Laker shaker

April 28, 2014

Let’s call it fresh-start optimism.

After nine ho-hum seasons under since-departed head coach Jim Roque, the scene is one of new beginnings for the Lake Superior State University Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Former Michigan State and Michigan Tech assistant Damon Whitten is the new headmaster of the hockey Lakers and if nothing else, the 37-year old starts with a clean slate.

It’s good that the slate is clean because the plate is full for Whitten.

Since their glory days of national championships in 1988, 1992 and 1994, the Lakers have been in major decline — on and off the ice.

Years of losing have tarnished the image of the program and attendance has been in rapid decline.

At his introductory press conference on Saturday, Whitten spoke of the need to rebuild the Laker program and re-connect with fans and supporters.

And athletic director Kristin Dunbar wisely acknowledged supporters on both sides of the International Bridge, saying that she believes Laker hockey is on the road to recovery.

“I truly believe that our fans in both the Soo, Michigan area and Soo, Ontario are really going to like Coach Whitten,” Dunbar told me.

From this side, where I live, the Lakers have lost much of their Canadian Soo following from over the years.

I can recall, during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s and into the early part of the 2000 era, heading over to Laker games and noting dozens of cars with Ontario license plates in the Norris Centre parking lot.

Crowds of more than 3,000 to watch the Lakers play were normal and the excitement level was extremely high for Twin Soo hockey fans.

But attendance has been reduced to half of what it used to be and Laker hockey does not carry the cachet that it once did.

Whitten has a glorious opportunity to put Laker hockey back on the map.

Off the ice, Whitten needs to re-connect with Laker fans on both sides of the border. That much, he already knows from having talked to his athletic director.

Whitten would be wise to take advantage of having a North American Hockey League team — Soo Eagles — residing in the same town and do his homework on 1993 birth-year forward Scott Cuthrell and 1995 birth-year defenceman Michael Caruso, who both have Laker written all over them.

Whitten might also want to get some tape on the NAHL North Division champion Michigan Warriors. He just might find more than one potential Laker on the Warriors.

And close to home again, Whitten might want to contact 1997 birth-year defenceman Owen Headrick, who played the 2013-2014 season with Soo Thunderbirds and was the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League rookie-of-the-year.

Before Roque was fired by the Lakers, he offered Headrick a full-ride scholarship to become a Laker in a year or two.

Headrick, a blue-chip blueliner by all accounts, is also a draft pick of the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League.

To be sure, Coach Whitten has a lot of work ahead of him.

Let’s hope he is up to the task and can put Laker hockey back to where it has been — in winning form, on and off the ice.

PHOTO: New Laker coach Damon Whitten. (Photo by Mark Krupiarz.)

What you think about “Laker shaker”

  1. Damon is the top choice by far. He is going to save Lakers hockey. Can you say Jeff Jackson. Yes, Jeff recruited Damien to play at LSSU.

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