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LSSU begins CCHA Playoffs at home Friday

Barnabas Birkeland

Feb. 27, 2007

SAULT STE. MARIE - Lake Superior State begins its bid to return to Joe Louis Arena when it plays host to Ferris State in first-round action of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Playoffs this weekend at Taffy Abel Arena.

The eighth-seeded Lakers (17-16-3 overall, 11-14-3 CCHA) and ninth-seeded Bulldogs (13-20-3 overall, 10-16-2 CCHA) play Game 1 of the best-of-three series at 7:35 p.m. Friday. Game 2 will be Saturday at 7:05 p.m., followed by Sunday's if-necessary game at 7:05 p.m. All three games will be broadcast live on WSUE 101.3 FM and simulcast on Video coverage will also be available on the B2 Network.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for children and $3 for LSSU students. Season-ticket holders' seats will be held until noon Friday.

In other first-round action, Northern Michigan travels to Ohio State, Alaska plays at Western Michigan and Bowling Green State heads to Nebraska-Omaha. The CCHA's top four teams -- Notre Dame, Michigan, Miami and Michigan State - received first-round byes. They will host the teams that come out of this weekend's series. All 12 teams are vying for a berth in the CCHA Finals, which will be held March 16-18 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

LSSU is one win away from matching its best record in seven years and has the potential to post its best record in a decade. Last season, the Lakers earned home ice for the first time since 1999-00, but lost 3-2 in overtime and 1-0 to Western Michigan during the first round of the playoffs after outscoring the Broncos 23-2 during the regular season.

Lake Superior State is 1-0-1 against Ferris State this season after tying 1-1 and winning 4-1 on Dec. 8-9 in Big Rapids. LSSU senior goaltender Jeff Jakaitis set a new school record for most saves in a series by stopping 91-of-93 shots on goal that weekend. That performance helped him earn RBC/CCHA Player of the Month honors for December.

LSSU is coming off a regular-season ending split with WMU, while FSU split last weekend's series with first-place Notre Dame after becoming the first CCHA to beat the Irish in South Bend, Ind., this season.

"When we were there, they were throwing everything at the net and hoping to get a good bounce," LSSU captain Barnabas Birkeland said of the Lakers' early-season series at Ferris State.

"And it seems to be working for them too," Jakaitis added. "They've been rolling since Christmas."

"But we're so sound positionally, and that takes care of a lot of the bounces," Birkeland said. "That's what got us that tie on Friday - playing strong defensively -- as long as we don't give them at back-door goal."

The Lakers are 4-2 during their last six home games and appear primed to improve upon last season's 0-6-1 final stretch record.

"I think these playoffs will be a defining moment for us," Birkeland said. "During the time we've been here, we haven't won the playoffs yet. Winning the first round would be a big stepping stone for us."

Jakaitis is currently ranked second nationally in save percentage at .934 and 10th nationally in goals-against average at 2.18. Sophomore forward Troy Schwab leads the Lakers in points with 6-20--26, followed by sophomore linemate Josh Sim at 15-9--24 and senior forward Trent Campbell at 9-24--23.

The Bulldogs have advanced in CCHA Playoff action on the road just once, in 1980, when they took a two-game, total-goals series from Ohio State. Last season, they swept Ohio State at home and lost in the second round to Michigan.

Ferris State is led in scoring by senior forwards Zac Pearson (9-20--29) and Matt Verdone (10-14--24). Sophomore center Matt Connolly (11-9--20) is the Bulldogs' leading goal scorer. FSU's top goaltender, sophomore Mitch O'Keefe, has a 6-18-3 record with a 3.06 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.

Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
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