It should go without saying that this will be an odd season, but this will be an odd season.
Lake Superior State is set to begin their 55th season this Saturday and Sunday against Michigan Tech at the Taffy Abel Arena. For the time being, no fans will be in attendance, in accordance with the recent epidemic order issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. This is expected to last three weeks but, if this calendar year has been any indication, that could change.
Last season, the Lakers finished 14-23-4 overall, with a 11-14-4 mark in Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) play. Lake Superior dropped from fourth place to seventh and finished their season with a loss to Bemidji State in the first round of league play.
The team did have moments to celebrate, such as recapturing the Father Cappo Cup and putting together a four game season sweep of Ferris State (their first since 1994-95). Given the success felt from the previous season, however, the season was disappointing to many.
Outside of Sault Ste. Marie, there was much activity in the college hockey world. Alabama Huntsville and Alaska Anchorage separately announced their programs would fold following this season. While the Chargers received an outpouring of support from the hockey community and will play on, the Seawolves have not yet received such a reprieve and have elected not to play this season. St. Thomas will be joining the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) with the seven schools, Lake Superior included, who will leave the WCHA after this year.
There is no getting around this one — Max Humitz will be missed.
The native of Livonia became the second Laker in two seasons to eclipse 100 points while donning the anchor. His 22 goals were fourth best in the nation and second in the league (behind Northern Michigan’s Griffin Loughran). Unlike some players, who spend much time on the bench in their first season and slowly build up to become an elite talent, Humitz was in integral part of the team offence since his first season.
The rest of the departing players did not make much of an impact on the scoresheet, with Brayden Gelsinger the next forward down the list with 8 points. Four of the Lakers’ returning forwards had at least 20 points last season, led by Ashton Calder (12-16—28) and Louis Boudon (6-21—27). While they benefited with being on the Humitz line, they showed their prowess as well.
Lake Superior has four seniors up front in Yuki Miura, Alex Ambrosio, Hampus Eriksson and Chase Gamelin. Eriksson (6-18—24) and Miura (2-12—14) lead the scoring among the senior class.
Six new faces help fill spots up front, including two transfers: Jack Jeffers from Alabama Huntsville (6-6—12 in 2019-2020 season) and Brandon Puricelli from Minnesota Duluth (1-1—2 in 12 games). Jeffers came to Lake Superior during the week that the Chargers had dissolved. After an incredible outpouring of support from the hockey community, Alabama Huntsville will play this season, but much damage was done, as the players were free to walk once the program initially called it quits. Because of the circumstances, Jeffers will not be required to sit out a year, per NCAA guidelines.
Four freshman round out the new forwards, consisting of Spencer DenBeste (15-14—29, NAHL), Joshua Wildauer (22-35—57, BCHL), Tyler Williams (10-21—31, BCHL) and Benito Posa (7-7—14, USHL). All four are Michigan natives.
Lake Superior already knows what life will be without Collin Saccoman, as he missed the second half of last season. Tyler Anderson and Alec Semandel departed along with co-captain Saccoman, known for his shot-blocking prowess.
Two seniors will anchor the blueline, including captain Lukas Kälble and Will Riedell. Riedell (5-13—18) led the Laker defence in scoring, followed by Jacob Nordqvist (2-11—13). While not scoring many points, Arvid Henrikson and Mitch Oliver logged significant time on the blueline as well.
Joining them are three freshmen: Jeremy Gervais, Artyom Borshyov and Jacob Bengtsson. A trend of more players from outside of North America has continued with the defence, as Bengtsson (Sweden) and Borshyov (Belarus) join an increasingly international cast. It should be noted that Borshyov did captain the Belarus U18 World Junior team in 2017-2018.
Mareks Mitens returns for his senior season. Last year, Mitens won the starting job and started 38 of 39 games, posting a 2.57 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. Roman Bengert graduated, following limited action. Seth Eisele, who did not play last year, also returns.
Joining the tandem is Ethan Langenegger. Langenegger, who hails from Kamloops, B.C., comes to Lake Superior after two seasons with Salmon Arm (BCHL).
Lake Superior has been projected to finish 6th in what may be the finale of the WCHA. This is where they were picked to place last season as well. They certainly can improve on that, but that will take somebody stepping up and filling the void left by Humitz. If Calder and Boudon remain on a line together, they could draw attention away from the third forward, helping to ease the blow.
The bigger question may be if they will finish at all.
The state of sports has been turned on its head and college hockey is no exception. Alabama Huntsville and Alaska Anchorage announced that they were folding their programs back in the summer and, while the Chargers have at least a temporary reprieve (raising over $500,000 in a week), the Seawolves have already said they are not playing this season, which seems to signal the end of their program though there is a movement to save it. Many other schools out east have said the same thing.
Make no mistake: there is a very real chance this season could end like last season, with nobody being crowned champion. There are mixed emotions all throughout the world on resuming sports. While we have seen many professional sports resume and conclude their seasons, collegiate athletics is very different, in that its participants cannot live in a bubble like what the NBA and NHL did. They are student athletes and have classes to attend.
At the end of the day, all we can do is our part and hope that others do theirs.