As the 2002-03 season begins, there are two things you should know about Laker hockey: Frank Anzalone is in charge, and Matt Violin is for real.
When Anzalone returned to Lake State, several players found the atmosphere suddenly inhospitable — which was just fine with Anzalone, who did some housecleaning of his own.
“I think right now we’re past phase one, in the sense that last year was a great year for us to find out which players wanted to be Lakers and which players would rather move on or were just not capable,” said Anzalone. “The players who are there now understand what we’re trying to do, and hopefully we’ll be able to relay to our younger players the message of how hard you have to play and how strong you have to be in every game we play.”
With 15 freshmen on the roster, Anzalone acknowledged that this year will be challenging. “I think the key for us is to just get better. We know where we’re at. It’s a rebuild. We can’t deny that.”
Calling Shirley MacLaine
Anzalone’s plans for the season sound an awful lot like past-life regression therapy.
“We’re in familiar 1983 through 1985 territory, being picked for last. That’s okay. We deserve to be there at the moment. What we’re trying to do right now is slowly rebuild our program with skilled student-athletes who want to be part of the process and who aren’t concerned with adversity. They’re more concerned with what you have to say than with the way you say it. That’s part of what we were about years ago.”
To long-time Laker fans, Anzalone’s rhetoric is anything from comfortably familiar to downright dogmatic, and there are many who are prepared to worship the ice on which once-and-current coach skates. But the ’80s were, like, a while ago. As in, when some of his players were born.
Channeling, Zoning, And Anything Else That Works
— Frank Anzalone, on his team’s rebuilding process
If there is one constant in the Lake State hockey universe besides Anzalone’s belief that everything old is new again, it’s the play of sophomore goaltender Matt Violin. All kidding aside, folks, this young man is the real deal, and the Lakers could and should ask Violin to shoulder the burden until the rest of the team catches up.
“We’re very happy that Matt will be back along with Terry Denike,” said Anzalone.
Last season, it was apparent that Anzalone didn’t want the rookie Violin to carry most of the load. That is, quite simply, silly. This is a netminder who will win games for you if you let him.
Will The Center Hold?
Given the youth of this team, this question can be taken literally as well as metaphysically. Jeremy Bachusz and Aaron Davis are the top two returning scorers for Lake State, but as Anzalone himself said, “They have not put this league on its heels yet.”
He added, “Hopefully they will play very, very well.”
Emily Dickinson said that hope is the thing with feathers. For the Lakers’ sake, Bachusz and Davis had better learn how to fly.
Every day, from now until the end of the season, every Laker player should meditate on the following: “Lake Superior State plays hockey in the CCHA.” For those few brave enough to face reality, add the tagline, “In 2002.”
It seems like such a simple thing, but as geographically far-flung as is Sault Ste. Marie, as seemingly isolated as the school itself is, and as hockey is LSSU’s only Division I sport, perhaps reminding themselves not only of where they are but who they play — night in, and night out — might be a good thing for this very young team.
Anzalone, for his part, is optimistic. “We have a great relationship with our alumni who are rooting for us very hard to bring our program to some form of prominence. Our new president, Betty Youngblood, is very much supportive of trying to get our program back to be the flagship of our university.
“Our goal is very simple: we have to just get better. I don’t want to use being young as an excuse, but we’re going to have to be in a teaching mode this year. We have a lot of players who are going to be in their first year of collegiate hockey. They’re all very capable, they all have the physical attributes that we had years ago. Now we just have to get everybody in tune, and start to take some baby steps.”