While who's going to be the regular in net remains the biggest question mark for Lake Superior State at this time, the Lakers can take comfort in knowing the bulk of the team's blue line from a season ago remains intact as LSSU's top scoring defenseman in sophomore Collin Saccoman returns as do seniors Kyle Chatham, Aidan Wright, and Ryan Renz along with junior Matt McArdle.
An 2016-17 American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-American Scholar, Saccoman led Lake Superior State in scoring among the defensemen with a squad eighth-highest 18 points via three goals and a team third-most tying 15 assists this past season. A regular in all 36 games, Saccoman's 94 blocked shots paced the Lakers a season ago.
Saccoman will likely be paired on the top line with Aidan Wright, who achieved AHCA All-American Scholar accolades as well and has earned the honor of wearing the captain's 'C' on his Lakers' jersey for the upcoming 2017-18 season. Wright, a 2016-17 assistant captain, is coming off his best offensive season at Lake State following personal career season highs in points (seven) and assists (six) in 36 contests. The LSSU defender wrapped up the 2016-17 campaign by registering a team 11th-best tying total in assists while his 66 blocked shots were the second highest output on the team's season leaders list. Wright was highly productive in WCHA play as evidenced by compiling his entire season's points total and a team second-most 52 blocked shots in the 28 league encounters alone.
As with Wright, Kyle Chatham hopes to continue building upon his most productive campaign with the Lakers and make his final season at Lake Superior State a memorable one. Chatham, who was selected as LSSU's 2016-17 Most Valuable Defenseman, turned in career single-season highs in points (nine), goals (two), assists (seven), and plus/minus efficiency (plus eight) in 36 games. Chatham proved to be a consistent force in the defensive zone last season, notching the Lakers' second-best efficiency mark and tying for third on the team with 52 blocked shots.
Another veteran skater returning to the fold is Ryan Renz, who racked up three points last season all on assists in 14 appearances before being sidelined the remainder of the campaign. Renz, a two-time (2016-17 and 2017-18) LSSU assistant captain, was honored as both an AHCA All-American Scholar and a WCHA Scholar-Athlete for his noteworthy performance on the ice and in the classroom this past season.
Matt McArdle is yet another Laker to keep an eye on this upcoming season as the blue liner doubled his offensive output last season with six points on as many assists in 36 games after garnering three points on a goal and two helpers in 30 outings for the 2015-16 campaign. McArdle also chipped in on the defensive end a season ago with 52 blocked shots, which represented a tie for third highest on the squad.
The Lakers lost two mainstays on defense with the early departures of Owen Headrick and Kris Bindulis not to mention James Roll. Looking to fill the void are a talented, but inexperienced group of freshmen and a college transfer. William Riedell, Tyler Anderson, Bennet Vida, Lukas Kaelble, and transfer Steven Ruggiero all possess great size with instinctiveness and mobility.
Riedell, a 6-2, 198-pound skater, totaled 27 points on eight goals and 19 assists for the New Jersey Titans of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) last season while the 6-4, 227-pound Anderson was a named a British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) First-Team All Star in 2016-17 following a 47-points performance on 18 goals and 29 assists as a member of the Prince George Spruce Kings.
A 6-1, 200-pound defender, Vida chalked up six points on a goal and five helpers in 39 regular-season games for the Eastern Hockey League's (EHL) New York Apple Core after starting the 2016-17 season with the Calgary Mustangs of the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL). Kaelble, a 6-1, 209-pound defenseman, played for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League (USHL) this past season and had four goals with 13 assists for 17 points. The 6-3, 225-pound Ruggerio, a transfer from Providence College, joins the Lake Superior State program this season with sophomore eligibility after leaving the Friars early in the 2016-17 season and joining the USHL's Youngstown Phantoms for the second time in his career. A 2015 sixth-round draft pick of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, Ruggerio compiled five points all on assists in 29 games a season ago after closing out his Providence career with two points both on assists in 16 appearances.
Next Installment: "The Countdown to Faceoff" series continues this Friday (Sept. 29) with analysis of the Lake Superior State forwards.