably had the same sort of reaction to last weekend’s 4-goal shutout sweep of the Beavers: Excitement with a touch of anger or annoyance.

The Bemidji State Beavers are a good team: they now have a 14-10-6 record, with one of the top goaltenders in the country backing them up, yet this Lake State team, led by forwards J.T Henke (9-16-25), Max Humitz (12-9-21) and Diego Cuglietta (7-14-21), and being backstopped by Nick Kossoff Friday night and Mareks Mitens Saturday night managed to pull off two 2-0 shutout wins, marking both the first sweep of the season, the first conference shutout of the year (they did shut out the USNTDP 6-0 in exhibition play), and also marked the freshman goalie Miten’s first collegiate shutout, facing and turning away 36 shots.

Last weekend should power the Lakers into their final two series of the year: this week against UAA before going on a bye week, then traveling to Big Rapids to potentially fight for the final playoff spot. But what needs to happen to get there?

The first step is that Lake State needs to sweep Alaska Anchorage this weekend in regulation, giving us six points totaling 27 on the season – one behind the Bulldogs. Ferris is off this week, but will face #5 Minnesota State-Mankato next weekend. We have to hope that Mankato does their job and sweep Ferris, leading up to a very interesting Friday night matchup on February 23rd, and potentially a nailbiter on the 24th.

But even if the Lakers miss playoffs this year, having a late season surge in spite of one of their own getting into trouble around town should be a motivating factor going into next season, barring any early departures.

Puck drops in Alaska at 11:07 ET and can be heard locally on 99.5 YesFM or on the web at yesfm.net. As always, you can view the games live on WCHA.tv.

Mitens earns 1st shutout, Lakers earn 1st sweep of season

Mareks Mitens earned the first shutout of his Laker career in a 2-0 win over Bemidji State. Coupled with a shutout the previous night, it was the first time since 2010 that the Lakers blanked an opponent twice in one weekend (Mike Barrett/LHB).

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Looking for their first sweep of the season, the Lake Superior State Lakers made a rather unconventional move in net.

A night after Nick Kossoff picked up the first shutout for the Lakers in nearly two seasons, Freshman Mareks Mitens got the nod from head coach Damon Whitten.

The native of Ventspils, Latvia, showed he was equal to the task, stopping all 36 shots, as the Lakers (8-20-4, 6-15-3 WCHA) posted back to back 2-0 shutouts of Bemidji State in a series sweep.

With the win, the Lakers are hoping to propel themselves back into playoff positioning.  Coming into the game, they trailed the Alaska Nanooks by 8 points, as the Nanooks, like the Lakers, won the night before.

The opening period had the Beavers (14-10-6, 11-7-4-2 WCHA) swarming, outshooting the Lakers 13-3.  Mitens was sharp throughout, as the game remained scoreless after 20 minutes.

Max Humitz got Lake Superior on the board with a goal on a delayed penalty to BSU’s Adam Brody.  Humitz redirected a puck past Beavers goaltender Michael Bitzer for a 1-0 lead.

Picking up assists on Humitz’s goal were Collin Saccoman and Yuki Miura.  For Miura, it was his first point as a Laker.

Down a goal going into the final stanza, Bemidji State continued peppering Mitens with shots.  The freshman continued turning away shot after shot.

The Beavers appeared to tie the game when Aaron Miller drilled a puck past Mitens.  Upon further review, however, it was ruled that Mitens had been interfered with on the play, thus negating the goal.

Like last night, Bemidji State took an untimely penalty late, as Myles Fitzgerald was called for tripping with just 2:15 to play.  Rolling the dice, coach Tom Serratore pulled Bitzer, evening up the skaters.

After a couple of long shots missed the net and iced the puck, Diego Cuglietta iced the game away with an empty netter at the 19:38 mark, sealing the Lakers’ fate.

