There is a new hockey coach in place at Lake Superior State University.
Damon Whitten was introduced at noon today as the new bench boss of the Lakers.
The 37-year old Whitten takes over from Jim Roque, who was fired on March 11 after nine seasons at the helm of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association team.
A native Michigander, Whitten has extensive experience as a Division 1 college coach — albeit as an assistant.
Whitten has spent the past four seasons as an assistant with the Michigan Tech Huskies. Before that, he spent two seasons as an assistant at Alaska-Anchorage and one at Wayne State and prior, was a volunteer assistant at his alma mater, Michigan State.
During his playing days, Whitten patrolled left wing for four seasons at Michigan State and then played at the minor-pro level over a three-year period. Before Michigan State, Whitten skated in the North American Hockey League and Ontario Jr. Hockey League.
In taking the top hockey job at LSSU, Whitten inherits a program that has struggled over the past 17 seasons, posting just four winning records during that time — a major fall from glory from the national championship years of 1988, 1992 and 1994.
The Lakers will enter the 2014-2015 season minus eight graduating seniors, including all three goalies.
To be sure, while the hiring of Whitten signals a fresh start and the beginning of a new era, the Laker program is at a critical stage and needs to be re-defined.
Attendance at Taffy Abel Arena has plunged dramatically over the past several years as average game-night crowds of 3,000-plus have dipped to less than half that.
In addition to losing supporters from the Michigan Soo, once-strong fan interest in the Lakers from the Canadian Soo has also dropped considerably over the past 10 or so years.
As well, the Lakers have lost touch with many alumni who have said they did not feel welcome at LSSU during the nine years that Roque was coach.
The Lakers also have a frosty relationship with the cross-town Soo Eagles to the extent that Roque bypassed multiple players from the North American Hockey League team who ended up at other Division 1 schools.
Without question, Whitten has a big job ahead of him.
But the book on Whitten suggests he is a hardworking individual who knows the game and is a players coach.
And there are old Lakers from the glory days who have made it known that they support the hiring of Whitten.
The stage is set to look ahead and try to re-invent Laker hockey.
PHOTO: New Laker coach Damon Whitten at the podium during today’s press conference. (Photo by John Shibley.)