Team of the Week: Lake Superior State
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
A pair of wins over one of the nation's best teams is typically cause for celebration for any college hockey team. Last weekend, Lake Superior State took two from Union in Sault St. Marie.
While the wins were enough to earn them CHN's Team of the Week honors, LSSU coach Jim Roque is cautiously optimistic about the impact and true meaning of the club's final non-conference games of the season.
Knocking off Union shot the Lakers up the Pairwise — they're currently 20th — and extended a winning streak that now sits at five. However, the patchwork nature of LSSU's lineup also led to a three-game losing skid prior to its current run. Much like these most recent victories, two of the losses easily could've fallen in LSSU's favor. The fact isn't lost on Roque, who brings his team to Kalamazoo, Mich., on Friday for a key CCHA series with Western Michigan.
"A lot of these games could have gone either way," he said. "The Miami game that finished 1-0, Miami had plenty of chances on the power play. They missed a couple, and we made some big saves. It was the same against Union. They weren't at their best, and we kept them quiet on the power play. It really comes down to our special teams a lot. We've been good on the power play and penalty kill recently."
Winning the special teams battle and relying on goaltending is often the hallmark of successful teams that lack the high-end skill of the nation's elite. Sure, the Minnesotas and Boston Colleges of the world score on the man advantage and get good goaltending; they just don't necessarily have to every night. This year, Kevin Murdock and Kevin Kapalka have provided Roque and the Lakers with an effective tandem in goal. On Friday, Kapalka stopped 22 shots in a 4-1 win over the Dutchmen, which Murdock followed with a 28-save effort in a 3-1 victory.
The emergence of Murdock typifies the 2012-13 season for Lake Superior. The junior suffered an injury last year after transferring from Minnesota State, forcing Kapalka to play 37 of 42 games. However, Kapalka went down early this season, and Murdock became the No. 1. Like many of his teammates, Murdock excelled when called upon. Kapalka has since recovered, giving Roque a pair of reliable options in goal during this most crucial time of year.
"Last year, Kevin only played five games after getting hurt," Roque said. "But when Kapalka went down, he had to be the guy. He handled it well, and now we have two goalies that deserve to play every game. They're rotating right now. They both deserve to be in there every night."
The sentiment extends throughout the lineup for LSSU. With forward Kyle Jean and defenseman Zach Trotman foregoing eligibility to sign professional contracts, the club looked Kevin Czuczman, Stephen Perfetto and other members of the sophomore class specifically to fill the voids throughout the lineup.
"We've had a lot of guys step into bigger roles this year, and they've done it well," Roque said. " We had a few guys leave early last summer. The type of players we recruit are bit older and more mature. They're ready to do what we ask. Sometimes they struggle, and they haven't been perfect, but we're getting good contributions from these players as the season goes on."
Roque and his team will need similar performances from his club in the coming weeks. Conference play heats up around the country starting this weekend, and wins become increasingly important. Lake Superior is currently sixth in the CCHA with 14 league games remaining. Advancing to the conference semifinals and attempting to the win the final Mason Cup is the goal for the Lakers.
"We're just concerned with our league. I haven't thought about the (Pairwise)," Roque said. "If we play well in our league and win games, that stuff will take care of itself. Our goal every year is to get to Joe Louis. If you do that, you have a good chance of being in position to play beyond that. We're on a good run here, but that can change if we don't play well against Western Michigan."