The last time Lake Superior had back to back shutouts was in the 2012-13 season.  Kevin Murdock shut out Northern Michigan in the final game of the regular, followed by Kevin Kapalka shutting out Bowling Green in the first game of the CCHA Conference Tournament.

To find the last time the Lakers were not scored upon in a series, one must go back to November of 2010.  Kevin Kapalka had back to back blanking of Ferris State on 12th and 13th of that month.

Kossoff, defense, stymies Bemidji State on road

Nick Kossoff (pictured here against Ferris State) earned the fourth shutout of his Laker career in a 2-0 win over Bemidji State (Mike Barrett/LHB).

BEMIDJI, Minn. – Playing their final six games of the season on the road, the Lake Superior State Lakers would need to find a way to win on the road in order to have any shot at a WCHA playoff berth.

Following last week’s games against Bowling Green, Lakers head coach Damon Whitten said “we’re going to get in the playoffs, and to do it, we need to become road warriors.”

Whitten’s club took a step in the right direction, as the Lakers (7-20-4, 5-15-3 WCHA) blanked Bemidji State (14-9-6, 11-6-4 WCHA) 2-0 on Friday night.

Lake Superior came out strong in the first period, holding a 12-7 edge in shots on net.  J.T. Henke opened the scoring when he notched his 9th goal of the season.  Assisted by Bryan Basilico and Kyle Chatham, the Trenton, Michigan native put the puck behind Beavers goaltender Michael Bitzer for a 1-0 lead.

In the second period, Bemidji State began clamping down on the Laker offense, limiting them to just four shots.  The Beavers, while getting eight shots of their own, were still being stymied by the Lake State blueliners.

An odd man rush helped Anthony Nellis widen the Lakers lead to 2-0 with his 10th of the season.

The final period saw the Beavers begin to successfully generate more shots on net than before.  Despite seeing more rubber, Lakers netminder Nick Kossoff could not be beat.

Pulling Bitzer for an extra skater, Bemidji looked to get back in the game with under three minutes to play.  Lake State’s Gage Torrel, who assisted on the Nellis goal, got the puck and attempted to ice the game away; Dillon Eichstadt took him down from behind.

While Eichstadt’s actions likely saved a goal, it essentially negated the action of pulling Bitzer.  Forced to kill a minor penalty late in the game, the Beavers could not get any good chances on Kossoff, as the Lakers prevailed on the road by a 2-0 final score.

By stopping all 28 shots, Kossoff picked up his first shutout of the season, and the fourth of his career.  His last shutout came on December 30, 2015 againt Brown in the Catamount Cup. 

In addition, it was the first shutout for a Laker goaltender since Gordie Defiel shutout Minnesota State in Game 2 of the 2016 WCHA Quarterfinals.

Across the ice, Bitzer came up with 18 saves on 20 shots.

Neither team took advantage of their power play opportunites, as the Lakers were 0 for 4, while Bemidji was 0 for 1.  A slashing penalty to Jake Hand was the only power play the Beavers were afforded.

 

Series Preview: Lake Superior State @ Bemidji State

 

Bemidji State: 2016: 22-16-3 2017: 14-8-6
Lake Superior State: 2016: 11-18-7 2017: 6-20-4

“They might in the future more than ever before engage in hunting beavers.” – Samuel de Champlain
The Bemidji State Beavers are currently holding down the final home playoff spot, coming into the weekend at #4 in the WCHA. The lead Michigan Tech by 5 points and trail Minnesota State by 6. Tech is playing #14 Bowling Green this weekend, so it’s unlikely that the Beavers will lose out on their spot this weekend.
The Beavers are led by 4 20+ point scorers in Kyle Bauman, Gerry Fitzgerald, Jay Dickman and Adam Brady, all of them forwards. In net, Michael Bitzer has only missed a total of 78 minutes this season. In those 1623 minutes in net, he has recoreded a 14-7-6 record, a 2.14 GAA and a .911 Save %. Interestingly enough, he also has an assist this season.
While it’s unlikely that the Beavers move at all in the rankings this week (Minnesota State is playing UAA), they will be looking to win to keep pace with the Mavericks. The last time these two teams met, Lake State was shutout in game 1 and lost 6-3 in game 2.

