Yuki Miura: Always Working

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

When Lake Superior State Head Coach Damon Whitten and his staff went to a USHL showcase a few years ago, they saw many good players at that event as they do every year. More than that, they saw, in Yuki Miura, a player that exudes continuous effort to get better, and to grow the game in Japan, his homeland. It was then that Whitten and his staff decided to recruit Miura.

Whitten and his staff at Lake Superior State won their first major recruiting battle getting Miura to come to the Upper Peninsula. Since then, things have not always been linear for Yuki. First, he had to deal with some eligibility issues which he has gotten resolved. Then, he sat out most of his nexr season due to dealing with a broken leg. After that, he slowly worked his way into the lineup, but when he was on the ice, he was noticeable. The first thing most people notice about him is his superb speed.

If you have not seen Miura play, we will note that he models his game after Tomas Plekanec. Miura is a tenacious player, who went from a playmaker with Waterloo, to one of the better penalty killers in College Hockey, with that same playmaking ability. When you stop your assistant coach’s power play continuously in practice to the point of good frustration, that is pretty indicative of what he does in games. As shown in the photo, Yuki goes all out to block shots in games, and this effort is consistent across all phases of his game.

The penalty killing was an adaptation for Yuki, that is he had to learn how to get better at that skill to see more time on the ice, and it has paid off for him. Now, in his senior season as a Laker, he is one of the better penalty killing forwards in the WCHA if not the country. To play more, Yuki had to evolve his game and be able to win more puck battles along the walls, and add some truculence to the speed and finesse he already has. Becuase of the staff at Lake Superior State, and his will and tenacity, he is in position to earn a professional contract as an undrafted free agent in North America next season. As an institution, Yuki is what personifies college hockey at its best.

Why is that? Well, not only is Yuki working dilligently to help his Lakers as they head to face Michigan Tech this weekend, but he is also already giving back and has a superb outlook on life.

First, regarding the attitude he has, Yuki was cut from Japan’s Olympic Qualifying Roster for the 2022 Winter Olympics, depriving him of the chance to play in the games, like his dad Takayuki did in the 1998 Nagano Games for his home country. That has not stopped Yuki from developing, and he is using the cut as motivation this season, to fuel his already strong drive. The next time the full World Championship Program is held, he wants to be competing for his country once again, and the effort and speed he has developed will go a long way to making that happen.

Regarding his giving back, Yuki is an active journalist for all of those in Japan considering playing college hockey, and more. He routinely blogs about his experiences and overcoming adversity. In addition to that, he makes videos showing how he works on improving elements of his game, like picking a puck up along the boards. In terms of advocates for college hockey in Japan Yuki is one of its greatest ambassadors and is at the forefront of Japanese players coming to play College Hockey.

All of Yuki’s work, in leaving his home to play in the Kladno program in the Czech Republic before coming to Waterloo, to adding elements to his game, and being a mentor for others in Japan wanting to play the game, combined with his incredibly upbeat personality showcase a player ready for the next level. We have oten referred to him as the happiest man in Division One Hockey, and we stand by it. After a 7-1 loss to Bemidji State last year, Yuki came out with ice bags on his legs from blocking so many shots and talked to us happily about the evening never being negative. For all of the opportunities he has been given, Yuki expalined that he was just so incredibly thankful for everything and everyone who has been and is a part of his journey in this game.

Well, we will close with simply saying this, the sport of College Hockey is better off with Yuki in it, and advocating for it. As to his work ethic on blogging and communicating, Mareks Mitens, the starting goaltender for this team quipped that when the rest of the team is home, they look on social media and see that Yuki made another video at the rink, long after practice has ended. His effort, humility, and tenacity to get better are evident through his rise to Lake Superior State, and highlight the endless promise his feature holds.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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Building Success: Damon Whitten on two important pieces to Lake Superior State’s strong start

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

The Lake Superior State Lakers are a case study in high offense guiding play. That is, whether last year with Max Humitz, or in years before with Diego Cuglietta, Damon Whitten’s teams have always played with speed and skill to provide goal scoring in bunches.

