A dynamic start to the season from Laker Superior State saw the Lakers crank out five straight wins before No. 12 Michigan forced a series split last weekend to hand them their first loss.
This week the Lakers open conference play, hosting WCHA foe Alaska Fairbanks. You can stream the series live, right here on FloHockey, as the teams’ conflicting records clash.
The Lakers’ hot start helped build confidence, which they carried into last weekend’s matchup with a Michigan team quickly returning to powerhouse form under Mel Pearson. The Lakers took the first game 5-2, proving they can skate with the best. Even as Michigan took the second game, LSSU earned praise, coming in with the 23rd-most votes in Monday’s USCHO poll.
Lakers assistant coach Mike York credits defense and goaltending for the quick start to the campaign. Netminders Mareks Mitens and Nick Kossoff have created a solid tandem, supported by a young—but capable—defense led by freshman Jacob Nordqvist.
Nordqvist is a point-per-game defender through six games (1 G, 5 A) and was named the WCHA Rookie of the Week following the Michigan series. The Swedish freshman is quickly gaining confidence on both sides of the puck and is raising the Lakers’ stock following a 10-22-4 record last season.
#WCHA Rookie of the Week: Jacob Nordqvist (@HockeyLSSU)— WCHA Men's Hockey (@WCHA_MHockey) November 5, 2018
1⃣ game-winning 🚨 (t-1st WCHA)
2⃣🍎(t-1st WCHA blueliners)
3⃣ points (t-1st WCHA d-men / 1st WCHA rookies)
➕4⃣ (1st NCAA rookies)
Helped Lakers to a split with then-No. 12/13 Michigan.#BelieveInBlue | #WeAreWCHA pic.twitter.com/TG9IZqDtkI
That’s not to leave out the offense, which has been electric early on. Anthony Nellis leads the group with 10 points through their six games (5 G, 5 A). Nordqvist and Gage Torrel join him as Lakers at or above the point-per-game mark. While the season remains young, the team is averaging 3.33 goals per game, up form the 2.11 goals per game they averaged last season.
On paper, Alaska appears to be in for a perfect storm against the Lakers. Sitting at 0-7-1, the Nanooks look like easy prey on the outside. But the Nanooks have faced a ranked team in six of those eight games, specifically No. 5 St. Cloud State, No. 7 Minnesota State, and No. 9 Denver.
The stiff competition has skewed the Nanooks overall stats: holding back the offense, destabilizing the defense, and making for ugly goaltending stats. The Nanooks had a bye last week, giving them extra time to fine-tune the problems against such strong opponents to start the year. Among those problems was taking penalties.
“I thought our five-on-five play was good,” coach Erik Largen told Brad Joyal of The Daily News-Miner following their Oct. 28 loss. “Offensively, I thought we were moving the puck well and got some good scoring chances. We didn’t stay out of the box again and had two power-play goals against us, and our power play wasn’t effective. That was the story of the game.”
The Nanooks have taken 47 penalties through the first eight games, spending roughly 94 of 480 total minutes shorthanded, or roughly 20 percent of the season, thus far. Of course, when you account for the power play goals against, of which there have been nine, given the 80.9 percent penalty kill rate, those numbers decrease.
But that’s another part of playing the best teams in the nation, by outmatching in skill, they create frustration, which ultimately draws penalties.
Playing against a Lakers team more on their level should help balance out the even-strength play and help instill some confidence after the rough start. The Nanooks and Lakers split last season’s single series and, as the game will likely appear slower than the past weeks, Alaska could make for a surprise against its WCHA counterpart.
Catch Friday and Saturday’s action live, right here on FloHockey, when the WCHA foes go head to head. Both games are slated for 7 PM starts.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @Jacob_Messing.