“Never give up; for even rivers someday wash dams away.” – Arthur Golden
Despite the results, the last three weekends, starting with the Ferris State series, the Lakers seemed to have regained some control and come together to play as a team, save for a few players and a period or two. Saturday night’s game against Ferris gave the Lakers their first conference win in over a month. In the series at Northern Michigan, the Lakers gave the Wildcats a run for their money both nights, losing 3-2 in both games & losing the Cappo Cup.
Last weekend was the most promising of all. The boys in blue did lose Friday night 5-3, mostly due to shaky goaltending to start the game. But on Saturday night, the Lakers took it to the then #15 Bowling Green Falcons, losing only 3-2, though by all accounts the Refs gave that game away, waving off a goal that should have counted.
But we’re not going to dive into the officiating here.
Despite the resurgence of the team, it feels too little too late. As it stands, the Lakers are out of the playoff picture right now, being eight points behind Alaska and only three points ahead of last-ranked Alaska Anchorage. The good news is that the next three weeks will be tough for the Nanooks, taking on Ferris State this weekend, #19 Northern Michigan next week and the Beavers of Bemidji State the weekend of the 15th-16th before finishing up against UAA.
The Lakers need to win and win fast. Outside of this, their fate isn’t in their hands – they will need help from the rest of the league to help secure a playoff spot. I’m not holding my breath, mind you, but it could be a very interesting final month of the season.
Lake State finally has three 20-point scorers in J.T. Henke, Max Humitz and Diego Cuglietta.

Puck drops both Friday and Saturday night games starting at 8:07pm ET or 7:07 CT. They can be heard locally on 99.5 YesFM, online at www.yesfm.net, or on the TuneIn app. For those fans not in the area, or cannot make it to the arena but still want to watch the action, both games will be available on www.WCHA.tv.

Falcons escape Lake Superior with 3-2 win, series sweep

J.T. Henke takes a faceoff against BG’s Max Johnson. While Henke and the other seniors were playing in their final home game, Henke’s linemate Yuki Miura was playing in his first. (Brittany Litchard/LHB)

SAULT STE. MARIE – Two waved off goals were the story of senior night, as Lake Superior battled back from 3-0 down to within a goal, but could not get the tiebreaker, as the fifteenth-ranked Falcons swept the Lakers with a 3-2 win on Senior Night.

“We would’ve loved to send the seniors out a chance to ring the Victory Bell, but we’re really proud of that group,” said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten.  “There are so many things they’ve done on and off the ice to really help move Laker hockey forward in this community and on this campus.”

The Lakers dug themselves into a deep hole in the first period, as a 2-0 deficit was made worse when defenseman Will Riedell was tossed for checking from behind.  The Falcons potted a third goal (the second of the night for Jason Spezia), sending the Lakers back to the locker room trailing 3-0 after 20 minutes.

“We had a tough start obviously, when you go down two goals early, you’re chasing the game all night long.”

Lake Superior appeared to get on the board when Diego Cuglietta beat Ryan Bednard.  Unfortunately for the Lakers, a lengthy review concluded that the puck did not cross the goal line.

Despite the adversity the team faced, the team did not gtive up, and a blistering shot from Hampus Erikkson got the Lakers on the board.

Lake Superior managed to close the gap further when Gage Torrel pumped a shorthanded tally past Bednard, making the score 3-2.

“I thought we had a really good push back with a strong second period,” remarked Whitten.  “We had them on the ropes in the third period, but we couldn’t catch a break, hitting posts and hitting double posts.”

Midway thru the third period, the Lakers appeared to have the tying goal, as Jake Hand got in all along on Bendard and put the puck behind him.  The puck hit the crossbar, bounced straight down and did not cross the line, per review.

