Mike Barrett, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — A quick look at the roster of the 2018-19 Lake Superior State hockey team reveals seven members of the team whose home is not in North America.
With players from Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Slovakia and Japan, the Lakers have developed a distinctly international look that comes with a multitude of languages in the locker room.
Yet it is easy for fans to overlook the fact that one of the seniors from North America on the squad speaks English as a second language too.
Forward Anthony Nellis is one of two Lakers who came to Lake Superior State from a French speaking area of Canada. But while one may think a language barrier exists on the ice, he or she is sorely mistaken. As head coach Damon Whitten says, "we all speak hockey here."
Like his fellow senior forwards Diego Cuglietta and Gage Torrel, Nellis saw much more action than the average freshman in his first season donning the anchor. In each of his first three seasons with the Lakers, he has been in the top five on the team in points.
Having sat out three games in his entire Laker career, the native of Breakyville, Quebec, has learned much in the way of caring for himself in preparation for games, pointing out that experience has been the key.
"I know what is good for myself and what is not, being in my fourth year," Nellis said. "I got to learn how to prepare for a game more properly over time — giving my body what it needs in order to perform at my best. Also, creating habits is a very important aspect of college hockey with the road trips, practice time and games."
A finance and economics major, Nellis was partially drawn to Lake State due to its small school environment. With English being his second language, he stressed the importance of having instructors who would take the time to get to know him.
Being around the multilingual locker room helps too.
"The transition is easier here, especially when guys can relate to teammates that are in the same situation, trying to learn English and be more fluent with it," said Nellis. "The team in general is very cool with it, which allows everyone to communicate smoothly with each other."
On what drew him towards his major, he remarked that he has always held an interest in looking at successful businesses and innovative ideas. "I like learning how to manage money and how to invest it," he said. "Working in business is also like working with other people on a team, which is what I have always done with hockey teams."
Nellis says he does not have a specific idea of what career he would like to pursue following graduation, keeping his options open. He has indicated an interest in possibly working as a commercial real estate agent or as a financial advisor. "To start, I will need to get experience in different fields to narrow down what interests me the most," he said. "I want a job that will allow me to interact with people because I like the social aspect."
Like many student-athletes, who play hockey at the collegiate level, Nellis started at a young age. Following three seasons with the Sherbooke Cougars of the Ligue de Hockey Junior du Québec (QJHL), Nellis played one season in the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL), where he drew the attention of the Lakers and signed his National Letter of Intent.
Since joining the Lakers, Nellis' stat line has been nothing short of impressive: 39 goals and 48 assists in 138 games, giving him a shot at becoming the first Laker to collect 100 career points since Dominic Monardo, who did so in the 2012-13 season.
Although he has faced many memorable opponents in a Laker uniform, the game that stands out the most for Nellis was came in his first-ever game with the Lakers. They played the University of North Dakota at the 2015 Ice Breaker Tournament in Portland, Maine. North Dakota went on to win the national championship that season and many of their players have since spent time in the NHL.
"[Playing] North Dakota during my freshman year when they had [Nick] Schmaltz, [Paul] Ladue, [Drake] Caggula, [Brock] Boeser and [Troy] Stecher, who all play in the NHL, still stands out to me as a game I will always remember," said Nellis.
Recognizing his leadership abilities on and off the ice, Whitten named Nellis an alternate captain at the beginning of this season.
"I am very fortunate and honored to be named a captain this year," said Nellis. "One of the most important things for me since the beginning of my career has been being a great teammate, and to be someone who is respected. I am proud of being an alternate captain, especially for a historic program like Lake Superior State."
While he has always been well known by Laker fans, Nellis has received more notoriety on the national level due to his recent nomination for the 2019 Hobey Baker Award. He and Cuglietta were both nominated, becoming the first Lakers in recent history to be on the Hobey Baker Award ballot.
"To be honest, it is not something I thought would happen," said Nellis. "It is a great honor, and I am even more proud that I am nominated with my teammate, and great friend, Diego. We have been here together for four years working hard for the team. It is great to receive recognition, but I am even more happy that the team has found success (winning streaks, GLI Champions, nationally ranked).
Nellis was quick to credit the outstanding season Lake Superior has had for his nomination, saying he "would not have gotten this nomination if it was not for our team success, so I am thanking my teammates and my coaches for this."
Should either Nellis or Cuglietta receive the award, they would be the first-ever Lakers to win the award, following six finalists.
For Nellis, though, it is all about trying to finish the season strong and claim home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, as well as handing the program off to the next group of student-athletes.
"We came in this year with a new mindset," said Nellis, discussing the Lakers' turnaround from prior seasons. "We knew we had the potential to do something great. It was just a matter of setting new standards and having everyone on the same boat. We have great team spirit and everyone is positive no matter what. We believe in what we can do. The coaches work very hard for us and guys respond well. Credit to them and credit to the team for the turnaround."
"Now the main goal is to win the WCHA Tournament and go to the NCAA Tournament," Nellis said.
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