Team of the Week: Lake Superior State
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Sweeping any opponent in college hockey isn't easy, but some catch eyes more than others. When Lake Superior State opened its season with two wins against Robert Morris, it wasn't a major surprise. One week later, the Lakers headed to Schenectady, N.Y., and earned two more wins against Union. A 6-5 overtime win in a shootout and a 3-2 victory, led by 46 saves from Kevin Kapalka, were enough to earn the Lakers College Hockey News' Team of the Week.
Neither game was perfect for LSSU coach Jim Roque. No coach in the country is going to scoff at a sweep of an NCAA Tournament contender, though.
Friday night, the Lakers and the Dutchmen traded goals until the end. Junior Stephen Perfetto's strike at 1:16 of overtime gave LSSU its third straight win to start the season. Allowing five goals didn't sit well with Roque, but his team's ability to respond to the pace of the game was a positive taken from the victory.
"We have a lot of young players stepping up for us early," Roque said. "I joked the other day that my first line is playing in the AHL, so we have some holes to fill. A few of our younger players have done well. And others, like Andrew Dommett, who have been good players for us without scoring goals have created some offense for us early on. We know we have scoring to replace, and we'll need those type of guys to keep it going."
Kapalka's 46-save outing on Saturday was clearly the more impressive goaltending performance of the weekend. Still, Roque was satisfied with the 29-save performance Kevin Murdock had in Friday's shootout. Early-season games are often mistake ridden. The Lakers made their share on Friday, and Murdock was frequently their to keep them in the game.
"I thought both teams struggled a bit on Friday night," Roque said. "A 6-5 game, you wouldn't think it, but the goaltenders were the best players in the game. They made a lot of important saves. Lucky for us, our last shot went in, but we made a lot of mistakes. We did a good job in some ways, preventing Union from getting second and third chances. And our goalie bailed us out."
Four straight wins to start the season is a welcomed sign for Roque, especially with a weekend off and a date with Big Ten foe Wisconsin awaiting the Lakers next weekend.
"We had a 16-hour bus ride out to Union, so I think we could use a few days," Roque said. "We didn't get back here until late Sunday. Wisconsin's in the same position since they don't have any games this weekend. It'll be a good test for us heading out there. They're coming off a tough weekend in Boston, so they're going to want to win. We've started well, and we have another good test before we jump into conference play with the new WCHA."
Like every other team in college hockey, Lake Superior will soon face some new realities. After the pair of games in Madison, LSSU hosts Alaska in its first WCHA games of the season. The Nanooks are a familiar opponent, but Michigan Tech and Bemidji State follow. In general, the 2013-14 year brings new challenges with new travel plans, venues and opponents.
Following the weekend with Wisconsin, the Lakers have 16 consecutive WCHA games before their final non-conference games with Notre Dame in mid-January.
Roque and his club are looking forward to the challenge of preparing for the new league and the opportunity it provides to excel. Additionally, more games with other smaller programs in Michigan is an exciting aspect of the new league. With 10 total games against Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan and Ferris State, rivalries from other sports are likely to be even more heated on the ice.
Beyond that, Roque believes realignment presents opportunities for college hockey to grow.
"For years, programs like Michigan and Michigan State helped us and some others, now it's time for us to do the same," Roque said. "One thing about the new realignment that I like is there's room for growth now. The way the old conferences were set up, no one wanted to go to 13 or 14 teams. Now, there are some leagues that can add a few teams in the future."