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.

 

Series Preview: #15 Bowling Green @ Lake Superior State -Check.Slash.Survive & Senior Night

 

#15 Bowling Green: 2016: 21-18-2 2017: 14-8-6
Lake Superior State: 2016: 11-18-7 2017: 6-18-4

“The quality of a decision is like the well-time swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.” – Sun Tzu
This week brings the #15 Bowling Green Falcons to the Taffy Abel Arena for a two game set. The team is led in scoring by defenseman Alec Rauhauser (6-22-27), but it’s the senior forward and captain of the Falcons Mitchell McLain (12-8-20) that leads in goals.
In net, Bowling Green has seemed to go with a full goalie-tandom. Sophomore Ryan Bednard has appeared in 17 games and holds a 7-4-4 record & has a GAA of 2.23 and a .914 Save %. Freshman eric Dop has appeared in 14 games and holds a very similar record at 7-4-2, with a 2.63 GAA and .899 Save %. Most weeks you hope to face off against the backup in at least one game to try and steal points, but not this weekend – both goalies will be tough opponents.
Bowling Green has been riding high since the Great Lakes Invitational, having won that tournament and sweeping two of the three series that has followed since that time, beating both Ferris State in Big Rapids and Alaska Anchorage. They did lose against Northern Michigan, but there aren’t many who haven’t this season.
“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort for each individual” – Vince Lombardi
Despite the results, the last two weeks has seen a resurgence of the Lakers in terms of effort and how they look out on the ice, which may bode well for coach Damon Whitten who will be looking for an extension at the end of the season, but the effort seems too little too late.
As it stands, the Lakers are currently out of the playoff picture, sitting in at #9 & 7 points being Ferris State, meaning even if they sweep the weekend, and Ferris drops both games against Michigan Tech, we will still be a point out of playoffs going into the final month of the regular season. The decision is largely out of the Lakers hands at this point, as they will need help from the teams above them in addition to winning.
The Lakers are led in scoring by senior J.T Henke (8-16-24) and led in net by junior Nick Kossoff (21GP, 5-10-2), who has a 3.16 GAA and a .907 Save %.

This weekend we will have two events happening, both on Saturday: The first is Check.Slash.Survive, which was previously known as Pink in the Rink. It was changed this season so that would help share awareness for more than just breast cancer. Apparel will be sold at the arena, along with a raffle and silent auction for jerseys that will be worn during the game. For more information on this event, please look for their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages.
The second is the Blueliners annual Senior Night celebration, which will once again be held (sadly) BEFORE Saturday night’s game – between the pre-game warmups and puck drop. This year the club will be recognizing four seniors – the solo forward J.T Henke, and defensemen Kyle Chatam, captain Aiden Wright and assistant captain Ryan Renz.

Puck drops at 7:07pm both nights, and can be heard locally on 99.5 YesFM in the Sault, online at www.yesfm.net , or you can watch online at WCHA.tv

Opinion: Keep Senior Night a special occasion

Note: The following does not represent this blog at large. It is only the opinion of the article’s author, and does not mean to represent the opinion of LakerHockeyBlog, LSSU, or any media partners.

I have admittedly not followed Laker hockey as long as most.  The “glory years” when Lake Superior State assembled world-beating teams are something I bore no witness to.  Nevertheless, so many traditions of the program have made a profound impression on me.  From the ringing of the Victory Bell to competing for the Father Cappo Cup to  hearing Bill Crawford call the away games, so many of the traditions fans see and hear are what make Laker Hockey special.  

This coming weekend will see another longstanding tradition – Senior Night.

Four seniors – J.T. Henke, Kyle Chatham, assistant captain Ryan Renz and captain Aiden Wright – will take one final lap around the Taffy Abel Arena, while fans cheer and applaud the achievements of each individual.  

Last year saw a change to the festivities that will carry over to this year as well – the senior recognition will take place before the game as opposed to after.

Many things came together to make the postgame Senior Night celebration special.  Each senior coming down the tunnel one by one, skating to the north goal line, where the rest of the team stood, skating along the other side, past the visitor’s bench (which usually had fans in it) to the south goal line, where parents and other loved ones stood.  Throughout this, the achievements of each player were read to those in attendance.  The lights were turned off and spotlights followed the players while they made their final lap.  

Traditionally the event has been held after the conclusion of the game for many reasons.  Logistically, there is little time between pregame warm-ups and the start of the hockey game.  Large senior classes would have an exceptionally difficult time getting everybody to have his moment.

The 2013-14 Lakers had eight seniors to celebrate.  Eight.  Imagine trying to squeeze them all in to a pregame ceremony while keeping it special as Lake State has done for so long.

I stood on the visitor’s bench a few times, taking pictures.  The emotion on the players’ faces said it all – the end of their Laker careers was upon them.  

Following the ceremony, some players can skate right to the dressing room.  Others take more time.  A few have laid down with their backs on the ice, trying to take it all in.  

I have seen senior night at other places – specifically Northern Michigan.  The recognition took place before the game and was a quick listing of the seniors’ names with the players standing on the blue line.  I recall it not being a particularly inspiring or moving ceremony.

