Preseason Top 16: #16 Lake Superior State
The preseason top 16 is back! For those of you new to the rankings, I stick with 16 teams because 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament. Today we lead off the rankings with our #16 team, the Lake Superior State Lakers
The Lakers burst out of the gates with 7 wins in their first 8 games, including sweeps over Michigan State and perennial CCHA power Miami. With a surprising offensive attack, the Lakers were ranked among the nation's elite. But as the offense dried up, so did the wins: Lake State finished 8th in the CCHA in scoring offense, scoring just 2.54 goals per game. And after a tremendous Freshman season by goaltender Kevin Kapalka in 2010-11, the defense was not any better last year, surprisingly ranking 8th in the CCHA as well, with the Lakers allowing 2.82 goals per game. The Lakers finished 7th in the league, but did win their first round series in the CCHA playoffs before bowing out to Western Michigan.
It was the best of times….
When the Lakers reeled off that 7-1 stretch to start the season. The two wins over Alabama-Huntsville were nothing to be terribly proud of given that program's in flux status, and two one goal wins over Michigan State should have signaled a team unlikely to continue their performance in close games, but they had a hat trick from Kyle Jean in the October 14th contest and there were signs that the offense was for real, even against stout CCHA defenses.
It was the worst of times…
When they lost three straight games in early December. There were other winless streaks, but that three gamer took the Lakers from 6-3-1 in the league to 6-6-1, creating a hole from which they would never crawl out of. It also seemingly killed their momentum, as they never won more than one conference game in a row for the rest of the season, and had only one multiple game point streak as they slumped to a disappointing 7th place finish.
The Coach - Jim Roque (LSSU '87)
Roque is in his eighth season in charge of Lake State, and has a 103-125-44 record at the school. Previously he was an assistant coach at Clarkson, as well as serving multiple stints as a head coach at Lake State. Roque's main skill in the past was his recruiting: he was on the coaching staff of Lake State's 1988 national championship team and he recruited many players who played on the 1992 title team. But in recent times that recruiting well has dried up, with the Lakers finishing 10th, 10th, 8th and 7th the past four years.
Current NHL Alumni
Brian Rolston - New York Islanders (1991-93)
Derek Smith - Calgary Flames (2004-07)
Players to watch
It is impossible to win in the CCHA without excellent defense. Often the style of play in the league makes goalies look better than they really are, and wild swings in performance level result. Could that be the case with Junior goalie Kevin Kapalka? As a Freshman he had a .928 save percentage in CCHA play, third best in the league (and second among regular starters), but last year he really struggled, posting a .914 mark. It could be that he has been overworked, playing in 69 games in his first two seasons while other Laker goalies have just 12 games played combined. Fellow Junior Kevin Murdock did well in limited playing time, and an increase in minutes could help improve Kapalka's performance.
While they didn't score many goals last season, the Lakers return a majority of their talent up front. The team's top four goal scorers return, though only three of them are forwards. Nick McParland had 14 goals last year to lead the team in scoring, including 10 of them in league play which ranked him tied for 12th in the league, ahead of potential Hobey candidates TJ Tynan, Anders Lee and Austin Czarnik. Kyle Jean also had 10 goals in CCHA play, while taking the second most penalties on the team. The Lakers scored just 71 goals in conference play last season (28 games), so they will need some other players to step up - especially as the 11 goals Zach Trotman had from the blueline isn't a performance that is likely to be repeated. Some candidates to do so are Kellan Lain, who had 9 goals last year, and Dan Radke, who only had 3 but also only played in 27 games for the Lakers.
It's a small class for the Lakers this year, with only six Freshmen incoming. The best of the bunch is probably Austin McKay, who had 26 goals last year for Drayton Valley of the AJHL. MInnesota native Pete Spratte will be a 21 year old Freshman next year, with him catching the eye of the Lakers coaching staff at the NAHL top prospects showcase last season. He played both defense and forward for the IceDogs, but he'll probably be on the blueline for the Lakers.
Zach Loesch (1992) - a 6'5" defenseman, Loesch was one of the defensive rocks of the CJHL champions. He didn't score much, but he will fit right in with the defensive play we have come to expect from the CCHA.
Matt Johnson (1991) - he co-captained the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL, and the Michigan native scored 21 goals and added 29 assists in 58 games for the South Division champions.
Erik Drapluk (1992) - Drapluk also played well at the NAHL top prospects showcase, and he adds a bit more of an offensive touch to the Laker blueline. He sees the ice well and racked up assists with Coulee Region
Tyler Marble (1992) - Marble committed almost four years ago to the Lakers, and will finally step foot on campus. He struggled in his three previous junior seasons, but finally put it all together after moving from Humbolt to Wellington, posting a .929 save percentage in the OJHL.
Non conference series to watch:
Just after the new year Lake State will welcome Union to town in a two game series that could be the difference between making the NCAA tournament and not making it. Without going through the machinations of the Pairwise Rankings, Union is expected to be fighting for the ECAC Hockey title, and are also the only team from that league that Lake State will play, so the series could have big pairwise implications.
There shouldn't be many easy weekends in the CCHA this year, but the Lakers finish their conference slate with Bowling Green, a visit from Alaska and a trip to Northern Michigan (and they also host Miami), and with the CCHA playing three point games they should have a chance to make up a lot of ground. If they don't get swept by non conference opponents Michigan Tech and Union or flameout in the CCHA playoffs the Lakers could be in the NCAA tournament for the first time in over 15 years, but I think they will just miss out.