SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – The Lake Superior State men's hockey team kicked off the 2017-18 regular season on Friday, October 6th against the Northern Michigan Wildcats. The Lakers prevailed over the Wildcats 5-3 in a non-conference matchup against their Upper Peninsula rivals at the Taffy Abel Arena.
"A win's a win, and you like to open the season with a good win against a rival," said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten. "Our power play was obviously very good, we moved the puck well, shot the puck well, and had a good net front presence. I would like to be better on the penalty kill. We gave up two on the penalty kill and don't want to be on special teams all game."
Lake Superior got on the board first with a power play goal from junior Diego Cuglietta. Cuglietta, a native of Kamloops, British Columbia, was among the top scorers for the Lakers last season.
The Lakers went ahead 2-0 when sophomore Max Humitz redirected a shot in midair from freshman Lukas Kaelble behind Wildcat goaltender Atte Tolvanen. Humitz was a member of the WCHA All-Rookie team following his freshman campaign.
The Wildcats got on the board with a power play tally from Robbie Payne. Payne's goal, which came with less than one minute left in the first period, sent the teams to the locker room with the Lakers leading 2-1.
Lake Superior retook the two goal lead on another power play tally, this time from senior J.T. Henke. Henke's shot knocked the water bottle off of the net as it went over the right shoulder of Tolvanen. Less than a minute later, however, the Wildcats struck back, as Joseph Nardi beat Kossoff on a long shot through traffic, cutting the deficit back to one.
Late in the period, the Lakers' Humitz received a five minute major and a game misconduct during a scrum that broke out in front of the home bench. Although a coinciding minor penalty was also assessed to Philip Beaulieu, this forced the Lakers to start the third period shorthanded.
Basically starting the third period on the penalty kill, the Lakers managed to keep Northern Michigan off of the scoreboard. Then, less than fifteen seconds after the end of NMU's power play, Cuglietta netted his second goal of the night, putting Lake Superior back in front by two.
Lake Superior managed to get one more puck past Tolvanen when Anthony Nellis squeezed a puck between Tolvanen and the left post on the short side. Following the goal, Tolvanen was replaced in net by Mathias Israelsson.
Northern Michigan did get a goal back on another power play. Robbie Payne scored his second goal of the night to make it 5-3 Lakers with 3:59 remaining.
With about 2:30 left to play, the Wildcats pulled Israelsson for an extra attacker. Although the Lakers were unable to ice the game with an empty netter, a penalty to NMU's Luke Voltin with 1:05 left in the game essentially ended the Wildcats' chances.
Both teams' power plays were on display, as the Lakers went 4 for 6, while Northern Michigan went 2 for 6.
With the win, the Lakers took a 1-0 game advantage and 5-3 goals advantage in their quest to reclaim the Father Cappo Cup, which has been contested by the two teams since 1992.
Making his head coaching debut for Northern Michigan was Grant Potulny. Potulny, a former assistant coach at Minnesota, replaced longtime Wildcat bench boss Walt Kyle.
The Lakers and Wildcats are back in action tomorrow night in Marquette for the conclusion of their home-and-home series. The Wildcats will be honoring former head coach Rick Comley in a pregame ceremony, as they dedicate the ice rink at the Berry Events Center in his name. Comley, a former player and head coach of the Lakers, was one of the founders of Northern Michigan's hockey program and its first head coach.
Game time is 7 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.