In 2007-08, Lake Superior State showed the league what a Laker team was without superstar goaltender Jeff Jakaitis — a team that went from 11 league wins and eighth place in both 2005-06 and 2006-07, to a 10th-place team with seven conference wins and a 12-game winless streak to bookend the midseason break.
“We hope to have a much better start this year and get back to Joe Louis,” says head coach Jim Roque.
Just the first half of that statement would be an enormous improvement over last year’s Laker hockey season.
Last year, Laker goalies Pat Inglis and Brian Mahoney-Wilson combined for an .891 overall save percentage. Mahoney-Wilson saw 350 more minutes in net during conference play than Inglis did, and during his 16 decisions, Mahoney-Wilson’s save percentage was .894.
It’s been some time now since a save percentage hovering on the backside of .900 was respectable or even acceptable in college hockey. For four years with Jeff Jakaitis, the Lakers could rely on a guy putting up numbers more than respectable numbers; even in his sophomore season when he allowed nearly three goals per game, Jakaitis’ save percentage was still .917.
It took half a season for Inglis and Mahoney-Wilson — and the rest of the Lakers — to adjust to life post-Jakaitis. The raw goalie stats belie solid second halves from both netminders; Inglis’s save percentage was .933 in his final seven games, while Mahoney-Wilson had a .905 save percentage in the last two months of the season.
It’s no coincidence, then, that the Lakers ended the second half of the season much stronger than they did the first. LSSU went 7-7-3 to end regular-season play, and came this close to upsetting Bowling Green in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. BG needed three games to win that series. The Lakers lost the first and third games of that set by 4-3 scores, the last game in overtime.
“If we can just build on the second half we had last year…and the boys can build on the positives that they had,” says Roque.
Yes. If they can just.
In order for the Lakers to move up and back to JLA, they’ll need more than improved goaltending. Tied for 10th in league scoring, LSSU needs to support the improved efforts of its two goaltenders.
“We need Troy [Schwab] and Josh [Sim] to return to form as they were as freshmen and sophomores.” So said Roque at the CCHA media day. Schwab, according to Roque, put excessive pressure on himself last season as a junior captain. Sim was hurt and underwent offseason hernia surgery.
Lake State returns two of its three double-digit scorers from a year ago. Nathan Perkovich improved upon his 15-goal rookie season with a 17-goal performance last year. Sophomore Rick Schofield had 10 markers in his debut.
Additionally, the Lakers need to improve special teams in a year when the two-ref system will undoubtedly highlight their play. The Lakers play a disciplined brand of hockey and take few penalties themselves, but who knows how that will change under the new system. Being able to take advantage of power plays themselves would help their overall cause; Perkovich had nine man-advantage tallies last season.