In healthy Kapalka, Lake Superior State has defensive anchor

Past predictors

Lake Superior State limped into the CCHA playoffs last season with a three-game run of lopsided contests in which it was outscored 17-4. That capped a second half during which the Lakers registered five ties — one more than their total of second-half wins.

Yet they went on to sweep Ohio State at home in the first round of the CCHA playoffs before taking Notre Dame — a team that went on to the Frozen Four — to three games in South Bend during the league’s quarterfinal round.

Inconsistent? Yes, which is typical of a young team. LSSU had 11 freshmen last season, and one of them outperformed every freshman in the league in his position in the 2010-11 season.

“If you would have told me Kevin Kapalka would have been an all-rookie goalie last year with a bad shoulder from where he was when he came in,” said coach Jim Roque, “I would have said no way.”

Kapalka’s goals against average (2.34) was solid, but he had the ninth-best save percentage in the country (.924) with four shutouts in 32 games.

Good omens

Kapalka got the shoulder surgery he needed in the offseason, and that begs the question: If he was that good injured, what’s he going to be like when he’s healed?

“Probably the best thing for him is that he finally got his shoulder repaired,” said Roque. “It popped out a couple of times last year so now it’s healthy and 100 percent. He’s skating, training and working out. Now it’s just a matter of him not putting too much pressure on himself and our team not relying for him to bail us out.

“The thing about Kevin is that he’s pretty modest and a pretty humble kid. He’s an excellent student, and I haven’t seen anything that would tell me that he’s cocky or just expects to be good. He’s still working very hard, and wants to prove that last year was no fluke and have another great season this year.”

Kapalka’s workaday attitude meshes with the culture that Roque has built in Sault Ste. Marie, which is pure blue collar.

What spells doom?

That reliance on one or two good players, for example.

“I think our team as a whole at the end of the year kind of really leaned on Rick Schofield and Will Acton to be the guys,” said Roque. Schofield and Acton are gone, along with their 26 goals.

“We need more guys to contribute this year. I think we have the potential for six, seven or eight guys to have pretty solid seasons for us, including Domenic [Monardo].”

Monardo had 12 goals, and he and Schofield were the only two Lakers players to register 10 or more. “I think Monardo has established himself as a player who will come in and score,” said Roque. “And I also think a guy that has to bounce back is our captain Fred Cassiani, who’s a senior. He had a good last six weeks last year, and we hope that he can keep it up for a whole season.”

About the Lakers

2010-11 overall record: 13-17-9

2010-11 CCHA record: 8-12-8-5 (eighth)

2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): 10th

Key losses: Forwards Will Acton and Rick Schofield; defenseman Kyle Haines; goaltender Brian Mahoney-Wilson

Players to watch: Forwards Fred Cassiani, Kyle Jean and Domenic Monardo; defenseman Kyle Haines and Zach Trotman; goaltender Kevin Kapalka

Impact rookie: Forward Kelin Ainsworth

Why the Lakers will finish higher than the coaches poll: This team is as hard-working a team as any in Division I hockey, and Kevin Kapalka should not be underestimated.

Why the Lakers will finish lower than the coaches poll: The Lakers have as hard a time as any in D-I hockey scoring goals and winning close games.