SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The Lake Superior State Lakers will head to Ann Arbor this weekend on a winning note.
The Lakers picked up a 3-2 exhibition win on home ice over the Western Ontario Mustangs in a rare Tuesday night game in front of a sparse crowd at Taffy Abel Arena.
The Lakers built up a 3-0 lead and held on as Western Ontario scored a pair of goals in the final seven minutes of regulation to make the game close.
“[Exhibition games] beat practicing this time of year,” said Lakers coach Jim Roque. “The guys want to play.”
Roque added that he was pleased with the play of goaltender Kevin Kapalka, whom he expects to earn a bulk of the workload in the coming weeks as the Lakers prepare for the stretch run.
“I thought that [Lake State] didn’t have near as much rust as we did,” said Western Ontario coach Clarke Singer. “It took us a while to get some of the rust off and get back into the flow of our systems. LSSU carried the play, but I thought we got better as the game wore on.”
A scoreless opening period saw the Lakers outshoot Western Ontario 11-6, only to see both goaltenders – Kapalka for Lake State and Josh Unice of Western Ontario – keep the game tied through 20 minutes.
Kellan Lain opened the scoring just under two minutes into the second period when he tapped in a loose puck behind Unice after making the initial save on Lake State’s Chris Ciotti. Ben Power doubled the lead at 7:11 of the middle frame when he scored on a rebound after Unice made the first save on Kyle Pobur.
The score remained 2-0 in Lake State’s favor until Fred Cassiani gave the Lakers a three-goal lead when he deposited a rebound off his own shot past goaltender Alain Valiquette, who relieved Unice midway through the second period in a planned goalie change by Western Ontario.
The Mustangs got on the board when Adam McKee slid the puck five-hole on Kapalka on a breakaway at 13:47. Keaton Turkiewicz cut the lead to 3-2 at 18:54 when his shot from the slot found its way through a crowd in close and past Kapalaka. The goal came with the Mustangs on the power play after a penalty and Valiquette on the bench for an extra attacker.
The Mustangs could not find the offense in the final minute to tie the hockey game and a penalty to Kevin Baker with 29 seconds remaining all but sealed the Lakers’ victory.
Both coaches said they take similar approaches to the exhibition games against schools they don’t normally face.
“We just worried about our team,” said Roque. “We talked about things we wanted to get better at.”
Said Singer: “For a game like this, we’re much more worried about ourselves and what we have to do. We haven’t played a game in about a month. We were missing about seven of our regulars as well for various reasons, so we only played with 10 forwards. We wanted to try to get out timing back and our systems back a little bit in terms of the game.”
The game was Western Ontario’s fourth against NCAA opponents this season. Previously, the Mustangs dropped a 4-0 decision at Notre Dame on Oct. 2. On Oct. 3, the Mustangs traveled to East Lansing where they dropped a 6-1 decision to Michigan State. The Mustangs also faced Harvard in an exhibition game in which they dropped a 7-4 decision. The following night they dropped a 4-2 decision to Dartmouth.
Singer added that Western Ontario likes to face NCAA opponents to give themselves a different opponent than the ones they see in league play in Canada.
“We’re only allowed to play six exhibition games in a year, so what I try to do is get out of the conference as much as possible and play [college] teams,” said Singer. “This year, we haven’t been successful unfortunately in terms of results, but it’s still good to go back into our league having played the best competition possible.”
Kapalka stopped 24 shots in the win for Lake State. Unice stopped 20 shots for Western Ontario, as did Valiquette.