Going into their series against the University of Denver, few people gave Lake Superior a chance. After all, their opponent was the defending national champions, a team that brought back most of the essential pieces from the title run seven months ago. The Pioneers’ broadcast media showed no respect for the Lakers, boastfully predicting that Denver would see no trouble from their opponent in the two game set.
And yet, despite the odds against them, Lake Superior showed grit, resolve and determination, forcing the Pioneers to come from behind on both nights. While shots on goal were incredibly lopsided (66-17 on Friday, 54-16 on Saturday), goaltenders Nick Kossoff and Mareks Mitens held the nation’s top-ranked team in check for five periods over the weekend, as Lake Superior tied the Pioneers 3-3 on Friday, before falling 5-1 on Saturday.
Friday – Lake Superior 3, Denver 3 (Denver scores in exhibition overtime session)
The story Friday night was Nick Kossoff. Kossoff, with 63 saves on 66 shots (.955 SV %), set the school record for saves in a game, breaking Matt Violin’s 60 save record against Alaska in January, 2003. In addition, Kossoff bested the 57 saves made by Gordie Defiel against Minnesota State-Mankato in the 2016 WCHA Tournament for the best mark in the Damon Whitten era.
Lake State drew first blood when Max Humitz passed the puck to Brayden Gelsinger, who one-timed it past Pioneers netminder Tanner Jaillet. Jaillet, the reigning Mike Richter Award winner, allowed 3 goals on 17 shots – a .824 save percentage on the evening.
Early in the second period, the Lakers went up 2-0 when Gelsinger dug a puck out from behind the net, where Denver’s Henrik Borgstrom was waiting. Borgstrom was unable to control the puck in front of the net, where Humitz collected it and buried it behind Jaillet.
Just past the midway point of the game, Borgstrom got Denver on the scoreboard. His goal sent the teams back to the dressing rooms with the score 2-1 Lakers after 40 minutes.
With about 8 minutes remaining in the game, Borgstrom managed to hit Dylan Gambrell with a long pass, who got in alone on Kossoff and scored, tying the game.
The Lakers answered back 2:30 later, when Jake Hand notched his second goal of the season on a turnover behind the Denver net. The Pios came right back, however, as Liam Finley retied the game exactly two minutes after Hand untied it.
As the game wore on, Kossoff continued to see more and more rubber each period. Denver’s shot total increased from 17 in the first period, to 19 in the second, to 28 in the third. Nevertheless, Kossoff kept his team in the game in spite of the mounting offensive pressure.
With the game tied at the end of regulation, the standard five minute 5-on-5 overtime was played. Neither team could score, and both had difficulty getting shots on net, as the Lakers managed only one and the Pioneers only mustered two.
Since both leagues play 3-on-3 overtime, a five minute session was played, solely as an exhibition. Denver scored a goal in the session to unofficially win the game; the NCAA still recognizes the game as a tie.
Early in the third period, Lakers defenseman Collin Saccoman took a hit and fell to the ice. He did not return to the game.
Saturday – Denver 5, Lake Superior 1
Both clubs opted for a change in net, as Lake State started Mareks Mitens in his second collegiate game. Making his college debut for the Pioneers was Dayton Rasmussen.
A 3 goal third period made the game look less of one, but Mitens still made 49 saves – a respectable .907 save percentage on the night. Much like Kossoff the night before, Mitens was peppered with shots all through the night.
As they did on Friday, the Lakers struck first when Josh Nenadal deflected a William Reidell shot under the crossbar and behind Rasmussen. Denver tied the game later in the period, when Troy Terry beat Mitens. That made the score 1-1 after 20 minutes.
In the second period, the Lakers hung tight with the Pioneers, even outshooting them 8-7 at one point. A critical turning point in the game came when Jake Hand and Diego Cuglietta were both called for penalties, giving Denver a full two minutes of 5-on-3 hockey (Hand drew the initial penalty while Cuglietta’s came while the Lakers were attempting to touch up the puck). On the man advantage, Terry netted his second of the night.
Denver set the tone for the third period early, as Michael Davies scored on Mitens with under a minute gone. The Pioneers took a 4-1 lead just before the 9:00 mark on a goal from Griffin Mendel.
The Lakers had an opportunity to climb back into the game when Denver’s Blake Hillman received a 5 minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head. The Pios’ penalty kill kept Lake Superior off of the board.
Denver nearly made it 5-1 when Logan O’Connor got in on Mitens while shorthanded. O’Connor received a slash from Tyler Anderson on the play, causing him to be awarded a penalty shot. Mitens turned O’Connor away.
The Pioneers added a late goal by Jaakko Heikkinen on their way to a 5-1 victory.
Lake State takes on former CCHA foe Michigan State in non-conference action this Friday and Saturday. Both games will be at the Munn Ice Arena, starting at 7p.m. both nights. Last year, Michigan State travelled to the Soo, falling 6-1 and 7-3 on Great Lake State Weekend.