What we have here at Lake Superior State is a very special event.  I feel as though moving the ceremony to before the game takes away from what makes it so special.

Wildcats retain Cappo Cup

MARQUETTE – A third period goal by Philip Beaulieu stood as the difference, as the Lakers suffered a 3-2 loss and a sweep at the hands of their Upper Peninsula rivals, the Northern Michigan Wildcats.

With the loss, the Lakers could not win back the Father Cappo Cup, as Northern Michigan took the season series with a 3-1 record.

Lake Superior (6-18-4, 4-13-3 WCHA) started out on the right foot, as Max Humitz opened the scoring under two minutes into the game.  Humitz nearly sent the Friday game to overtime, but a big save by Atte Tolvanen ensured that game ended in regulation.

The Wildcats (14-10-3, 12-5-2-2 WCHA) tied it up later that period on the power play when Beaulieu put the puck behind Lakers goaltender Nick Kossoff.  Beaulieu’s goal came while LSSU’s Steven Ruggiero was in the box for high sticking.

A golden opportunity presented itself when the Lakers were awarded a 5 minute power play late in the first period.  James Vermeulen received a game misconduct for checking from behind.  Coupled with a minor penalty to Adam Roeder moments earlier, Lake Superior had a 5 on 3 for 1:27.  The Lakers, however, could not convert, as the ‘Cats penalty kill unit gave them fits.

Just 26 seconds into the second period, Troy Loggins scored unassisted to put the WIldcats up 2-1.  The lead did not last long, as Brayden Gelsinger tipped a shot from Tyler Anderson behind Tolvanen, which the game at two goals apiece after a lengthy review.

After tying the game, the Lakers continued putting pressure on Tolvanen; the Wildcats netminder was unfazed, even as Lake Superior worked more at crashing the net.

At 8:19 of the third period, Northern Michigan hit the one that mattered, as Beaulieu notched his second goal of the night.  While the Lakers tried to rally, Tolvanen made the saved he needed to, preserving the 3-2 final score.

By retaining the Cappo Cup, Northern Michigan has won 4 of the last 5.  The Lakers have only one the cup once (2015-16) since both teams joined the WCHA.

Lake State returns home next weekend for the final home set of the 2017-18 season.  Before the game on Saturday, the four seniors (Aiden Wright, Kyle Chatham, J.T. Henke and Ryan Renz) will be honoured on the ice.  Fans looking to attend senior night are reminded to show up early (around 6:45 p.m.)

Third period effort falls short in 3-2 loss

MARQUETTE – In need of points, the Lake Superior State Lakers came up empty-handed in a Friday night loss to the Wildcats of Northern Michigan.

Lake Superior got on the board first when Diego Cuglietta netted goal number six on the year, scoring an unassisted goal under five minutes into the game.  The Lakers came out hard, outplaying the host Wildcats through the first half of the opening period.  A penalty to Alex Ambrosio seemed to spark the ‘Cats, as they began to get the better of the play.

Just 55 seconds into the second period, the Lakers’ lead was gone, as Adam Rockwood picked up his 3rd goal of the year.  An even strength goal, Rookwood’s tally came right after the expiration of an Anthony Nellis penalty.  Rockwood got assists from Demico Hannoun and Robbie Payne, the latter of whom is a candidate for the 2018 Hobey Baker Award.

Darien Craighead kept the momentum going for Northern Michigan with a goal 1:15 later, giving the Wildcats their first lead of the night.  Craighead added a power play tally later in the period for his 15th of the season.

Down but not out, the Lakers closed within one when J.T. Henke found the back of the net.  Despite the shots standing at 27-14 in favour of the hosts after 40 minutes, Lake Superior trailed by only one goal entering the final session.

To start the third period, the Laker offense came out firing shot after shot at ‘Cats goaltender Atte Tolvanen.  Tolvanan, who came close to breaking the NCAA shutout record last season (held by former Laker Blaine Lacher), stood tall, keeping the Lakers in check.  At the other end, Nick Kossoff kept the Wildcats from climbing any higher, turning away each attempt to widen the scoring gap.

With Kossoff on the bench and the Lakers’ net empty, Lake Superior tried to send the game to overtime.  Tolvanen, however, showed why he is one of the top goalies in the WCHA by coming up big for his team when they needed him, preserving the 3-2 score.

For the Lakers, Kossoff faced 34 shots, stopping 31.  Tolvanen finished the night with 27 saves on 29 attempts.

With the loss, the Lakers now trail the Wildcats 2-1 in the standings for the Father Cappo Cup, and hold a 2 goal advantage.  The rivalry for the cup started in 1992, and has been contested annually since 1995.  The ‘Cats won the cup last season on a tiebreaker, as both teams finished 1-1-2, but NMU outscored LSSU 10-9.

On the plus side, the teams directly ahead and below the Lakers in the standings all lost, as Alaska-Anchorage fell to Bowling Green, Ferris State lost to Bemidji State and Alaska was defeated by Michigan Tech.  While Lake Superior could not take advantage of the situation, they did not fall further out of the playoff race either.

The series will complete Saturday, January 20th at the Berry Events Centre in Marquette.  Face off is at 7:07 p.m.