By Mike Barrett
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The Lake Superior State hockey team, under sixth year Head Coach Damon Whitten, will drop the puck on its 54th season on Saturday, Oct. 5, as they host the Merrimack Warriors in a non-conference game at 7:00 p.m. at Taffy Abel Arena.
The Lakers are coming off their best season in 23 years as the team posted a 23-12-2 overall record with 16 of those wins coming in conference play. LSSU finished fourth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) in 2018-19, earning and winning a home ice playoff series for the first time since joining the league as they defeated Bemidji State in a best-of-three game series. In addition, the team competed in the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, where the Lakers won the program's first ever GLI Title.
This season, the Lakers schedule features 18 home games (14 conference, 4 non-conference), with the Feb. 15 home game against the University of Alabama-Huntsville being played at the GFL Memorial Gardens in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. For the second season in a row, the Lakers will open play with a series against Merrimack which will feature the return of former Laker head coach and current Warrior Head Coach Scott Borek. The following weekend Lake Superior State will host the No. 2 University of Denver for the first time ever during Great Lake State Weekend. To close out the first month of play, the Lakers will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. for a series against Michigan and South Bend, Ind. to face-off against Notre Dame and Head Coach Jeff Jackson, another former Laker head coach.
The rest of the season will predominantly feature conference games with the exception of the Catamount Cup holiday tournament in late December in Burlington, Vt., as well as an exhibition game in late January against the U.S. Under-18 National Team Development Program.
About the Lakers:
Lake Superior sees three of its top six scorers return from last season. The Lakers bring a pair of productive senior forwards in captain Max Humitz (16-17-33 in 2018-19) and Brayden Gelsinger (10-13-23), both of whom have had three double-digit point seasons prior to this year. In addition, sophomore Sault Ste. Marie native Ashton Calder (5-17-22), junior forward Hampus Eriksson (3-11-14) and senior alternate captain Brendan McKay (3-10-13) also return. They will be joined by four freshmen, including Robert Blueger, Louis Boudon, Niko Esposito-Selivanov and Dustin Manz.
On defense, senior captain Collin Saccoman and junior alternate captain Lukas Kaelble will headline a defensive corps that only saw one loss to graduation and helped put together the 22nd best penalty kill unit in the nation. Junior Will Reidell, junior Tyler Anderson and sophomore Jacob Nordqvist return on the back end. They will be joined by newcomers Arvid Henrikson, a draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, and Michael Mannara.
Between the pipes, junior Mareks Mitens looks to assume the starting role in goal. In 2018-19, the native of Ventspils, Latvia had a record of 6-5-0, sporting a 2.31 goals against average (GAA) and a .919 save percentage (SV%). Junior Roman Bengert and freshman Seth Eisele will look to earn time in net as well.
About the Warriors:
Merrimack went 7-24-3 last season, with a 4-18-2 mark in Hockey East play. Second year head coach Scott Borek, who coached Lake Superior from 1996-97 to 2000-01, saw his team fail to qualify for the Hockey East Tournament. Merrimack has 16 freshmen on the roster this year.
Three of the four top scorers for Merrimack last season return, including Chase Gresock, the only member of the team to score double-digit goals. Seniors Tyler Irvine (6-12-18) and Sami Tavernier (4-12-16) will shoulder the load as well.
Back on the blue line, the Warriors lost Johnathan Kovacevic and his 18 points to the pros. Dominic Dockery (1-4-5) is the only upperclassman who saw time last season. He will be joined by Patrick Holway, a transfer from the University of Maine.
In net, Merrimack lost seniors Craig Pantano (3.52 GAA, .889 SV%) and Drew Volger (3.99 GAA, .867 SV%), leaving three freshman the opportunity to start. Jere Huhtamaa, James Corcoran and Troy Kobryn will give Borek options.
The Lakers are home again next weekend for Great Lake State Weekend, when they face Denver in non-conference play. The game on Friday, Oct. 11 is set for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop, while the Saturday, Oct. 12 game will start at 7:00 p.m. EDT. Tickets may be purchased at the Norris Center Ticket Office or online.
The Merrimack series will include free admission for all kids 17 and under who are accompanied to the games by a paid adult. The tickets can be picked up at the Norris Center Box Office one hour prior to puck drop each night.
For more information, please visit LSSULakers.com.
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