Superior Showcase Preview
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
All three Michigan upper peninsula teams will be featured in this weekend's showcase, with Lake Superior and Northern Michigan each hosting a pair of games, against opponents Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech.
And it's the Michigan-outsider, Minnesota-Duluth, that holds the edge historically in the Superior Cup, with a 3-1-2-1 all-time record.
Pre-season expectations are high for the Bulldogs, who will look to senior Justin Fontaine and juniors Jack and Mike Connolly to lead an offense that returns six 10-goal scorers from its 22-win team last season. UMD barely missed the cut for the NCAA tournament field.
"It was difficult to handle last year to be on the bubble, and be so close to making the NCAA tournament," Jack Connolly told the Duluth News Tribune. "We believed we were good enough to be in there. We understand every game matters, right off the bat with the first game, and we expect this to be a good year."
The Bulldogs' opponent on Friday night is Lake Superior. The Lakers also failed to win their exhibition contest last week, falling 5-4 in a home contest to Western Ontario.
Like the Bulldogs, Lake Superior plans to take advantage of its returning playmakers.
Senior forwards Rick Schofield and Will Acton were Lake State's top two scorers last season, while sophomore forward Ben Power was fourth on the team in points and 10th in the CCHA in freshman scoring.
Said Lakers coach Jim Roque, "Our strength will be our goaltending and leadership. Brian Mahoney-Wilson is healthy after having major hip surgery last April, and our senior class is very good. I would like to see us do a better job on our forecheck, and our defensive zone coverage needs to improve from last season."
Friday's other contest in the Superior Showcase features Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan. Michigan Tech beat Nipissing 5-3 last week and will look to improve a defense that gave up an average of 4.10 goals per game last season. The Huskies won just five games last season, after winning only six the season before.
Needless to say, times have been tough in Houghton, Mich., for coach Jamie Russell and the Huskies. But there's nothing quite like the optimism for a new season.
"In the first series of the year, we are looking to establish our team identity," said Russell. "We want to be a team that is very hard to play against, strong defensively and competes with every guy, every shift. After going through such adversity last year with all the injuries, we are excited to turn the page and move forward."
Russell also promised more from his team this season.
"We have a big team that will be physical," said Russell. "We have strong leadership and we will score more goals this season."
Northern Michigan, meanwhile, after losing a productive senior class and two All-American juniors (Erik Gustaffson, Mark Olver), has question marks surrounding its team heading into the weekend as well.
"Team success lies in good leadership and chemistry and we are still in the developing stages in those areas," said Walt Kyle, who coached the Wildcats to an NCAA tournament appearance last season. "We look forward to growing as the season progresses and in the end hope to be able to compete for our league title."