Now, Whitten’s patience has paid off again, as he has his team competing for an at large spot in the tournament as they competed for two years ago. This week, the Lakers are nationally ranked, and heading into a series of the week candidate against the high-flying Mavericks of Minnesota State. This weekend is one of the biggest in recent Laker Hockey history, because it can stake the Lakers to a good path in the WCHA, and because given their prestige in the league, any team that can beat the Mavericks is looked upon favorably by many in this game.

A big part of the Lakers’ success beyond the continued goal scoring of Ashton Calder, and the speed of the Lakers goes to their defense.

Two of the leaders for this team on defense are Mareks Mitens, their starting goaltender, and Yuki Miura, one of the most consistently strong defensive forwards in this league. Both are undrafted free agents, and both, according to Whitten, have a shot to get to professional hockey after this season.

How did they both get to where they are now?

Well Whitten and his staff made their first concerted efforts to get non North American players to Sault Ste. Marie, and it paid off. He and his staff followed Mitens during his NAHL season where he posted a 92.5 percent save percentage for the Aston Rebels. While there, Whitten talked to Head Coach Joe Coombs, and learned how talented Mitens was in net. Throughout the year the staff kept tabs on his performance, and to the team’s credit, they were able to win a battle against many other colleges, including at least one NCHC school to make Mitens a Laker.

Whitten is glad he did that because now, he has a Hobey Baker Candidate in his net as a senior. Thanks to the help of both Zack Cisek, and Pete Aubry before him, the Lakers have a professional-ready goaltender who has been able to participate in two NHL development camps (Islanders, and the Blackhawks where Aubry is now the Development Coach for goaltenders in their system). Through his first two seasons, Mitens played as a backup and used that time to get acclimated to the college game. Now, he is ready for the next level. He displays the same quickness we have seen since he burst onto the scene at the Under 18 World Championship for Latvia in 2016, but now, he has a consistent and more complete defense in front of him. Combine that with Mitens’ size and superb hockey intellect, and its fair to think that he could get a chance to play at the next level, or even for his home country during the World Championship being held in Latvia this year, given how late North American professional hockey will go, he could be the best Latvian goaltender available to play on what, to this point, would be the biggest stage of his career.

In addition, looking at Yuki Miura, Whitten had nothing but good to say about his growth and development. When Yuki came to campus, he did not kill penalties much, if at all when he was able to play. He had to sit out because of some eligibility issues, and he then dealt with a broken leg, followed by slow integration into the lineup.

Now Whitten noted that Miura on the penalty kill is so good that he stymies assistant coach, Mike York’s Power Play unit in practice with some regularity. Shot blocking is the biggest help Miura brings . Miura is a leader who is smart enough and wise enough at this level to anticipate the next move. In the professional ranks, the ability to kill penalties is paramount for rookies to play a lot early on. Yuki has all of that experiennce in spades, and he is one of the fastest players in this sport this year.

Both Mitens and Miura have brought a lot to the Lakers, according to Whitten. They are still pushing to get better each day, but thanks to Whitten, and his staff’s ability to work with these two players on their journey, they have inevitably extended the time both get to play hockey, and hopefully the celings for both at the next level.

As for these Lakers, their speed is matched by their suffocating defense, especially through the neutral zone. The forward group of this team is quite active in finding quick turnovers to score, and playing Mankato, we should expect the same. How these Lakers do in their WCHA opener, will tell the world of College Hockey a bit more about the ceiling of this team.

