After being picked to come in seventh by the preseason polls, the NMU Wildcats are proving haters wrong. After sweeping #14 Bowling Green last weekend, the Cats have already tied their total wins from last year, and currently three points ahead of the Falcons in second place within the WCHA, but are a solid 8 points behind league leaders Minnesota State.
They are led by three upperclassmen forwards, Try Loggins (11-14-25), Adam Rockwood (4-21-25) & Robbie Payne (17-6-23), and being backstopped by the Finnish goaltender Atte Tolvanen, who has posted a 11-5-1 record, with a 2.58 GAA and .907 save %.
The Cats will be on their own ice, which being an Olympic sheet will give them a natural advantage over the Lakers.
Two Wins for the Cup
The Lakers & Wildcats played a home-and-home nonconference series earlier this season, with each team winning on their own ice. Currently the Lakers are behind the Cats with a -1 goal differential if the teams split the weekend, without the Lakers outscoring NMU on the weekend. That’s a steep mountain to climb considering what this team has done in the past few months.
Last weekend being the exception. While the Lakers were shutout Friday night against Ferris State (4-0), the team, to my eyes, played with a bit of spark and teamwork – something we haven’t seen for most of the year. This proved helpful in Saturday nights 5-3 win, where the team won by committee: Each of LSSU’s 5 goals came from a different scorer, and the only player to net more than one assist was Diego Cuglietta.
If the Lakers can use this past weekend as a launching pad for the next few weeks, they stand a chance at getting a place in the playoffs, but regardless of if they win or not, the decision is largely out of their hands.
You can listen to the Voice of the Lakers Bill Crawford locally on 99.5 YesFM. If the audio stream is working, the game can also be heard online at www.yesfm.net, as well as watch the game on WCHA.tv. Puck drops at 7:00pm both nights.
SAULT STE. MARIE – Following their fourth consecutive Friday night shutout, the Lake Superior State Lakers chased the goaltender who shut them out in a 5-3 win.
The Lakers (6-16-4, 4-11-3 WCHA) scored three first period goals against Darren Smith, who was pulled after one period of play in favour of Justin Kapelmaster.
Gage Torrel got the scoring started for Lake Superior when his shot got past Smith, who was screened by Hampus Erikkson. Jake Hand and Anthony Nellis joined the fun, helping the Lakers to open up a 3-0 lead.
In the second period, with Kapelmaster keeping the Lakers off the board, including a penalty shot by Alex Ambrosio, the Bulldogs forged a comeback, as Trevor Recktenwald cut the Lake Superior lead to two after 40 minutes of play. Initially reviewed to see if the play was onside, the goal stood when the replay failed to overturn the call on the ice.
Early in the third, Ferris State (10-15-1, 7-10-1 WCHA) pulled within one when Ryker Killins got the puck through a pileup in front of Nick Kossoff. Like Recktenwald’s goal, this one had to go to the booth for review, but also came back good.
Under a minute later, the game was tied on Justin Tackett’s first goal of the year. A long shot from Mitch Maloney was deflected by Tackett past Kossoff for a 3-3 score.
“They clawed their way back into it and suddenly you’re looking at 3-3 late in the game,” said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten, on the Ferris State comeback. “It’s a real credit to our team and our leaders. It’s been challenging, but our guys have stuck together, believing in each other and staying positive.“
With under 9:00 left to play, Diego Cuglietta came streaking into the zone and took a shot on net. Kapelmaster made the save, but a rebound escaped to the side, which Cuglietta slid back to the blueline. Kyle Chatham teed up the puck and shot it thru a crowd of players and found the back of the net, putting the Lakers back on top.
“We started well, getting up 3-0, but then they battled back and we weren’t getting the bounces,” said Chatham. “We showed good character by not slouching too much. I got the puck at the point and the next thing I knew it was in the net.”
Ferris State had its chances, but Kossoff kept the puck out of the net the rest of the way. With the goalie pulled, Brayden Gelsinger notched his sixth goal of the season with an empty netter for a 5-3 final.
In goal, Kossoff made 20 saves on 23 shots. Across the ice, Smith stopped 8 of 11 before Kapelmaster came in, who made 16 saves on 17 shots.
