Mike Barrett, LSSULakers.com
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — It's time for Laker hockey.
The Lake Superior State hockey team, under 5th year head coach Damon Whitten, will drop the puck on its 53rd season on Saturday, October 6th when they face the Merrimack Warriors in non-conference play.
The Lakers finished 9th in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) in 2017-18, finishing outside the playoff picture. Lake Superior (10-22-4, 8-17-3 WCHA in 2017-18) put together a four game winning streak near the end of the season in a push for the postseason. In addition, the team competed in the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, finishing in third place.
This season, the Lakers will play 18 homes games (14 conference, 2 non-conference and 2 exhibition). In non-conference play, Lake Superior will host Michigan for the first time since the two were league foes in the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). They will also compete in the Great Lakes Invitational (GLI) holiday tourney in Detroit for the first time since 1999.
About the Lakers:
Lake Superior sees five of its top six scorers return from last season. The Lakers bring a trio of productive senior forwards in Diego Cuglietta, Gage Torrel and Anthony Nellis, all of whom have had at least two double-digit point seasons in their time in Sault Ste. Marie. In addition, leading goal scorer Max Humitz returns.
On defense, Collin Saccoman and Steven Ruggiero will headline a defensive corps that saw three players graduate. Between the pipes, Nick Kossoff returns for his senior season. The native of West Des Moines, Iowa, had a record of 7-12-2, sporting a 2.98 goals against average (GAA) and a .911 save percentage (SV%). Mareks Mitens appeared in 19 games for Lake Superior, going 3-10-2, putting together a 3.46 GAA and a .897 SV%.
About the Warriors:
The Merrimack Warriors are coming off of a 12-21-4 campaign that saw them finish 10th in the Hockey East Association with a conference mark of 7-15-2. The Warriors defeated Massachusetts-Lowell in the opening round of the Hockey East Tournament before falling to Boston College.
The Warriors lost four of their top five scorers from last season. Their top returner, Sami Tavernier, had 8 goals and 13 assists for 21 points. Defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic had a respectable 15 assists. Of last years' team, Merrimack has six players coming back who had double digit points in 2017-18. There are eight freshman on the roster this season.
In net, Merrimack has two seniors in Craig Pantano and Drew Vogler. Pantano, the starter last year, went 11-14-2 in 28 games, putting up a 2.33 GAA and a .915 SV%. Vogler was 1-7-2 in 10 games, posting a 3.72 GAA and a .877 SV%.
Merrimack made a change behind the bench following last season, bidding farewell to longtime head coach Mark Dennehy. Longtime Laker fans will immediately take notice of the new face behind the Merrimack bench. Scott Borek, who coached Lake Superior from 1996 to 2001, was hired as the head coach of the Warriors in May. As the schedule was already completed by then, it is only a coincidence that Borek's first game as a Division I head coach since leaving Lake Superior comes against his former team.
In addition to Borek, another familiar face will be on the Merrimack bench in senior defenseman Matt McArdle. McArdle spent the last three seasons with the Lakers before transferring to Merrimack as a graduate transfer.
Since joining DI in 1984, the Warriors have faced the Lakers just twice, playing both games in the 1988 NCAA Tournament. The two teams played a two game, total goals series in which Lake Superior prevailed 8-5 en route to their first national title. Merrimack was the first independent school to make the tournament since 1960.
Quote of note:
"Nobody knew at the time [the schedule came out], but obviously we're going to open up at Merrimack with head coach Scott Borek. It's a unique twist for coach Borek that his first game as a head coach again is against Lake Superior."
—Damon Whitten, on facing Merrimack to start the season with a former Laker coach behind the bench
Next home games:
Lake Superior will return home next week for a two game exhibition set against the Nipissing University Lakers on Friday, October 12th and Saturday, October 13th. Both games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. faceoff.
Tickets may be purchased at the Norris Center Ticket Office or online at lssulakers.com/tickets.