Rebuilding the good ship Laker

November 28, 2014

Their top two goalies are freshmen. So are five of their top six defencemen.

Not only that, they have only three seniors on their roster.

Suffice to say that the Lake Superior State University Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association are in a major rebuilding stage.

First-year head coach Damon Whitten is the man entrusted with the task of trying to restore a winning hockey tradition at LSSU and he appears to be up to the challenge.

“I knew what I was getting into when I took the job,” said the personable Whitten, a 37-year old Michigander who played at Michigan State University and was an assistant coach at the Division 1 level for eight seasons prior to being hired by the Lakers in April of this year.

“Head coaching opportunities are few and far between at this level and I felt I was ready for the challenge of running a Division 1 hockey program,” said Whitten, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach at WCHA rival Michigan Tech and was part of that program’s major revival.

To be sure, the Laker hockey program has mostly struggled since the national championship years of 1988, 1992 and 1994 under coaches Frank Anzalone and Jeff Jackson.

The Lakers have had only three winning seasons in the past 14 years and three head coaches have come and gone during that span, including Whitten’s predecessor, Jim Roque.

Roque was finally let go after nine seasons of decline — on the ice and at the gate — as LSSU athletic director Kristin Dunbar sought and got a fresh start in Whitten.

“We have a long way to go to build a contender here but that is our goal and I have no doubt that we will restore the winning tradition of Laker hockey,” Whitten said evenly. “It will take time and it will take patience but I do believe that we are headed the right way.

“You look at the number of freshmen that have been thrust into major roles and the fact that we have only three seniors,” Whitten pointed out. “It’s hard to win with so many freshmen but that is the hand that Laker hockey has been dealt and we as a staff see signs of improvement.”

Whitten said he and his hand-picked assistant coaches Rich Metro (who is a Sault Ste. Marie native) and Peter Aubry are encouraged by the development of the Laker freshman class, which includes goalie Gordon Defiel and defencemen Aidan Wright and James Roll.

Wright, who hails from Wawa, Ont., moved to Sault Ste. Marie as a young teenager and played two seasons at the major midget level with the erstwhile Soo North Stars before going on to skate at length in the Ontario Jr. Hockey League and then the British Columbia Hockey League.

Both Defiel and Wright have 1993 birth dates and only secured late commitments to play at LSSU after Whitten took over the Lakers in late April.

The Lakers, who started the 2014-2015 season with nine straight losses, have since won three of their last five games. But the Lakers (3-7 in the WCHA, 3-11 overall) face a tough task when they play host to Minnesota State-Mankato tonight (7:37) and Saturday night (7:07) at Taffy Abel Arena.

Minnesota State-Mankato has a record of 7-1 in WCHA play and is fresh from a two-game road sweep of previously-undefeated Michigan Tech.

What you think about “Rebuilding the good ship Laker”

  1. Good job so far Coach Whitten…
    As for sophomore players Globke needs to pick up his game big time. Needs an attitude adjustment as well. imho.

    1. Globke had the luxury of playing with Dan Radke and Colin Campbell on the Lakers top line last season. Absent those two guys, I didn’t expect him to put up the numbers this season that he did last. Still, the Lakers do need to get more production from him than they’ve been getting.

  2. Hi Randy – good article and you make good points by pointing out the many Freshmen that the Lakers have in net and on D.

  3. I had the pleasure of watching Gordan Defiel at the 2013 Dudley Hewitt Cup in North Bay, he was named Tournament MVP I believe, and was very strong at the RBC Cup that year before finishing in the BCHL.

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