The Lakers hit the road next weekend for Marquette. Northern Michigan (13-10-3, 11-5-2-2 WCHA), who swept Bowling Green this past weekend, has been the biggest surprise in the WCHA this year under new head coach Grant Potulny.
SAULT STE. MARIE – For the fourth consecutive Friday game, the Lake Superior State hockey team could not find the back of the net, as Darren Smith and the Bulldogs of Ferris State downed the Lakers 4-0.
Entering the game, the Lakers were seven points behind Ferris State, who held the final playoff spot.
The Bulldogs got on the board when Coale Norris and Marshall Moise got into the Lakers’ zone on a 2 on 1. Moise fed a pass to Norris, who put the puck into a wide open net, as Moise had gotten Lake Superior goaltender Mareks Mitens out of position.
Ferris State scored two more goals in the second period, as Corey Mackin and Nate Kallen converted on opportunities, eventually chasing Mitens from the net.
Replacing him was junior Nick Kossoff. Kossoff, who has 4 of the Lakers’ 5 wins on the year, allowed a power play goal by Ryker Killins in the third period.
Although much of the play was even, the Bulldogs managed to make the most of their opportunities.
In goal, Smith stopped all 27 shots. Across the ice, Mitens made 13 saves before being relieved by Kossoff, who made 11 stops.
By picking up the win, Ferris State snapped a five game losing streak. The Lakers, meanwhile, are now 0-6-1 in their last 7 league games. They sit eight points behind Alaska, who is in action against Minnesota State in a late game.
For the Lakers, the chances of making the WCHA Tournament continue to shrink, as they have been unable to gain any ground on teams ahead of them in the standings. Making matters worse were the results from the late games, where Alabama-Huntsville and Alaska won their games, widening the gap.
The teams are back in action tonight for the conclusion of their series. Puck drop is at 7:07.
2017 has been a pretty disappointing year for the Ferris State Bulldogs. Currently they hold the final playoff spot for the WCHA with 19 points, ahead of the Lakers by 7 points. In the 2016-2017 campaign they finished just 2 points out of a home playoff berth.
The Bulldogs are led by a trio of upperclassmen in Corey Mackin (6-12-18), Mitch Maloney (12-5-17) and Andrew Doranties (5-10-15) for point scorers. In fact, they are the top three goal scorers, with Maloney & Mackin switching up the order of the list. In this regard, they are much like the Lakers this season, however they have managed to squeak out three more league games this season, putting the final playoff spot out of reach for the Lakers this weekend.
Apathy Creeping In
The headline says it all here. The Lakers were outscored, outshot and outplayed all weekend in front of a crowd that totaled 893 on Friday and 803 on Saturday. The Lakers did come out swinging on Saturday night, putting up two goals in just over 4 minutes, but the Bemidji State Beavers took control of the game from there.
So, while there haven’t been many positives to focus on this season, the way they started that game showed some cohesiveness that we haven’t seen in a while, which admittingly was nice. The Lakers need to win this weekend, a sweep is preferred. that would leave them just a single point out of playoffs. But even if they do win, they will need some help getting into the playoff picture properly
Puck drops both Friday & Saturday at 7:07pm. 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.
SAULT STE. MARIE – Lake Superior State could not protect an early two goal lead, as the red hot Bemidji State Beavers scored five 2nd period goals en route to a 6-3 win over the Lakers at the Taffy Abel Arena.
The Beavers (11-6-5, 8-4-4-2 WCHA) have now won six straight games, and are unbeaten in their last nine.
“They’re a good defensive team, especially with [Michael] Bitzer in net,” said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten. “We’ve got to be better defensively and we need better goaltending. It’s going to be a long night if your goaltending doesn’t give you the chance to compete. Same thing with special teams, giving up two shorties and a power play goal.”
Lake Superior (5-15-4, 3-10-3 WCHA) opened the scoring just over a minute into the game, when Hand put the puck past Bemidji State netminder Michael Bitzer, earning his 5th goal of the season.
Later in the period, Hand picked up his second goal of the night, making the score 2-0 in the Lakers’ favour.
