This is part 1 of a 3 part series previewing the 2018-19 season of the Lake Superior State hockey team.
Mike Barrett, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The good news for the Lake Superior State Lakers is that there was only one forward lost to graduation last season and six of the top eight forwards will suit up again for the anchor this season.
The bad news is that the forward who graduated, J.T. Henke, was the leading scorer in two of the last three seasons.
In comes a sizeable freshman class to help offset the loss. Five freshman, combined with twelve returnees, will vie for the 12 forward slots on head coach Damon Whitten's lineup sheet.
While the loss of Henke will be felt, it is important to note that Lake Superior will return 76 percent of last year's point production — a marked improvement from the 66 percent a year prior.
"J.T. Henke obviously had a big year for us as our leading scorer, but we return the next several forwards on the stat sheet, so it's an experienced group," said Whitten.
For the first time in three seasons, there will be more than one forward in the senior class, as Gage Torrel , Diego Cuglietta and Anthony Nellis, all pillars of the forward unit in their time with the Lakers, will be looked upon to lead by the other forwards.
A native of Monticello, Minnesota, Torrel quietly accumulated 16 points last season as an alternate captain. Cuglietta, meanwhile, racked up 23 points, which tied him for second on the team. Rounding out the seniors is Anthony Nellis, whose 12 goals were second on the team. All three will be wearing letters this season — Torrel and Cuglietta are co-captains, while Nellis is one of two alternate captains.
"It's a huge honor to be looked upon by your teammates," said Torrel. "I'm greatful for it, but I feel as though we have more than just four leaders in this locker room, more than just the two wearing the C's. I think that's a big part of our team."
Cuglietta spoke with much of the same sentiment. "It is a great honor, this is a historic [program] here. We've got a lot of work to do, but we're excited to be here," remarked the native of Kamloops, British Columbia.
"Our senior forwards all have the chance to join the 100 point club here at Lake State," said Whitten. "There's a ton of experience there that we'll have to rely on."
Five juniors, led by Max Humitz and Brayden Gelsinger, help give Lake Superior depth up front that the team has not had in the past. Humitz, who had 13 goals in each of his first two seasons (and had the team high last year), will look to continue the trend this season, as will Gelsinger, who improved his point production to 18 last year.
The other three junior forwards (Brendan McKay, Ian Johnston and Bryan Basilico) all saw their output improve from the previous year and will set out to do the same again. McKay and Johnston both saw more ice time in 2017-18 while Basilico's games played nearly tripled, going from 11 in 2016-17 to 30 last year.
In all, Lake Superior has eight upperclassman forwards — the most the team has had since the 2009-10 season.
The sophomore class has four forwards to its name. Of the four, only Hampus Erikkson played close to a full season with the Lakers, as Yuki Miura was injured early on and Alex Ambrosio did not join the team until midseason. Combined with Chase Gamelin (who was voted Most Improved by his teammates last season), the group will be looking to breakout now with some collegiate experience under his belt.
Finally, there are the new faces on the team. Owen Guy, Ashton Calder, Miroslav Mucha, Melvin Karlsson and Pierre-Luc Veillette come to Lake Superior from four different junior leagues. Of the five, Guy and Veillette come in with perhaps the best team accomplishment, as the pair were teammates with the Ottawa Junior Senators of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL). Guided by the duo, Ottawa made it all the way to the Royal Bank Cup, a five team tournament in which the winner receives the eponymous cup and is named the top Junior A team in all of Canada. Calder (a Sault native) was with Lincoln of the United States Hockey League (USHL) and Mucha played with the North American Hockey League (NAHL)'s Minor Minotaurs. Karlsson, a Swede, played in the Swedish SuperElit League for Rogle.
Countdown to Faceoff continues tomorrow with the defenseman position.