The question on almost every Lake Superior State University hockey fans' minds entering this season is who's going to replace last year's starting goaltender Gordon Defiel?
Well the answer might not be an easy one but has the potential to be a productive one.
Whoever occupys the crease in front of the Laker goal will no doubt take on a difficult task of replacing Defiel, who ranked second in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and 11th nationally with 935 saves while placing second with 748 stops in league action. LSSU's primary netminder last season, Defiel earned the starting assignment in 33 of 34 games played in and logged 1,692 minutes in net.
This season, Lake Superior State head coach Damon Whitten will in all likelihood be giving a greater role and responsibilities to Defiel's understudy Nick Kossoff. The junior goalie is the only Laker with collegiate game experience under his belt. Kossoff, an American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) All-American Scholar and a WCHA Scholar-Athlete Award recipient, went 0-3-0 with a 3.87 goals-against average (14 goals allowed) and an .881 saves percentage (104 saves) in 217 minutes of playing time last season. The 2016-17 LSSU Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award winner, who has 15 career starts in 19 appearances, turned in a solid effort in the 2016-17 post season with a season game-high 31 saves in 39 minutes of action against Michigan Tech (March 3) in a WCHA Playoff First-Round series.
Redshirt freshman Cooper Lukenda, who hails from nearby Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, hopes to benefit from a full season of learning the collegiate game and will vie for playing time throughout the course of this season. Lukenda saw action in 33 games for the 2015-16 season as a member of the Shattuck St. Mary's AAA team and compiled a 2.79 goals-against average along with an .897 saves percentage.
Battling Kossoff for the top spot will be a pair of talented freshmen netminders in Mareks Mitens and Roman Bengert, who both arrive to the Lake State program with impressive junior league credentials. Mitens, a native of Ventspils, Latvia, was recognized as both the 2016-17 North American Hockey League's (NAHL) Most Valuble Player and Vaughn Goaltender of the Year as a member of the Aston (Pa.) Rebels. He produced a 31-10-0 record between the posts with a a league-leading 1.63 goals-against average (63 goals allowed) and a .925 saves percentage (839 saves) in 2,322 minutes for 41 regular-season matchups last season. His 31 victories and 11 shutouts a season ago were also tops in the league en route to earning All-NAHL East Division Most Valuable Player, NAHL Goaltender of the Year, and All-NAHL First-Team accolades. The highlights of Bengert's playing resume features 2016-17 Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) All-Star First Team and MJHL Top Goaltender Award honors along with being voted as Steinbach's (Manitoba) Most Valuable Player. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia native capped off his final season in the junior ranks with a sparkling 49-10-1 overall record, which included a 38-7-0 mark with a league-best 2.14 goals-against average (98 goals allowed) and a .926 saves percentage (1,220 saves) in 46 regular-season games. Bengert was also selected the 2017 MJHL January Player of the Month and was a three-time league player of the week pick.
Next Installment: "The Countdown to Faceoff" series continues this Thursday (Sept. 28) with analysis of the Lake Superior State defensemen.