Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
Mareks Mitens is one of the most reserved people in this game of College Hockey, at least in public. On the ice, he is one of its fiercest competitors, and has quietly put together a resume that goes beyond his top-line numbers at an improving Lake Superior State program. Every year since he came to Sault Saint Marie, he has taken on a bit more responsibility, until last year when he had the starting job full time for Damon Whitten’s Lakers.
How did he get to Lake Superior State?
Well, he parlayed a superb performance at the 2016 U18 World Championship into a superb season of NAHL Hockey, leading the Aston Rebels to the Robertson Cup, and nearly to a title. While there, Whitten and his staff saw him, and outworked several other schools to get him to commit to the Lakers program. Along with getting Yuki Miura on campus, securing Mitens’ help were the first two major recruiting battles involving non North American players that Whitten won.
Since coming to campus, despite not being drafted, it is clear that he has the attention of the NHL. He has been to two development camps as a Laker, first with the New York Islanders, and then two years later with the Chicago Blackhawks. At that second camp in Chicago, he worked with Peter Aubry, his former goaltending coach at Lake Superior State. From there, Mitens learned some valuable tips to make his game better.
On his time there he said of what he learned, and on his progression since then ” I guess one of the biggest things was to slow my game down and understanding the space I fill up from different angles. I think I have improved a lot in those areas.”
On that, we see the noticeable progression in his game from year to year. When he first became a Laker, Mitens was the backup in a platoon scenario. In this, he had to play games where his team was getting outshot every single night. One of the highlights of that season for him was a 36 save effort against a particularly skilled Bemidji State side to earn a shutout. That game in February of 2018 showed how good Mitens can be at this level, and since then he has lived up to it.
For teams looking for a ready made goaltender able to compete for a backup job at the big level, or a number one AHL netminder, Mitens is the ideal candidate for this job already for a few reasons. First, his game is incredibly quiet. He moves in his crease with an efficiency that some goaltenders at the top level do not ever have. Second, his intelligence on ice is exceptional. That is, when he is on his game he will not make a lot of “great” saves, not because he cannot, but because he is well positioned on the vast majority of the shots taken against him. This positioning, and the delayed start to the NHL Playoffs also should have him being considered for a spot representing his country, Lavia, at the 2021 World Championships this spring.
Mitens’ .932 save percentage is the best of any Latvian goalie playing in non domestic competition, beyond the juniors level, this season to this point. Arguably he will have more wins on his resume when his Lakers can get some more goal support to him. The Lakers only average 2.05 goals per game, and Mitens still has four wins on the season (4-3-3). Those are numbers indicative of the team needing to provide him more support. He is steady in his net, does not give up many “bad” goals, and motivates the team in front of him.
If the Lakers can string together some goal scoring soon, then Mitens arguably should be considered in the Mike Richter Award (best goalie in college hockey) conversation, and perhaps even in Hobey Baker Memorial Award (best player) talks.
When his season ends, and his time as a Laker is done, the professional hockey world will get to see what we saw in Grand Forks, what Aston Rebels saw in the NAHL, and what Lake Superior State fans are seeing now. That is, they will see an underrated goaltender quietly put up gaudy numbers and keep his team in every game through superior positioning and sound quickness.
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