Members of the Laker Legion display oversized headshots of the Laker seniors. From Left: Ryan Renz, J.T. Henke, Aiden Wright and Kyle Chatham (Brittany Litchard/LHB)

Down but not out, the Lakers continuted to play hard, but goal number three never came, as the Falcons held on for a 3-2 win and a series sweep.

Making his Laker debut was Yuki Miura.  The forward had to make it through the NCAA clearinghouse and overcome an injury in order to finally make it in the lineup.  While Miura did not wind up on the stat sheet, his speed and quickness were certainly on display.

“I thought he was a great shot in the arm,” remarked Whitten, on Miura.  “He’s one of those guys who is quick and fast.  Some guys can be quick in some areas, but not be fast.  Yuki’s both, and I think he showed that.  His stick and puck skills are really good, he makes good passes.  He had a great debut, and if he continues to play like he did, he will be a fixture in our lineup.”

In goal, Bednard stopped 17 of 19 in picking up the win.  In relief of Mareks Mitens (who made 6 saves on 8 shots before being pulled), Nick Kossoff stopped 27 of 28, taking the loss.

Prior to the game, the Lakers honoured their four seniors, as J.T. Henke, Kyle Chatham, Ryan Renz and Aiden Wright respectively took their lap around the ice.  Although the pregame ceremony was a departure from the traditional postgame ceremony, each of the four were in the starting lineup for coach Whitten, which has been the case since he took the reigns in 2014.

Senior Night was forced to be held much earlier than usual due to the remainder of the Lakers’ schedule being on the road.  Typically, there is at least one home series in February; the league schedule did not pan out in an ideal way for many teams this season.

Whitten commented that the play of his seniors will be pivotal down the stretch, noting that the team will have to be road warriors from this point out.

#15 Falcons down Lakers 5-3

Freshman defenseman Lukas Käelble clears the puck into the zone. Käelble scored the first goal of his collegiate career in a 5-3 loss to Bowling Green (Mike Barrett/LHB)

SAULT STE. MARIE – A three goal second period lifted the Bowling Green State Falcons over Lake Superior in the first game of their weekend set at the Taffy Abel Arena.

The two squads faced off in November, where the Falcons (15-8-6. 12-4-5 WCHA) claimed 5 of 6 points from the Lakers at the Slater Family Ice Arena in Bowling Green.

The Lakers (6-19-4, 4-14-3 WCHA) got on the board first when Anthony Nellis picked up his ninth goal of the season.  Just 24 seconds later, however, Bowling Green tied the game on a goal from Alec Rauhauser.  

Lake Superior came right back down the ice and reclaimed the lead on a goal from Brayden Gelsinger.  His goal was the third goal in a 56 second span.

“We had a good start, getting the first goal,” said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten.  “They responded and we answered right back.  I’ve mentioned before that we can’t afford to give up five goals and expect to win.”  

The Falcons’ Max Johnson tied the game on a power play before the first period drew to a close.  

Bowling Green dominated the shots in the second period, posting  a 13-2 differential.   Goals from Lukas Craggs, Brandon Kruse and Tyler Spezia eventually led to Lakers goaltender Nick Kossoff being relieved after the second period for Mareks Mitens.

The final period saw almost a complete reversal of the shots, as the Lakers dominated with 17 shot on net to just one for the Falcons.  Lukas Käelble notched the first goal of his career, closing the Lakers within two.  

Unfortunately for Lake Superior, Falcons goaltender Ryan Bednard was sharp throughout, making 24 saves to pick up the win.

“I thought we pushed back,” said Whitten.  “We kind of sagged after their third goal, but a couple of guys kept going to give us some life.  We had a tremendous third period, where we really poured it on, but we couldn’t get that next one to really give ourselves a chance.”

Both teams managed 27 shots on net.  In picking up the win, Bendard made 24 saves.  Kossoff was tagged for 5 goals on 26 shots before Mitens came in.  The native of Ventspils, Latvia stopped the only shot he faced.