SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — After the most successful season in over a decade, the Lake Superior State hockey team is faced with the daunting task of maintaining and building upon its achievements of the previous year.
A key offensive weapon of the 2018-19 squad, Max Humitz is preparing for his senior campaign with the Lakers.
"I've been here for four years and I love every minute of it," said Humitz. "It's been interesting, fun and there's always something going on. So far, I'm happy with it and I know this year's going to be great, we've got a great group of guys again. I haven't had a boring year yet."
A native of Livonia, Michigan, Humitz began playing hockey before reaching 5 years old. He received exposure to Lake Superior long before reaching junior hockey in his teens.
"I used to go to the [Michigan Amateur Hockey Association] camp as a kid growing up through bantams and youth hockey and I loved the school, the atmosphere and the town," said Humitz.
When talking about committing to Lake Superior State, Humitz spoke highly of head coach Damon Whitten and former assistant coach Rich Metro, who were both instrumental in recruiting the forward. "When I first came here, Rich and Damon treated me really well and gave me an opportunity to play and thrive, and so far it's been helpful for me and I appreciate them every step of the way."
In addition to the school and the hockey team, Humitz was also attracted to Lake State by the contrast it offered from Metro Detroit.
"You come up here and see all the outdoor stuff and wildlife which I'm all for," he said. "I like to go down along Riverside Drive and the see the boats at the locks. There's always outdoor stuff to do when the weather is nice. I wish I was up here during the summer instead of the winter, but that's the only tradeoff."
For Humitz, it helped that many of his family members also played hockey, including his father Mike, who played college hockey at the University of Michigan — Dearborn in the 1980's.
"My Dad played college hockey too and I've always been around the rink," said Humitz. "All my friends played hockey, my older cousin played hockey and so I played with them growing up and I fell in love with it and haven't put down the stick since."
Like many, Humitz played multiple sports in his youth, even remaining a multi-sport athlete through high school. Of the sports he played, hockey is the one that stuck with him — although there is one game closely related that the Livonian wishes he had the chance to experience.
"When I was in high school, I played tennis my sophomore year and I played soccer, baseball through elementary and middle school," he said. "The only sport I didn't get into that I wish I had is lacrosse. I regret it every day because it looks like an amazing sport and I know people that have played it who have amazing stories.
"I just excelled at hockey and had the knowledge of the game. Growing up in the Detroit area, I was around the Red Wings and would see their games quite a bit. In the metro Detroit area, hockey is huge."
Nearly everybody who plays Division I hockey in college plays junior hockey beforehand, with many doing so during their high school years. Humitz was, at age 16, drafted into the United States Hockey League (USHL), considered by many to be the top junior league in North America. Although he did not make the team that year, he came back the next season, playing for the Lincoln (Neb.) Stars, before being traded to the Muskegon Lumberjacks and eventually the Tri-City Storm in Kearney, Neb.
Moving from one level of play to the next is not easy. Often, players who excelled at one level take time to adjust when they reach the next. Humitz has credited his many linemates over the past few years for helping him avoid any complicated adjustments.
"I work on my shot every day during the summer, so I attribute that to a lot of my success," said Humitz. "While I've been at Lake State, I've had great linemates, from Diego [Cuglietta] and [Anthony] Nellis last year to [Brayden] Gelsinger, Gage [Torrel] and Mitch [Hults] my freshman year, so I credit those guys with my success and I've had opportunities on the power play to get those chances. Damon, [Assistant coach Mike York], [Assistant coach Zach] Cizek and Richie gave me those opportunities to succeed, so they get credit too."
Humitz originally came to Lake State undecided on his major. At the end of his freshman year, he received exposure, through the hockey team, to the school's kinesiology program.
"In the spring and the fall, we do our fitness testing," he explained. "The spring of my freshman year, we were doing our testing with the chair of the department [Dr. Eric Statt] in the program, who was helping the coaches set up. We got to talking and I was very interested in how they got the numbers from our testing and how they implement them to our summer training and evaluation. It just hooked me and I've been training my whole life through hockey and wanting to work out. Being in fitness just kind of stuck with me, so I enrolled in the kinesiology program that fall and have been there ever since."
Talking about some of the more interesting points of the kinesiology program, Humitz said that, at the end of the day, being able to help people improve their lifestyle was very rewarding. Internship credits offered by the program allow him and other kinesiology majors to earn credits over the summer, which he did after his sophomore year.
"Being able to see them progress over the summer and to follow their seasons to watch how they've progressed and become better athletes," he said.
When asked about memorable moments on the ice these past three years, Humitz mentioned many things that happened last season, including sweeping Ferris State at Ewigleben Arena, which had not happened since 1993, sweeping Michigan Tech, which had not happened since 1983, earning and winning a home playoff series, and winning the team's first ever Great Lakes Invitational title.
Humitz had both game winning goals in the series against the Huskies, which was the weekend of the annual cancer fundraiser, Check Slash Survive. For the then-junior, these goals took on a meaning that went beyond hockey.
"I scored a goal against Tech in the Cancer Game, and that's how my Dad passed away last winter," he said. "That was very special for me and I'm glad I could contribute."
This season, Humitz was named co-captain, along with fellow senior Collin Saccoman.
"Max has been a valued addition to Laker hockey in all areas," Whitten said of Humitz. "He's a coach's son who lives and breathes the game of hockey. He's a glue guy in the locker room who can go out and set the tone in practice every day and then be a central piece of the social aspect of the room. He will be a tremendous leader for Laker hockey this season along with our senior class and leadership core."
Following graduation this coming May, Humitz says he would like to continue playing hockey before eventually putting his degree to use. He has ideas for how he may utilize it down the road.
"Obviously, I would like to continue to play after this year," he said, "and I'm going to try and move my career forward somewhere, whether it's in the ECHL, AHL or overseas. I just want to play hockey as long as my body will let me.
"My goal would be to do both on-ice instruction as a skill development in a hockey training program and I also want to be off the ice in the gym, helping train athletes in that aspect."
Humitz and the Lakers will open the 2019-20 season with a home series against Merrimack College this weekend at Taffy Abel Arena. The season opener is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 5 and the Lakers will close out the first weekend of play on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 5:00 p.m.
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