SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The Laker seniors’ last career home game was a microcosm of their entire career in Sault Ste. Marie.
Lake Superior State (9-20-7, 8-15-6 CCHA) outworked Northern Michigan (20-9-7, 17-7-4 CCHA) and outshot 16-6 in the third period but could not get the puck past Tuomas Tarkki, losing 3-2. With the win, the Wildcats collected the Father Cappo Cup, awarded to the team that scores the most goals in the yearly four-game series.
The Wildcats scored two goals in the first half of the second period to make the game 3-1, enough to withstand the pressure from the Lakers in the third.
“They got the game going down in our end,” said Wildcat skipper Walt Kyle. “We were resilient. We bent, but we didn’t break.”
Saving the Wildcats was Tarkki, who stopped all 16 shots he faced in the third, including many from point-blank range. The 6-foot-4 Finn filled most of the net and won the game for them like he has done all season.
“The three great chances we had in the third, we didn’t score on them,” said Laker head coach Frank Anzalone. “Tarkki has played some unbelievable games for them,” Anzalone said, referencing in particular NMU’s 4-1 victory over Michigan.
The effort that Lake Superior gave the entire game — in which they were playing for nothing but pride — did not go unnoticed by Kyle.
“I really like the job Frank’s done here,” Kyle said. “They’re going to beat somebody [in the playoffs]. They work hard and they never give anything less than their best.”
The winning goal came exactly halfway through the second period, when Pat Bateman came on the back end of a goal rush and fired the puck on net. The puck squeaked between goaltender Matt Violin’s pads and slowly crossed the red line to make the game 3-1.
The Lakers answered back quickly on the power play. The Lakers set up their power play behind their own net, Nathan Ward took the puck and raced up the left side of the ice and passed in to Trent Campbell in the neutral zone. Campbell then split two Wildcat defensemen and deked out Tarkki to make the game 3-2. It was Campbell’s second goal of the night, and his second on the power play.
Anzalone was happy to see Campbell, who has been criticized for not getting the puck in the net, play up to his potential.
“Trent’s a heck of a player,” said Anzalone. We [need] some guys that we can stick with him on a weekly basis. Campbell obviously shows he has an offensive prowess, and hopefully that develops into his junior year.
The Wildcats, who have been firmly entrenched on the NCAA tournament bubble all season, knew that a loss would hurt their chances of making the NCAA tournament. Now that the playoffs are here, they understand that they may still have to win out to make the tourney, a situation they have no problem with.
“Every game’s a must-win now. It’s the playoffs,” Kyle said, asked if they needed to win the rest of their games to have a shot at the NCAAs. “That’s the way it should be; you have to win your games to advance. I’m a big fan of that.”
Northern’s first-round opponent will be Western Michigan. The Wildcats beat and tied Western earlier in the season at home, but the Broncos’ offense may present a challenge for the defensive-minded NMU squad.
“They are a very dynamic offensive team,” said Kyle. “They have arguably the best forwards in the league.”
The Lakers will take the long trip to Omaha to take on the Mavericks. The Lakers were 1-2-1 against UNO this season, including a 3-3 tie two weeks ago where Nebraska scored with nine seconds left in regulation. Anzalone wasn’t as concerned with the trip to Nebraska as he was that his team did not earn home ice for the playoffs.
“Nebraska’s a long, tiring, long trip,” said Anzalone. “But [Lake Superior] is a program that had a shot at home ice, but we literally let eight or nine — maybe ten — points leave our grasp and that’s not a good thing.”