“Jake Hand had a good start to the game with a couple of goals, which gave us some life and energy. We were not good enough defensively from a team perspective and we’ve got to be better that way.”
Bemidji State fought back, getting a goal from Justin Baudry. With 0:07 left in the first, the Beavers appeared to tie the game. The initial call on the ice was no goal, and a lengthy review of the play upheld the call on the ice.
The second period saw the Beavers rattle off three unanswered goals in 5:28. Among the goals were two shorthanded goals, courtesy of Kayle Bauman.
“They hurt you momentum-wise,” remarked Whitten, on shorthanded goals. “They don’t come from grade A situations, and they can be very demoralizing.”
Although Max Humitz got a goal back on the power play, goals from the Beavers’ Charlie Combs and Zach Whitecloud made it 6-3 after two periods. Following the goal by Combs, Kossoff was replaced in net by Mareks Mitens, but returned at the start of the third period.
“I think we needed a change at the time,” said Whitten, on the change. “We weren’t getting enough out of that position, so we switched. [Kossoff] went back in to start the third because we wanted to give him a chance to fight through the adversity. He’s a junior, so we wanted to give him that shot.”
While Kossoff did not allow another goal the rest of the way, the Laker offense could not find the back of the net again, as Bemidji State completed the weekend sweep.
In goal, Bitzer picked up the win by making 15 saves on 18 shots. Across the ice, Kossoff stopped 28 of 33, while Mitens was scored on with the only shot he faced.
With 12 points in the standings, Lake Superior sits in 9th place, seven points behind 8th place Ferris State, who is playing a Sat/Sun series with Bowling Green State. The Bulldogs (9-13-1, 6-8-1 WCHA) will visit the Lakers next weekend. Both games are slated to begin at 7:07 p.m.
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Returning home from their third place showing in the Three Rivers Classic, Lake Superior State looked to start the remainder of their conference schedule right.
Bemidji State had other plans.
An early two goal lead, coupled with a stellar performance from one of the top goaltenders in the Western Collegiate Hockey Associaiton, aided the Beavers in picking up their fifth straight win with a 3-0 win over the Lakers.
The Beavers (10-6-5, 7-4-4 WCHA) are now unbeaten in their last eight games. They have not lost since December 1, when they fell 3-1 to Bowling Green.
“Our back was against the wall a month ago and our guys responded,” said Beavers head coach Tom Serratore. “We have nine road games and four home games remaining, so for the rest of the season we’re going to be on the road. We went 4-0-2 in our last six home games, and now we’re building on that.”
Lake Superior (5-14-4, 3-9-3 WCHA) was unable to gain any momentum from its 3rd place finish in the Three Rivers Classic. The Lakers fell 5-0 to host Robert Morris before beating Arizona State 4-1 in the consolation game.
“It’s a tough loss, said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten. “If you don’t score goals, you’re not going to win hockey games. Against Bemidji, it’s going to be a low scoring game, so if you only give up two, you have a chance against that team. Give them credit, plus we all know how good Bitzer is, but the chances were there.”
The Lakers have now been shutout in each of their last three Friday games.
“We need to spend more time in the offensive zone and get to the net for some second chance opportunities,” remarked Whitten. “They box out and play heavy in their zone; our forwards have to get to the front of the net to create those opportunities.”
Bemidji State wasted no time getting on the board, as they took a 1-0 lead just 1:04 into the game. Dylan McCrory collected a rebound that went off the skate of Kyle Bauman and put it past Laker goaltender Nick Kossoff, who was out of position from stopping the initial shot.
The Beavers made the score 2-0 when a long shot from the point by Zach Whitecloud was tipped behind Kossoff by Charlie Combs just seconds after going on the man advantage.
“It was nice getting a lead right away,” said Serratore. “It was a big goal a minute into the game and we piggybacked that with a second goal right away. It put us into a good position with a two goal lead.”
The third period saw Lake Superior bring offensive pressure, outshooting the Beavers 11-5 in the final stanza. Bitzer, a 2017 Hobey Baker Award finalist, and one of the premier netminders in the WCHA, kept the Lakers off the board the rest of the way.
An empty netter from Gerry Fitzgerald sealed the deal for the Beavers, as they picked up the 3-0 win.
