Lake Front Property
After Years of Trying to Rebuild, LSSU is in First Place in the CCHA
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
When the 2010-11 season ended for Lake Superior State, there was lot of accomplishments to celebrate. The perennial afterthought rose to eighth in the high-caliber CCHA, advanced to the second round of the league playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, and took eventual league runner-up Notre Dame to three games.
Some may have viewed the Lakers’ success as over-achivement, a performance that wouldn’t be repeated after seniors Will Action and Rick Schofield, who combined 26 goals and 59 points, took twenty-eight percent of the team’s scoring along with their diplomas.
When the media and coaches’ polls came out for 2011-12, LSSU was pegged to once again dwell towards the bottom of the league.
“In the past few years, we haven’t proved we’re better than that,” coach Jim Roque said. “Why would you pick us to do better than that? We have to go out and prove people wrong. I’m not worried about the polls.”
Roque may not have to worry about them, but they polls are taking a more prominent role in over in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
LSSU has more than picked up where they left off last season, sitting atop the CCHA with a 5-1-0 record, while its 8-2-0 overall record has it ranked 11th in the country.
They’ve swept weekend series with Alabama-Huntsville, Michigan State and Miami, and split series with Bowling Green and Bemidiji State, getting offensive contributions from the whole roster. Juniors Nick McParland and Zach Trotman and sophomore Kyle Jean are tied for the team lead with nine points apiece, while junior Domenic Monardo, is proving his breakout sophomore season was no fluke with three goals and five assists. Sophomore Kevin Kapalka has picked up where his first season left off, with a 7-2-0 record, 2.10 GAA, and .920 save percentage, all among the national leaders.
“Last year we had Schofield and Acton, and everyone kind of felt that ‘Will and Rick will get it done,’” Roque said. “This year, it’s more by committe — they’ve all taken it upon themselves.”
Perhaps no one has taken on the pressure more than McParland, whose six goals tie his career high, while he sits one point away from his career mark of 10, set over 32 games last season.
“So far, he’s been very good for us,” Roque said. “He redshirted his freshman year, and he showed flashes of what we wanted to see his sophomore and junior years. He deserves a lot of the credit. He’s back this year leaner, stronger. We wanted to put him in a role to succeed, and playing on the powerplay with Jean, he’s done just that so far.”
“I had a really good summer,” McParland said. “I dedicated the entire summer to hockey, and came in excited to start the season. I have to credit my linemates though. Kyle Jean is a great guy to play with, [6-foot-5 freshman forward Buddy] Robinson opens up a lot of space.”
McParland’s explosion has emerged in the gap left by Acton and Schofield, something the Lakers’ returnees discussed.
“It was questionable if we’d have a lot of scoring,” junior Nick McParland said. “We all got together and took a look at the schedule and thought we could get off to a good start, and that was pretty much our goal. We’re taking it one game at a time, not looking at the standings or too far ahead.”
A lesson LSSU learned in their third series, when they admittedly got a bit over-excited taking on Bowling Green.
“We didn’t play really well against Bowling Green that first night, but we bounced back the next night,” McParland said. “And thats what good teams do, they seem to find a way to win.”
For such a young team, the learning curve has come quick, but not unexpectedly. The current junior and sophomore classes saw lots of ice time last season, and their leadership shows. McParland and Monardo - an assistant captain along with defenseman Trotman, have teamed with Jean and sophomore goalie Kevin Kapalka - who played starter’s minutes in place of injury-plagued senior Brian Mahoney-Wilson last season - to carry LSSU through a number of tight games.
“Every game we’ve played has been a one-goal game; that’s kind of our league, but we’ve battled really hard,” Roque said, noting that the scoreboard doesn’t show just how many games went down to the wire or were sealed with empty-netters. “We’ve been very fortunate.”
Roque is a big part of that fortune, having built the team through recruiting, putting an emphasis on skating with faster teams, and it’s paid off in McParland’s eyes.
“We’re deeper: we have four solid lines, seven solid defensemen, a solid goalie in Kevin Kapalka,” he said. “Every night, different guys step up. If one line isn’t producing, we know another will.”
That’s a good sign for a team that’s just starting to get their share of national attention, though the luxury of a ranking isn’t what the Lakers are out for.
“As players, we don’t pay too much attention to [polls],” McParland said. “We just want to get better every game. There’s a lot of pieces of the puzzle coming together.”
A puzzle everyone else is starting to see, as well.