If the 2006-07 Lake Superior State Lakers could be defined by just two things, they would be these:
1. Jeff Jakaitis.
The senior goaltender finished the season with the 19th-best goals-against average in the NCAA (2.31), but the second-best save percentage (.931).
The Lakers were so beaten up by the end of the season that they had just 19 skaters. And as recently as August, injury claimed another Laker, sophomore defenseman Ryan Baird, who announced that he was leaving hockey permanently because of a shoulder injury suffered in 2005-06.
Roque is sticking to a 25-man roster to “keep players competing for positions.” Roque’s also counting on a midseason break — with no holiday tournaments — for any necessary early recuperation.
Losing one of the top goaltenders in the country and overcoming a plague of injuries. If any coach can face adversity and persevere, it’s LSSU head coach Jim Roque.
Follow the Leader
In his first year, Roque overcame the aftermath of Frank Anzalone and the vast CCHA officiating conspiracy (I’m joking, Laker fans — at least about the latter) to provide some much-needed stability for Laker hockey.
Last year, Roque continued to build a never-say-die work ethic in Sault Ste. Marie that rivals any in the league.
This season, Roque is optimistic about LSSU’s potential in spite of — or maybe because of — the cluster the Lakers have drawn. This season, Lake State plays both Michigan and Michigan State four times each.
“Our goal is just to improve on last year. I think if we can just continue to build every year to get better and better and better I think good things will happen. The goals never change — we want to get to Joe Louis. It just starts with working hard everyday and hopefully good things will work out at the end of the year.”
Red Light, Green Light
The loss of Jakaitis is large, but the Lakers still have sophomore Pat Inglis, who went 5-3-0 last year with a .908 save percentage and 2.89 goals-against average.
In addition, LSSU brings in a drafted goaltender, Brian Mahoney-Wilson, a ninth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks — in 2004. Mahoney-Wilson spent half of 2005-06 out with an injury, but had a .905 save percentage (3.23 GAA) in 24 decisions with the Newmarket Hurricanes (OPJHL) in 2006-07.
And Mahoney-Wilson is from a college hockey family. His father and two uncles played for Providence.
Said Roque, “We’ve been blessed at Lake State with great goaltending for a lot of years and I expect that to continue.
In addition to replacing a world-class netminder, the Lakers lost defenseman Derek A. Smith to professional hockey (Ottawa), and with Smith went 10 goals. LSSU is not, however, bereft in the goal-scoring department, the way it was two seasons ago. The Lakers’ talented sophomore class includes Nathan Perkovich, who netted 15 last season. Also returning are junior Josh Sim (15-11–26) and sophomore Pat Aubry, who had just three goals last season but showed much promise.
All the Way Home
Drawing MSU and UM might be something that some coaches dread, but not Roque.
“We’re excited about our cluster,” said Roque. “The last 11 or 12 years, we’ve had a deal with Joe Louis to play a home game here. This season we’ll have Michigan and Michigan State and Northern Michigan in our building. Our season tickets have more than doubled from last season — so a lot of people are excited about getting some good opponents in our rink.
Some folks around the league don’t realize how important it is for programs from smaller schools to host big-name draws. This cluster would be intimidating for any team, but that Roque sees the best of all positives in it reveals much about the character of this coach.
“The only other issue I’ve got is we have one senior on scholarship so we’re a little young,” said Roque. “I’m just hoping for some leadership to emerge over the first three weeks and the next couple of months to really solidify our team.”