Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ohio State at Lake Superior State - Oct 23-24

Doug Weight. Brian Rolston. Jim Dowd. John Grahame. Bates Battaglia. Ron Mason. Rick Comley. These are just a few of the recognizable names that have graced the campus of Lake Superior State University in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan.

In the late 80s and early 90s the "Soo" was the place to be in college hockey.

In 1988, the Lakers won their first of three national titles in six years by defeating St. Lawrence University in Lake Placid, N.Y. "Miracle" might even have been an appropriate term for the Lakers success because with an enrollment of around 3,000 undergraduates, Lake Superior State is one of the smallest Division I schools to win a national title in any sport.

The 1988 title was overseen by head coach Frank Anzalone, while current Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson piloted the Lakers to three consecutive finals appearances from 1992-1994 winning it all in '92 and '94. Incidentally, the 1993 team lost a 5-4 heartbreaker to Maine or it would have been three straight Soo championships. And, just for the record, that '93 Maine team might have been the best college hockey team of all time. Some guy named Paul Kariya scored 100 points in just 39 games that year with 25 goals and a mind boggling 75 assists to guys like Jim Montgomery and Peter and Chris Ferraro. And, if they couldn't outscore you, they were backstopped by former Team USA Olympic netminders Garth Snow (currently the GM for the New York Islanders) and Mike Dunham.

Maine went 42-1-2 that year. No big deal.

But, after Jackson left Lake State, the program began a sharp decline from which it has been unable to recover. Gone are the prized recruits, the packed Taffy Abel Arena and the masterful coaching legends. Even a second stint by Frank Anzalone behind the bench was not enough to get the program back to its lofty standards earlier this decade. To truly illustrate how dominant Lake Superior was, consider that since 2000, and through last weekend, the Lakers have won 105 games. In the four seasons between 1990 and 1994, the year of their last national title, they won 129 games. To say the current decade has been "lost" might be an understatement.

Lakers coach Jim Roque (LSSU '87) is entering his 5th season behind the bench in the Soo. He has compiled a respectable 60-74-25 record and has stabilized the program. Entering this weekend's series against Ohio State, the Lakers have won 3 of their first 4 games including a split in the Superior Showcase which features Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Minnesota-Duluth and Lake Superior State. The Lakers fell to Duluth, but bounced back to defeat Michigan Tech, both of the WCHA. Last weekend, Lake State swept Canisius of Atlantic Hockey by scores of 5-4 and 3-0.

The Lakers (3-1, 0-0) look to be built from the net out. They return seven of their top eight defensemen from last season and a solid, experienced goaltender. However, putting the puck in the net could be a challenge. The Lakers lost three of their top five goal scorers from a year ago, and only senior Zac MacVoy (Livonia, Mich.) and sophomore Fred Cassiani (Toronto, Ont.) scored at least 10 goals last season. Currently, Lake is led by reigning CCHA Rookie of the Week Domenic Monardo (Oakville, Ont.) and his four assists and five points. Senior Brad Cooper (Coppell, Tex.) has a team-best two goals and is one of four Lakers with four points this season. In net, the Lakers feature dependable junior Brian Mahoney-Wilson (West Roxbury, Mass.) who has started all four games and has a 2.26 goals-against average and .911 save percentage. Last season, the Lakers finished just 11-20-8 overall and failed to secure home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs by finishing 10th the regular season. However, the Lakers were in most of their games and this year must find a way to win the close ones. They were a disappointing 1-12 in games decided by one goal - no way to go through life in the ultra-competitive CCHA.

Head coach Jim Roque feels the Lakers can improve this year by becoming a more aggressive hockey team, something he feels has been lacking over the past few seasons.

“I think if anything, we’re a little disappointed in how maybe we’ve gotten a little bit passive the last two years with our game, and I think right now we’re looking to going back to more of how we played a couple years back — a little more aggressive, a little more of in-your-face hockey,” Roque said. “I thought maybe we got a little too conservative the last two seasons.

“I wouldn’t blame that on the players. That’s obviously a coaching decision; you want to be more conservative or you’re trying to win games with a little different style and that’s something that I’ve reevaluated this season and trying to get our guys to go again.”[USCHO]

Ohio State (1-3, 0-0) started the new season slowly but last weekend's home split vs. then #3 Denver should help the squad build confidence in their game.

On Friday, it was the Pioneers seizing early control of the game in front of another sparse crowd at Value City Arena winning 2-0. Denver goaltender Marc Cheverie made 36 saves en route to his fifth career shutout. Read the recap of Friday's game here.

The Buckeyes turned the tables on Saturday night picking up their first victory of 2009-10 shutting out the Pioneers 4-0 at Nationwide Arena. Sophomore goaltender Cal Heeter made 39 saves for his first career shutout and the Buckeyes received goals from Taylor Stefishen, Zac Dalpe, Shane Sims and an empty netter from C.J. Severyn. If Dalpe can get it going, it should ease the pressure on John Albert who has yet to really get untracked this season. Interestingly, two of Heeter's three career wins have come against the Pioneers and it was the Buckeyes' first shutout since January 3 vs. Clarkson in the final of the Ohio Hockey Classic. In two starts this year, Heeter has a 1.01 goals-against average and .970 save percentage.

Currently, the Buckeyes are led offensively by junior defenseman Shane Sims who has a point in three of four games this year and checks in at 2-2-4. Last season, Sims led all Buckeye defensemen with 24 points. On Saturday, he scored his second shorthanded goal of his career.

The series between Ohio State and Lake Superior is one of dramatic streaks. Knowing how great the Lakers were in the 80s and 90s, it should come as no surprise that the Lakers absolutely dominated this series posting a 19-0-3 record against the Buckeyes from 1992-1997. However, Ohio State has turned things around over the past several years going 20-6-2 against Lake State including a 1-1 mark last season. Overall, Lake Superior leads the all-time series 69-53-9 including 41-25-4 in Sault Ste. Marie.

Fearless predictions -

Lake Superior is off to a "superior" start. However, they have only played one truly good team and dropped that game (another one goal loss) at Minnesota-Duluth. On the other hand, the Buckeyes suffered an opening weekend sweep to unheralded Quinnipiac before finally getting their first win last weekend in their fourth game of the season. I'm going to pick a Buckeye sweep thinking that the current series history combined with Ohio State's better personnel will carry them this weekend.

Buckeyes 4-2, 3-1

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