Lakers start season on right foot, beat Merrimack in opener

Michell Oliver uncorks the shot that earned him his first collegiate goal in the Lakers’ 6-2 win over Merrimack on Saturday night (Mike Barrett/LHB)

Lake Superior State could not have asked for a better opening to its 54th season of collegiate hockey, as they downed the Merrimack Warriors 6-2 at Taffy Able Arena.

Head coach Damon Whitten saw his team win their fourth straight season opener by beating the same opponent they faced last year on opening weekend.

Mitchell Oliver, who was unable to play last season due to eligibility issues, opened the scoring with a rocket shot from the blue line that beat Merrimack goaltender Jere Huhtamaa. The Warriors responded with a goal by Chase Gresock late in the period that sent the teams to the locker room tied after 20 minutes.

Lake Superior restored their lead with a goal by Hampus Eriksson. The native of Forsbacka, Sweden, dug the puck out of a pile up in front of the net and flipped it over the shoulder of Huhtamaa.

Merrimack did not stay down for long, as Gresock tallied his second goal of the evening, beating goalie Mareks Mitens and tying the game at 2. The Lakers got another goal, this time from Jacob Nordqvist, who put the puck past Huhtamaa while skating parallel to the net, regaining the lead for the home team.

Late in the period, Lake Superior went up by 2 when Yuki Miura deflected a shot from captain Collin Saccoman past an outstretched Huhtamaa. For Miura, this was the 3rd goal of his collegiate career.

A goal by Max Humitz in the third period signaled the end of the night for Huhtamaa, as he was switched in favour of Troy Kobryn. As freshmen, neither Huhtamaa nor Kobryn had ever played a minute of NCAA hockey before tonight.

Going for broke, Merrimack pulled Kobryn with under four minutes to play. Lake State’s Miroslav Mucha put the final nail in the coffin with an empty netter, setting up the final 6-2 score.

In collecting the win, Mitens made 27 saves on 29 shots.  His counterpart Huhtamaa allowed 5 goals on 23 shots, taking the loss.  Kobryn stopped all 4 shots he faced in relief.

Starting his second season behind the bench for Merrimack is Scott Borek. Head coach of the Lakers from 1996-97 to 2000-01, Borek amassed a 76-94-15 record. That his first game as head coach of the Warriors last season was against his former team was purely a coincidence — the schedule had been made prior to his hire.

The two teams will conclude their series on Sunday.  Game time is scheduled for 5 p.m.