Mike Barrett, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — As the Lake Superior State hockey team approaches its final home weekend of the 2018-19 season, fans are seeing the Lakers battle for a home playoff series for the first time since joining the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
One of the biggest reasons for this has been the stellar play of senior goaltender Nick Kossoff.
While much has been said and written regarding his fellow seniors, Diego Cuglietta, Gage Torrel and Anthony Nellis, Kossoff, the West Des Moines, Iowa native, has been one of the biggest reasons that the Lakers hold the best road record in college hockey.
Going into the second game of their final road series (at Northern Michigan) before the WCHA Tournament, the Lakers are 12-3 on the road, including a 10-3 mark within the conference. If their two neutral-site games at the Great Lakes Invitational are considered, the team is 14-3 away from Taffy Abel Arena.
"Our road success has been crucial for us this season," said Kossoff. "It is not easy to go into another teams' home ice and pick up wins, but we have managed to do that quite a bit this year. Our road play is part of the reason we are so dangerous this year. We are not fazed by away games and are seeming to thrive in them, which shows in our overall record."
A kinesiology major, Kossoff chose the degree because of a lifelong interest in the human body. "I have always been interested in the human body and how it works. Since I have been involved and interested in sports my entire life, it seemed like the perfect fit for me."
Delving further, Kossoff stated that he likes that the kinesiology program relates everything learned to real life. "As humans, we are constantly moving, and being able to understand how we move, why we move, and how to move more efficiently, has always been something that has interested me," he said. "Within the program, there are a lot of real world applications of concepts through working with clients and classmates. Being able to see the concepts we talk about in class actually happening is the most interesting aspect of the kinesiology program to me."
While playing hockey professionally is his goal after graduating, Kossoff says he would someday like to pursue a career in physical medicine and rehabilitation. "After this season, I hope to land somewhere in professional hockey and then eventually I'd like to go back to medical school to become a doctor," he said.
There have been several highlights of the season away from Taffy Abel Arena, including a 4-0 start to the season on the road, a gutsy 1-0 win against league-leading Minnesota State where Lake Superior State handed the Mavericks their only home loss of the season thus far, and a sweep of Ferris State in Big Rapids, Michigan, which the Lakers had not accomplished since 1993.
When he was asked back in October about personal highlights with the Lakers, one win stood out as particularly special in Kossoff's eyes. His freshman debut against Northern Michigan saw him stop all 19 shots faced, making him the first Laker netminder ever to earn a shutout in their first career appearance.
"My favorite moment at LSSU so far was easily leading the team out to ring the victory bell while it was snowing after my first career win against Northern Michigan," said Kossoff.
The win against the Wildcats enabled Lake Superior State to gain a positive footing in their quest for the Cappo Cup, a trophy that is awarded annually to the winner of the season series between the Lakers and Wildcats.
This season has had its highlights as well. For Kossoff, one of the biggest moments was being crowned champions at the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) for the first time in program history. The Lakers defeated Michigan State 4-3 in overtime, before claiming the title with a 6-3 win against league foe Michigan Tech.
"It was an incredible experience, and to be the first team in Lake State history to win the tournament, makes it that much sweeter," said Kossoff, who was named to the GLI All-Tournament Team.
Lake Superior State had been to the GLI three times before, but had never walked away with the John MacInnes Cup.
As most fans know, part of what makes playing on the road so difficult is the fans themselves. At all levels of play — college in particular — fans will do anything and everything they can to throw the visitors off their game. And no player is a bigger target than the opposing netminder.
Kossoff, however, is unfazed by the chants, signs and jeering.
"I actually kind of like [the jeering] during away games," revealed Kossoff. "It makes every save a little sweeter and makes the game more fun knowing that there is more of a challenge on every shot. The crazy fan environments are a part of the reason college hockey is so fun and something I will always remember. At the end of the day, the fans aren't the ones actually playing the game, so I try to just have fun with the chants and chirps."
While Kossoff and the Lakers would like to lock up a home playoff series, the outstanding record away from home ought to make potential playoff opponents wary of hosting Lake Superior State.
No matter how the remainder season goes, it is sure to be one to remember, not just for Kossoff and the team, but for Laker fans everywhere.
"This year has for sure been my favorite year at Lake Superior State so far. All of the success we have had this year has made this year incredibly special and I can't wait to see the success we have the rest of the season."
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