What to watch for: UAH-LSSU

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

Based on our conversation with Alabama Huntsville Hockey Head Coach Lance West, here are some things to watch this weekend as the Chargers look to compete against a very offensively skilled Laker Superior State team.

Cut the motion down

One of the biggest concepts in the Lakers’ game that West took the time to bring up was the motion at the point the Lakers play with. They do this with skilled forwards, combined with defenders like Will Riedell and Mitchell Oliver among others. The Lakers use this motion to counter teams that play through the middle so well and gum it up like Bemidji State often does. How the Chargers can break that down will go a long way in determining a winner for this series. For this to go well, look at some of the breakaways caused by the Chargers’ defense on poor lateral passes from Bemidji State, when this team is active in its own end and can shorten the zone time of its opponent, they can earn chances going the other way.

Score first

Easier said than done of course, especially against one of the best goaltenders in the country, Mareks Mitens. When the Chargers score first, they have been able to play to their system better. When this team scored first against Bowling Green on their Senior Day, for a little bit they were able to push the pace and takes some more opportunities for themselves. The Lakers have one of the better offenses in the WCHA, and know how to close down games in their own end when they score first, if West’s group can push the pace early on, they may have more of a chance if they can get the Lakers out of sorts.

Simple is best

Against Bemidji State, we saw something in person that we have seen via Flo Hockey all year, this team, at times is trying too hard not to score, but to make an extra pass when it is not always needed. The effort in this group is great, and more consistent than the group we saw last January at Ralph Engelstad Arena. That is not what this is about, but rather concentrating efforts of the group to get to the net a little simpler. As Peyton Francis has condensed his game to channel his speed more towards the net, compared to going east-west, this team is well served to do the same. This team has not beaten Mitens cleanly on any of the goals he has conceded against the Chargers all year. They need rebounds and weird bounces to go their way, and focusing on the initial shot compared to making an extra pass is one way to take on this Lake Superior State team.

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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

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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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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.

Magnificent Mitens: How Lake Superior State Swept Bemidji State 2-0

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee from Violent Turtle Photography)

Last night at the Sanford Center, Lake Superior State faced a strong Bemidji State team lead by senior goaltender Michael Bitzer. The Lakers were coming off a strong 2-0 shutout of the Bemidji State Beavers on Friday night. Last night, they recived a superb 36 save shutout from freshman netminder Mareks Mitens, and a timely go-ahead goal from Max Humitz 1:14 into the second period plus an empty net power play insurance marker from Diego Cuglietta to provide the same result. Mitens finished the night with 36 saves, including stopping many high percentage shots from the low slot and just outside his crease.


This game had some themes running throughout it. The Beavers utilized their speed all night and forced the Lakers to play in their own zone the majority of the night. The shot attempts on the evening were 81-29 in favor of Bemidji State. The Lakers were able to counter this with strong defense and superb effort from Mitens. He did not look out of position on any of the saves he made all night. Mitens even anticipated multiple deflections coming from Beavers on the attack and set up well to stop them.

Mitens poke save

(Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee for Violent Turtle Photography)

Also, Lake Superior State skaters did a superb job of blocking shots, and clearing rebounds from in front of Mitens. On the night, the Lakers blocked 16 shots as a team. They were lead in that category by Colin Saccoman who finished the night with four blocks and a primary assist on the Max Humitz goal to earn third star honors on the evening. Mitens took home second star honors for the shutout, and Humitz earned first star honors for netting the game winning goal.

Another theme of the evening was the Lakers’ ability to counter Bemidji. Whenever there was a long sequence in the Lakers’ defensive zone, they were able to use some timely speed and smart puck decisions to clear the puck. They generated their best chances, including the Humitz goal in the second on the counter attack.

Also give credit to Lakers’ forward Yuki Miura. In only his third college hockey game, he played outstanding. On the top line, he generated the secondary assist on the Humitz goal. He found Saccoman who set up the Humitz goal.

Another thing that stood out to me was the main review of the game. It happened in the third period. The Beavers looked like they had scored. However, it was waved off  after a prompt review for goaltender interference. Leo Fitzgerald skated across the crease and bumped Mitens which prevented him from playing the puck. Mitens knew it and immediately voiced his concerns on the ice about it. To the officials’ credit, they quickly reviewed the play and got the call right.

Finally, Mitens played just as strong for the Lakers tonight as he did for team Latvia in the 2016 U18 Worlds when we first saw him. It would be smart for Latvia to consider taking Mitens to the IIHF World Championships in Denmark this spring. Mitens has shown he can withstand high shot volumes, and plays quite well regardless of the team in front of him. He kept the Lakers in this one last night, and should merit strong consideration for WCHA Rookie and Goaltender of the week.

We think that Mitens and his goalie colleague Nick Kossoff should share WCHA goaltender of the week honors. Combined they stopped all 64 shots faced on the weekend.

Next week, the Lakers look to vault themselves into a playoff spot with a crucial two game set on the road against Alaska Anchorage.

Below are the highlights from last night including the two Lake Superior State goals and the goaltender interference call which nullified Bemidji’s best chance of the evening.