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Lakers take on a hot WMU team in regular-season finale

Derek R. Smith

Feb. 20, 2007

SAULT STE. MARIE - The Lake Superior State hockey team plays its final regular-season home series against a team that is on the verge of topping last season's strong finish.

The Lakers (16-15-3 overall, 10-13-3 Central Collegiate Hockey Association) play host to Western Michigan at 7:35 p.m. Friday and 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Taffy Abel Arena. LSSU will pay tribute to seniors Jeff Jakaitis, Jeff Rainville, Trent Campbell, Derek R. Smith, Dominic Osman and Barnabas Birkeland during its annual Senior Night festivities following Saturday's game. Both games will be broadcast live on Rock101 FM and simulcast on Video streaming is available on the B2 Network.

Western Michigan (16-15-1 overall, 13-12-1 CCHA) is arguably the hottest team in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association heading into the playoffs. The Broncos swept Alaska and Michigan State to win their last four games and are 10-5-1 since the holiday break.

WMU won only 10 games last season, but closed out the regular season with a 2-1-2 record and swept LSSU, 3-2 and 1-0, during the first round of the CCHA Playoffs. Those were stinging losses for the Lakers, who had out-scored the Broncos 23-2 to sweep four regular-season games against WMU. LSSU finished the season with a 0-6-1 record.

There's no question that a strong finish is Priority 1 for Lake Superior State, which split last weekend's "Home-and-Joe" series against Michigan. The Lakers are 4-9-1 during the second half of the season, but are 3-1 in their last four home games. They relish the chance to play in front of another feisty home crowd after being inspired by the season-best home crowd of 3,234 that cheered them to last Friday's 3-2 victory over the Wolverines.

With Friday's win, LSSU surpassed last season's 15-game win total for its winningest season since finishing 18-16-2 in 1999-00. The Lakers are currently eighth in the CCHA standings with 23 points and hold a three-point lead over Ferris State. Alaska and Northern Michigan are tied for 10th place with 19 points.

Ferris State travels to first-place Notre Dame this weekend, while NMU plays host to third-place Miami. A key series that could impact LSSU's playoff opponent is Nebraska-Omaha at Alaska, but the Nanooks can't pass the Lakers. Ferris State and Northern Michigan both have the potential to overtake LSSU based on the first CCHA tie-breaker, which is total CCHA wins. The Lakers also have the potential to finish as high as sixth.

Several Lakers put up impressive numbers against WMU last season. Campbell led the way, totaling five goals and five assists for 10 points. Sophomore Troy Schwab finished with 3-5--8, followed by Rainville at 2-4--6 and Osman at 3-2--5.

Heading into the final week of the regular season, Schwab leads the Lakers in scoring with 6-19--25, followed by linemate Josh Sim at 14-9--23 and junior defenseman Derek A. Smith at 7-16--23. Jakaitis still leads the nation in save percentage at .937 and is 11th in goals-against average at 2.16.

For the second week in a row, Western Michigan freshman goaltender Riley Gill was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week for his efforts between the pipes. Gill captured his fourth win in as many games with a 2-0 shutout over Michigan State on Feb. 17 at Munn Ice Arena. Gill (11-6-1) has been between the pipes for WMU's last four wins. He has a .909 save percentage and 2.87 gaa.

WMU was solid on the penalty kill during its last four games, but is ranked last in the CCHA in that category (.796). Consequently, the Broncos are ranked 11th in the league in goals allowed at 3.53, but they are fifth in average goals scored at 3.28.

Freshman Mark Letestu leads WMU in scoring with 18-21--39, followed by senior Paul Szezechura at 14-23--37, junior Jeff Pierce at 12-19--31 and sophomore Jeff LoVecchio at 18-12--30.

Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
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