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Jakaitis outlines his unusual route to LSSU



Jeff Jakaitis

Jan. 8, 2005

By Lindsey Mechalik, LSSU Sports Information student assistant

At the completion of the 2002-03 hockey season, the Lake Superior State coaching staff thought it had already signed all of the incoming players it needed. Assistant coaches Jim Roque and Tim Christian had spent the year looking at a variety of forwards and defensemen from across the United States and Canada.

A curve ball was thrown at the coaching staff in the spring when one of the veteran goaltenders decided to leave college hockey to go professional. The coaches were relieved to sign a goaltender during the summer, but he decided not to come to Lake State, leaving the Lakers with only two goalies heading into July. Through this unorthodox chain of events, sophomore goaltender Jeff Jakaitis made LSSU his home.

Despite the difficult path the Lakers took to sign Jakaitis, the route he took to get here was just as unconventional.

"I started skating when I was three years old," Jakaitis said. "My parents sent me to a figure skating class to help me get used to being around other people and away from my parents. I had a lot of fun. But thankfully, my parents decided that I would probably rather be a hockey player than a figure skater. Until I was five, I lived in Wisconsin and played hockey."

Jakaitis knew from the time he was little that he wanted to be a goaltender.

"I became a goalie playing super mites in Minnesota," Jakaitis said. "At that level, the team rotates goalies every week. No one else on my team wanted to be a goalie. So I ended up playing goalie because I didn't mind the position. The next year I played squirts because I could be a full-time goalie. I stayed at that level for a while because I really liked being a goalie."

He went on to enjoy a stellar high school career at Mayo High School and make two appearances in the prestigious Minnesota state tournament.

"In Minnesota it is a really big deal to go to the state tournament with your high school team," Jakaitis said. "The Excel Energy Center, where the Wild play, is packed and sold out for all of the games. It is an amazing experience to be a high school student going out to play in front of 15,000 people. It is pretty overwhelming. The games are televised throughout the whole state. When you grow up playing hockey in Minnesota, your dream is to play in the state tournament. It seems like the whole state shuts down to either watch or go to the tournament"

Jakaitis' first year of junior hockey was full of emotional experiences.

"The summer after my senior year I was drafted by the Rochester Mustangs, a junior team that used to be in my hometown," Jakaitis said. "I never played a game for them. I sat out the first 10 games, then was released by them and was picked up by Waterloo. It was kind of a weird story. The coaches never told me I was released. I went home from morning skate and this guy called me up telling me he was curious to what my plans were. I had no idea what he was talking about. He told me he saw that my name was added to the drop list. I called my coaches at Rochester and they just figured I would get the hint, which was a very interesting way for them to handle it. That's hockey I guess. The guy that called hooked me up with Waterloo.

"At the time I went to Waterloo, they already had three goalies. After I got there, one of them asked to be traded out east where he was from. I didn't dress for a while, but then another goalie got traded so I was able to dress for a few games before Christmas. After Christmas I was playing quite a bit. I also played another season for them the next year."

Jakaitis' time at Waterloo became shorter than he expected due to a phone call from Christian.

"I was planning on going back to Waterloo for a third year, but then Coach Christian called me about three weeks before school was supposed to start," Jakaitis said. "He told me about their situation and said they needed a goaltender. I talked to Coach Anzalone, and then had to make a decision. There wasn't really time to come to the school and visit because of the distance to Sault Ste. Marie from my hometown. I thought it sounded like a really good situation. I decided to sign without ever coming to the campus, nor seeing the rink. I had never met any of the coaches. I had only talked to them on the phone. I was pretty nervous since I had never been here (Sault Ste. Marie). I didn't know my way around at all or where any of my classes were. It was an interesting way to get here, but I am really happy with the way everything has turned out."

When prospective Laker hockey players visit campus, the coaching staff tries to make sure they meet their future teammates. Throughout the summer, veteran players communicate with the incoming freshman to help with the transition. Fellow freshman Barnabas Birkeland was the only person that Jakaitis knew before coming to LSSU.

"I had played on a summer team with Barney when we were about 16," Jakaitis said. "But, I didn't get to know him all that well. We played together in a weekend tournament where we had about a week of practices. The main thing that made me nervous was that I didn't know any of the guys. Basically I was coming to school where I didn't know anyone, didn't know my way around, didn't really know anything when I was coming up here. It has worked out really well. It is a great group of guys, good coaches, good teachers, and a good school. Before my first day on campus I had never even been to upper Michigan. The only place in Michigan I had ever been was Detroit."

