Lake Superior State is reaching out to alumni, players and fans who have played a part in 50 years of Laker Hockey. We look forward to posting your photos and stories in this 50th Anniversary section.
Laker Hockey’s history includes five national championship teams, more than 30 alumni who have played in the National Hockey League, nine head coaches, and many great players and colorful characters. From Ron Mason recruiting former major junior standouts during the program’s infancy in the mid-1960s, to the current LSSU team embarking on its fourth season in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, we’ll walk you through the Lakers’ five decades of hockey.
As the campus transitioned from a two-year branch of Michigan Tech to a four-year institution, the Soo Lakers hockey team evolved from club status and played its first varsity season in 1966-67. Lake Superior State College President Kenneth J. Shouldice, Director of Athletics Bud Cooper and Coach Mason, who was the Lakers’ first varsity coach, were not only instrumental in starting the program but also played major roles in the formation of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 1972.
The Soo Lakers enjoyed 10 straight winning seasons during their first decade of existence. Mason coached during the first seven seasons and led the Lakers to the 1972 NAIA National Championship, and Rick Comley coached the next three and won the 1974 NAIA National Championship. Randy MacArthur, Comley, Jim Booth and Jim Wiley led the Lakers in scoring during those early years, and all four are still among the program’s top 20 all-time scorers. Duffy Lewis, Paul Menard and Don Muio were some of the notable goaltenders of that era, and two of the three became NAIA All-Americans. Julio Francella totaled 212 points from 1971-75 and his scoring mark stood until 1991. Booth and defenseman John Flesch, who played during the 1972-73 season, were the Lakers’ first NHL Draft picks. Forward Jim Wiley ‘72 was the first Laker to appear in a NHL game.
In 1971, Jack Vivian of Bowling Green State, Bill Sellman of St. Louis and Mason met at the Parker House in Boston and established a “coaches league.” A scheduling agreement was reached among BGSU, Ohio State, Ohio University and St. Louis and the CCHA was born. LSSC joined a year later and won a share of its first title in 1973-74.
Comley left the LSSU program for Northern Michigan following a successful 20-15-1 season in 1975-76. The next decade included the Rick Yeo coaching era from 1976-81, then Sellman coached for 1 ½ seasons before leaving hockey to go into private business. The CCHA encompassed as many as 12 teams during that time. LSSC standouts included forwards Steve Mulholland and Allan Butler, and goaltender Murray Skinner. Mulholland is the only Laker to lead the team in points for four straight seasons.
Assistant coach Frank Anzalone took over midway through the 1982-83 season and turned the Lakers into a national powerhouse. LSSC earned its first NCAA Tournament bid in 1984-85 after finishing 27-16-1 overall and second to Michigan State in the CCHA Playoffs. After back-to-back CCHA top-four finishes, the Lakers won the regular-season title in 1987-88, which happened to be the same year LSSC was granted university status and became LSSU. Paced by scoring leaders Mark Vermette and Mike deCarle, and an amazing freshman class led by goaltender Bruce Hoffort, the Lakers won their first of three NCAA Championships during a six-year span. Analzone was named the Spencer Penrose National Coach of the Year.
LSSU made nine straight NCAA Tournament appearances from 1988-96, including three straight under Anzalone and six under coach Jeff Jackson. LSSU was considered the nation’s top college hockey program during that span, and its impressive list of accolades included 18 all-Americans, two U.S. College Hockey players of the year (Vermette and goaltender Darrin Madeley) and six Hobey Baker Award finalists (Vermette, Hoffort, Jim Dowd, Madeley, Brian Rolston and Keith Aldridge). Dowd broke Francella’s career scoring record by totaling 91-183—274 from 1987-91. Defenseman Mark Astley (Team Canada), Rolston, Jackson, Doug Weight and John Grahame went on to become Olympians.
LSSU won CCHA regular-season titles in 1990-91 and 1995-96, and playoff championships in 1991, ’92, ’93 and ’95. During that era, Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena became known as “Norris Center South.”
The Norris Center Ice Arena underwent a facelift in 1995, and the expanded 4,000-seat rink became known as Taffy Abel Arena following the Gem of the North project, spearheaded by Jackson.
Jackson left LSSU to begin the U.S. National Team Development Program in 1996, and Scott Borek coached the Lakers for five seasons. He was named CCHA Coach of the Year after leading the Lakers from an eighth-place, 10-17-3 season in 1998-99 to a third-place, 17-9-2 mark in 1999-00. Anzalone returned to coach the Lakers from 2001-05. While he didn’t enjoy the same success during his second stint, he helped turn the program around for the Lakers’ next head coach, Jim Roque, who had winning seasons during his first two years. The 2006-07 Lakers (21-19-3), led by defenseman Derek A. Smith and goaltender Jeff Jakaitis, is the last LSSU team to enjoy a winning season and make it to the “Joe”.
Roque also ushered the Lakers into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association after the Big Ten Conference forced the hand of conference realignments and the demise of the CCHA in 2013. After one season in the WCHA, Damon Whitten took over as the Lakers’ head coach in 2014-15. In 2015-16, Whitten’s second season with the program and the LSSU varsity team’s 50th season, the Lakers nearly doubled their overall and WCHA win totals from the previous year, re-captured the revered Cappo Cup from rival Northern Michigan, picked up a victory over Broadmoor Trophy winner and NCAA Tournament qualifier Ferris State on the road for the first time in nearly a decade, and took the regular season champions Minnesota State to a third game in the WCHA Quarterfinals following a record-breaking performance by sophomore goaltender Gordon Defiel.
Enjoy: Laker Hockey Through the Years!
Take a look back through 50 years of Laker Hockey, as narrated by Bill Crawford.