In net, Bitzer stopped all 21 shots he faced for his 4th shutout of the season (and 3rd in league play). For Lake Superior, Kossoff made 22 saves on 24 shots in defeat.
“He’s just a winner of a person,” remarked Serratore, on Bitzer. “He’s a goalie who takes his craft very seriously. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and a 1st Team All American. We rely heavily on him and he’s been very good over the course of the last month.”
Despite the loss, the Lakers blueliners made things difficult for Bemidji State, as Lake State tallied 15 blocked shots.
“I thought our defensive corps played pretty well overall,” said Whitten. “I felt as though we got better as the game went along.”
Making his debut for the Lakers was forward Alex Ambrosio. A native of Burnaby, British Columbia, Ambrosio joined the team during the break to help shore up the depleted Laker offense.
“He’s a guy we knew about; we liked him as a hockey player,” said Whitten, on Ambrosio. “His hockey IQ shows as well, and we’re trying to improve our depth there, so he will be an even better addition as he moves along in our program. [Coaches] have pretty extensive lists to try and handle situations like [mid-season acquisitions], plus you have your contacts that you rely on when you need to add some bodies.”
Ambrosio most recently played for the Coquiltam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League.
The teams will conclude their series tonight. Puck drop is at 7:07 p.m.
This year’s WCHA standings are a bit of a surprise to everyone, arguably for the Bemidji State Beavers more than any other. The reigning MacNaughton Cup winners, and finishing second in the Broadmoor race started off a bit slow this season, getting above .500 in the two weeks before the Christmas break, sweeping both Alaska Anchorage & Alabama-Huntsville.
The Beavers are led by seniors Kyle Bauman and Gerry Fitzgerald as their scoring leaders – both have 20 points going into this weekend. Jay Dickman leads the team in goals, with 11, and also comes in third in overall scoring.
They are backstopped by senior Michael Bitzer, who has played in all but two games for Bemidji, posting a .910 Save % and a 2.26 GAA. If you remember to last season, Bitzer ended the 2016-2017 campaign as the #5 goalie in the nation, posting the most games played, games started & tied for total team games played. He also lead in minutes played, with 1389:26 & won the most games amongst goalies. He was also in a three way tie with total shutouts with 4. He ended the season with a 1.47 GAA and a .938 Save %. BSU will have to have an outstanding second half to allow Bitzer to reach those numbers once again.
“…you were never intended to live in the life raft, to drift years on end, in sight of land but never close enough.” – Nick Flynn
While I can’t speak for any other Laker fan, I was hoping that the boys in blue would put up a good showing at the Three Rivers Classic, hosted by Robert Morris University & use it as a launching pad for the rest of the season. Sadly, that did not happen.
The Lakers opened up the weekend against the hosts Robert Morris University Friday night. To say it was disappointing would be a huge understatement. RMU shutout Lake State 5-0, scoring three goals against Mareks Mitens in the first period, and finishing off with two against Nick Kossoff in the second. The Colonials would outshoot the Lakers in the first alone 17-4, ending the night 38-19.
Now while these stats look bad, the tape looks worse. The team left Mitens out there all alone in the first, with a defense even more porous that what we’ve been seeing of late.
While the consolation game against the Arizona State Sun Devils would have a different result, they were largely outplayed – Nick Kossoff would stop 48 of 49 goals, however ASU goalie Ryland Pashovitz would only stop 17 of 20 total shots.
This team needs a change of heart, otherwise they will end the month, which marks their last home game, with playing in an empty arena and no hope for the playoffs. As of right now, the Lakers are on the outside looking in: two games behind both Alaska and Alabama-Huntsville. If they can get on a run, there is a shot at making the playoffs.
But all of that could be for naught if the coaching staff can’t get the locker room back, and from my vantage point, it doesn’t look likely that it will happen, which is a shame as I still maintain that, on paper, this could be the most talented group of players we’ve seen in a while, based off of their previous years with the Lakers, or with their recent Juniors results.
January will be the make it or break it month for Lake State: if they cannot start closing the gap, they will miss the playoffs, and I believe that the tone for this month will be set this weekend against Bemidji. Puck drops both Friday & Saturday at 7:07pm. 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.