Coming into his freshman year at Lake State, Jakaitis didn't expect get a lot of playing time.

"I knew coming in that Lake State had two goalies that had been here," Jakaitis said. "I knew that Matty (Violin) had been here for two years and was MVP both years, and he is an unbelievable goalie. Willy (Ciccone) had been here for a year. I knew they had two guys with experience, so I wasn't really sure what to expect coming in. I just wanted to come in and earn as much time as I could. I just figured it was out of my hands, but I wanted to work as hard as I could. Whoever was going to play was going to play. I definatly didn't expect to get anywhere near as much time as I did. I was really surprised at how well it went for me."

The first game Jakaitis played was at home on Nov. 1, 2003, against St. Lawrence.

"I remember Matt was playing really well at the time," Jakaitis said. "It was parents' weekend and I really wasn't expecting to play for a while. At the morning skate one of the coaches asked if I had enough shots that I wanted. I remember thinking `why is he asking me that,' because I didn't think I would be playing. After morning skate, I found out that I was playing. I was happy to get the opportunity to play, but obviously I was pretty nervous. I really wanted to do well."

After Jakaitis earned a 4-2 win against St. Lawrence, Violin and Jakaitis shared ice time during a weekend series.

"Matt and I were alternating game nights, which was more than I ever could have expected coming in," Jakaitis said. "I was really happy to be playing every other game. It was really nice because it kept us both fresh. Neither of us was getting run-down. When both of us are playing well it works out really well for the team.

"From a selfish perspective you could be the guy that wants to play all of the games. But, I like to look at it like whatever is going to be best for the team. If both guys are playing well, that is great. If you are winning with both guys, you can't beat that. Even if the other guy is playing, you have to root for the other guy because you want your team to do well and win. If we share time, we can both stay fresh. I am just as happy when Matt is playing well and the team wins as I am if I were in the game. As long as the team is winning, everyone is going to be happy."

Jakaitis notched the first two scoreless shutouts ever in school history. Both were against Bowling Green last season.

"The way I looked at it was if we aren't going to score any goals, then we can't give up any," Jakaitis said. "That way we can get a point out of it. I was happy with that. It would have been nice to get a win. But, as long as we get a point out of the deal, a 0-0 tie is better than a 1-0 loss. It seemed like everything was going well at the time, and the team was playing really well in front of me. Jordan Sigalet (BGSU) is one of the best goalies in the league. I have to try to not make any mistakes when we are playing against him. You can't give up any soft ones or he will make you pay for them. We have had a couple of good battles with him."

One of Jakaitis' favorite moments of the season was when he posted his first shutout victory on March 5, 2004, against Notre Dame.

"It was really cool to get the shutout against Notre Dame," Jakaitis said. "Both of the Gill brothers are from my hometown. They both played for Notre Dame last year. I kind of had a little rivalry with them. I was able to get some bragging rights for the summer, so it was extra special that it was against them. But, anytime that the team gets a win I am happy to be in there and helping the team."

Jakaitis finished his freshman season with remarkable results. He ended the year with a 2.13 goals against average, which ranked ninth nationally. He had the nation's third-best save percentage of .933. Jakaitis also had the Central Collegiate Hockey Association's best overall goals-against average and save percentage. He was named LSSU's Most Valuable Player and Outstanding Freshman.

"I was really surprised when I came in at how well things went," Jakaitis said. "I didn't expect the season to go as well as it did for me. Everything seemed to just fall into place. The guys were playing well in front of me. It could not have gone any better for me statistically. But, from a personal standpoint, I would have liked to have won a few more games. Stats are stats. It is nice to have good ones, but the main things are winning games and helping the team. I would rather be 7-0 and have an 85 percent save percentage than 0-7 and have a 90% save percentage. I didn't really pay attention to my stats during the year. I took it game-by-game and tried to stop every shot that I could. Looking back on it, it was great to have the good stats, but I know that there was a lot of work to do and we were not happy with where we finished."

This season, Jakaitis is 4-10-1 and playing the majority of games while Violin has been out with an injury. Against league competition, he is ranked fifth in the CCHA with a .920 save percentage and eighth with a 2.72 gaa.



Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
 
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