In the CCHA last season, there was no shame in finishing in the middle of the standings. Yet sixth-place Lake Superior State — a team that finished just seven points out of home ice and a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs — seems like a team that is always just one step away from greater success.
“We’ve got to get better around our net,” Lakers coach Jim Roque said. “For most of the year last year we did a really good job, but we went to Alaska in February and we just never seemed to have the same type of juice, I call it, for the rest of the year and I thought we gave up a lot of goals around our net. I thought we got a little careless there.”
LSSU was near the top of the CCHA standings for the first half of 2011-12 before sinking to the middle and finishing with an offense that averaged 2.55 goals per game and a defense allowing 2.70. This year, Roque knows that his team begins the season with many questions.
“Starting the year, we are a little inexperienced in a few areas,” Roque said. “We had a couple of underclassmen sign [pro contracts] in Zach Trotman and Kyle Jean that set us back a little bit.”
With the departure of Trotman and Jean, the Lakers lost 23 of their 102 overall goals.
“Then we had a situation over the summer where Colin Campbell is not going to start the year because of shoulder surgery,” Roque said. That’s another nine goals.
With three underclassmen and forward Fred Cassiani gone the Lakers will be a team looking for players to take that proverbial step up.
“I think it might take some time to find ourselves up front,” Roque said, “but hopefully Domenic Monardo, Nick McParland, Kellan Lain, Ben Power and some of our older kids can carry the load early on.”
With three freshmen forwards expected to play because of the early departures, Roque said the Lakers will be relying especially on Monardo and McParland for senior leadership as well as scoring. Roque called Monardo “a tremendous young man,” and added: “The best quality I can say about him is that he’s always happy, he’s always smiling, nothing gets him down, he’s very upbeat. Guys like being around him and a lot of guys like to play with him. He’s got that positive energy. Loves being in the rink, loves to skate, can shoot the puck — hope he shoots it more this year.
“Looking for him and Kellan Lain to play together and maybe carry that first group of forwards for us as the year starts.”
One place where Roque and the Lakers can be absolutely confident is in net. Junior Kevin Kapalka (2.67 goals against average, .916 save percentage) is as solid as any netminder in the league.
“Composure. That’s the best word I can use for Kevin,” Roque said. “He’s had it since he walked in the door. He works hard but nothing seems to faze him. A bad goal goes in, it’s not going to affect him on the next shot. He had back-to-back shutouts one year and it didn’t change anything in how he approached things, so his composure’s excellent. Our players have a lot of confidence in him. I’m just excited for Kevin because I think he’s a kid who’s ready to be an elite goalie, not only in the CCHA but across the country.”
About the Lakers
2011-12 overall record: 18-17-5
2011-12 CCHA record: 11-13-4-4 (seventh)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): 11th
Key losses: F Fred Cassiani, F Kyle Jean, D Kyle Haines, D Zach Trotman
Players to watch: F Kellan Lain, F Nick McParland, F Domenic Monardo, G Kevin Kapalka
Impact rookie: F Daniel Vernace
Why the Lakers will finish higher than the coaches poll: There is no other team that works harder than the Lakers, who made great strides last season as a group.
Why the Lakers will finish lower than the coaches poll: The Lakers can’t control their own destiny. Against other talented teams in the CCHA, they’ll struggle for points.