On recruiting, to find the next player like Miura or Mitens, especially relating to the ability to score goals , Whitten had this to say, “a lot of people think you have to go to North Dakota Denver or Michigan to be high scoring [when] you can come to Lake State and showcase yourself.” Given the track records of Mitens and Miura, that assertion is by no means limited to goal scorers, of which this program has had many come through it. The Lakers are a team with three NCAA titles, and one of the stronger traditions in all of College Hockey. They, like the rest of the WCHA, according to Whitten, deserve more of a look at the national level.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

5-3: Lakers Earn Game Three with improved defense, depth scoring and more- What to watch for in game three

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

On a Saturday night at the Sanford Center in beautiful Bemidji, the Lakers of Lake Superior State earned a 5-3 win in game two in their first round WCHA playoff series against the Beavers of Bemidji State.  Mareks Mitens stood tall for the Lakers in net making 45 saves on 48 shots faced . His counterpart, Zach Driscoll, made 24 saves on 28 shots faced. Game three takes place Sunday night at 6:07 PM to determine who moves to the WCHA Semifinals. Bemidji State most likely has to win to maintain their at-large hopes, while the Lakers need a win to continue their season.

The game winning goal was scored by a long-sweeping back hand from the mid slot courtesy of Hampus Eriksson 7:42 into the second period. That goal at the time put the Lakers up two, but ended up proving helpful insurance as Elias Rosen put home a point shot for the Beavers 13:43 into the third period precipitating a furious Beavers’ comeback attempt late in the game that came up just short.

The Lakers got contributions from all over the lineup in game two. Miroslav Mucha put home the first goal of the night to tie things up 13:33 into the first period. On the night, Bemidji State only lead 2:05 all game. Mucha’s marker combined with a Bryan Basilico tally 13 seconds later gave the Lakers their first lead of the weekend. That lead was short lived as Alex Adams tied things up 1:14 after the second Lakers’ marker.

Following that, Max Humitz potted the first of his two markers as he put home the third goal of the night 3:29 into the second period.  He later added the empty net marker right before time expired for his 21st marker of the season. The Lakers managed to play relatively penalty free on the night as well only giving up two power plays on two minor penalties on the night. One of those was in stopping a breakaway that could have lead to a Bemidji State goal.

What to watch for in the finale 

Head Coach Damon Whitten praised his depth in this one. On offense, the Lakers got big boosts from depth players like Mucha. On defense, the big Lakers back line blocked shots and made life a little easier for Mareks Mitens despite being hemmed in their own end for large points of the evening. Everyone on the team for the Lakers tonight contributed in some way and Whitten was sure to point that out. Also, the Lakers did a much better job limiting turnovers in their own end. Bemidji State still buried one of those chances, but credit to the Lakers for using their size and strength to hold the lead after claiming the two goal advantage. Bemidji State will surely try a few different things in game three to get the defenders of Lake Superior State moving. Despite getting 94 shot attempts, Mitens only saved 48. Bemidji State will want more pucks to the net, while the Lakers will want to get a little more offensive zone time. Look below for post game comments from Whitten, Mitens, Eriksson, and Beavers’ Head Coach Tom Serratore on the night.

Whitten’s Comments

Also, Mitens praised his team in front of him on the evening and explained why Eriksson’s backhand is so hard to stop especially from where he fired home the goal.

In addition, Eriksson added his thoughts on the evening.

Serratore’s comments on the night and some things to watch for from Bemidji State in the series finale.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

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Unkind iron: Lakers lose WCHA Round One series opener 2-0- Now What?

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Coming into this weekend, the Lakers of Lake Superior State are undoubtedly the underdogs in their quest to upset the second seeded Beavers of Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA Men’s Hockey Playoffs. Despite being one of the best defensive teams in the second half of the season, ironically it was two bad attempts to get out of the zone that did the Lakers. Adam Brady opened the scoring ledger for the Beavers as he found a pass from Aaron Miller and deposited what turned out to be the game winner against Lakers’ netminder Mareks Mitens who finished the night with 33 saves on 35 shots faced.

The Lakers’ inability to clear the chance from the Beavers lead to the goal that barely got past Mitens. In the first period, the Lakers held the better of play with 10 shots on net. Unlike the Beavers’, the Lakers could not capitalize on their chances all night. Their best period, the first included two hit posts from Max Humitz and Pete Veillette.

