By Michael Caples -
Our college team previews continue with Lake Superior State University. Can the Lakers make some noise in the final CCHA season?
There wasn’t much to write home about for the members of the Lake Superior State Lakers last year. After a seventh place finish in conference play, LSSU posted a first-round playoff win over Alaska, only to run into Western Michigan. One shouldn’t blame them for losing to the eventual CCHA Tournament champions, but it still showed that there is work to be done in Sault Ste. Marie.
Jim Roque is entering his eighth season behind the bench of his alma mater. He’s no stranger to the program, after having played there from 1983-87 (he recorded 144 total points) and coached there from 2001-02 as an assistant before returning in 2005 as head coach. He holds a 103-125-44 all-time record as bench boss of the Lakers.
As mentioned earlier, the Lakers didn’t lose much, at least compared to some of the other teams in the state. The team graduated four players – Kyle Haines, Fred Cassiani, Kyle Pobur and Brian Cooper – and Kyle Jean (24 points last season) left early to sign with the New York Rangers’ organization. The important thing is who is back. Leading scorer Domenic Monardo returns after posting 11 goals and 18 assists as a junior. Nick McParland and Colin Campbell, second and third last year with 27 and 25 points, respectively, are back as well. And between the pipes, Kevin Kapalka returns after a 2011-12 season where he posted a 2.67 goals-against average, .916 save percentage, and 17-14-5 record.
If the water bottle is half full…
As I just alluded to, the Lakers are bringing back a hefty portion of their roster. They lost three forwards (Cassiani, Cooper and Jean) and two defensemen (Kyle Haines and Kyle Pobur), and that’s it. That means there won’t be much of a learning curve needed early in the season. The few freshmen on the roster – there are six – won’t be burdened to carry any of the position groups. If they can get off to a hot start while other teams adjust to new teammates, they could make some noise in the CCHA.
If the water bottle is half empty…
The talent wasn’t there for the Lakers last year, and another year of experience doesn’t mean drastic developments in skill. None of the freshmen arriving seem to be immediate game-changers, and strong goaltending from Kapalka can only take a team so far if they can’t score goals. The Lakers only recorded 102 goals last year, which equals 2.55 goals per game.
Kapalka will need to have another strong season in goal for the Lakers. If he can steal a few games for LSSU, it could make for an interesting final CCHA season. He has the experience – 69 games over the last two seasons – and the skill set – career .920 save percentage – to boost the Lakers this year.
Monardo has proven to be a leader and a role model for the rest of the Lakers. He overcame a broken neck during junior hockey, only to join LSSU as a walk-on, and eventually earn a scholarship and lead the team in scoring in 2011-12. It will be interesting to see what he can do in his final year of college hockey.
From the CCHA preseason synopsis:
Head Coach: Jim Roque (8th season)
2011-12 Overall Record: 18-17-5
2011-12 Conference Record: 11-13-4-4 (7th)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: Team – 20/7, Forwards – 12/4, Defense – 5/3, Goaltenders – 3/0
Key Returnees: Colin Campbell, F, JR (9-16-25); Kevin Czuczman, D, SO (2-11-13); Kevin Kapalka, G, SO (17-14-5, 2.67 GAA, .916 Spct.); Nick McParland, F, SR (14-13-27); Domenic Monardo, F, SR (11-18-29)
Key Losses: Fred Cassiani, F (7-15-22); Kyle Haines, D (6-17-23); Zach Trotman, D (11-10-21); Kyle Jean, F (12-12-24)
NHL Draft Picks: 0
Impact Freshmen: Eric Drapluk, D, Coulee Region (NAHL); Zach Loesch, D, Pembroke (CJHL); Austin McKay, F, Drayton (AJHL)
Noteworthy: The Lakers’ power play was tops in the CCHA last season, with a .204 success rate, their highest since the 1995-96 season.