After not scoring in the first, the Lakers were again victimized by an inability to clear. Alex Adams found Owen Sillinger on the back door and he deposited the insurance marker. Bemidji State netminder Zach Driscoll finished the game with a  27 save shutout on the evening. Those goals coming at 3:07 of the first and 4:21 of the second period proved decisive on this night in a game that Bemidji State controlled the pace of for about the last two frames of hockey.

Now What? 

Heading into game two, some things to watch for with the Lakers come down to a simple ask. Score first, the Lakers had the better run of play for the first few minutes of the game and throughout the first period at large. Bemidji State Head Coach Tom Serratore noted that his team “played like the road team” throughout the first period. The Lakers were moving their feet and generating chances and forcing Bemidji State to adjust to their speed, which they later did. The Lakers missed their best chance to shape the narrative of the game by not scoring first. As noted, they hit two posts in the first period alone.

Lakers’ Head Coach Damon Whitten noted the value in getting ahead of Bemidji State. If the Lakers can earn a spot at the net front with more regularity in the Saturday night affair, they may have a better chance at earning a game three. In addition, as Lake Superior State Captain Max Humitz noted, his team needs to stay out of the penalty box. The amount of penalties that Lake Superior State took sapped the Lakers of a chance to get back into the game at five on five hockey, where they looked the best. On the penalty kill, Whitten did note the positive play of speedy forward, Yuki Miura, who consistently blocked shots and used his poise to help clear pucks time after time.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston

Opportunistic Bemidji State earns 7-1 victory over Lake Superior State

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

If you look at the score, you see a 7-0 Bemidji State win, and rightly so. Adam Brady finished with two goals  along with Charlie Combs to lead the way in scoring for the Beavers, Kyle Looft earned his first career college hockey goal, and Zach Driscoll earned a 28 save victory with superb play throughout, including on multiple key breakaways in the first period where he kept the game tied before Bemidji State found their footing and took hold of the game. Max Humitz provided the only marker for the Lakers on a breakaway late in the third period.

Looking beyond the box score you see how close this game was in the first despite the score. Ian Johnston and Louis Boudon each hit the frame of the goal in the first period, arguably each were the Lakers’ two best early chances. The Lakers would keep things close on shot attempts through the first period, only trailing by six, 23-17. Those two hit pipes changed the course of the game and gave the Beavers and opening they did not miss. The Lakers paid for those misses throughout the game, as they never really controlled time and space for very long other than the first few minutes where they hit those pipes on Friday night.

After the first, in terms of possession, Bemidji State began to assert themselves a bit more. Their stymieing style of defense sinking back four players in the neutral zone made it tough for the Lakers to get through with any consistent speed. In the second, the Beavers added two of their five markers to provide the final score at the end of Mitens’ 40 minutes of tough service.Despite being pulled after two periods, Mitens made several great saves and showcased his lateral quickness throughout the game, he typically as beat on grade a chances that the Lakers need to clamp down on to have a better chance at winning the finale, Mitens’ lateral quickness has actually improved year over year since we have first started covering him, and he faced an absolute barrage of shots on net tonight. After the game, Coach Damon Whitten and forward Yuki Miura both noted the need to limit shots on net. Whitten noted the need to win more puck battles, which often cost the Lakers dearly. Roman Bengert finished up in the third period for the Lakers making 10 saves on the night facing 12 shots fired towards him.

If the Lakers can get an early goal, like they have done with some regularity this season, in the series finale, they can make the Beavers do what they had to tonight, play out of their comfort zone. When the Lakers attack and press the issue this season they typically can compete with most teams. When their opponents score first they have had to force passes not always there and look for stretch passes and play out of their system.

Look for more on these Lakers in the coming weeks, but for tomorrow night keep an eye on who scores first, for the most part this season that has told the story of win or loss for the Lakers of Lake Superior State University. If they can earn a split on the road before facing off against Michigan Tech at home, that is the best outcome they can hope for Saturday night in Bemidji.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college athletics please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about college athletics as a supporter of independent, crowd funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: https://www.paypal.me/oliverfrancies your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.