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Laker seniors refuse to coast to the finish line
March 1, 2007
SAULT STE. MARIE - The six seniors on the Lake Superior State hockey team can take pride in a long list of accomplishments during their careers as 2005-06 and 2006-07 have been the Lakers' two most-successful seasons of the new Millennium. This is a group, however, that is not going to rest until the job is finished. Barnabas Birkeland, Jeff Jakaitis, Trent Campbell, Dominic Osman, Jeff Rainville and Derek R. Smith refuse to coast to the finish line.
The seniors aren't afraid to say what a big step winning the first round of the playoffs would be for Laker Hockey. It hasn't happened since the 1995-96 season.
"I think everybody thinks about it," Rainville said. "It would be nice to give the fans a chance to see us win in the playoffs."
Last season, the Lakers were heavily favored in their first-round series against Western Michigan, but were swept at home by the Broncos. This season, they are slightly favored against Ferris State, but are carrying significantly more momentum into the post season. They are 4-2 in their last six home games and have split back-to-back series against Michigan and WMU.
"We played well against Michigan, and it helps us out knowing we can play with anyone in the league," Jakaitis said. "We are carrying a lot more confidence into the playoffs this year."
"When we're playing the top teams, it's not overwhelming," Campbell said. "We've been playing good games. And with one or two bounces, we'd have the wins."
"Each year it's changed a little bit," Birkeland added. "When we beat Miami in November and Clarkson, we began realizing that we are good enough to beat anybody. I'm still nervous right before a game, for a shift or two, but then there's that overwhelming excitement that we are good enough to take this game over."
LSSU has been a strong third-period team this season, out-shooting opponents 343-306 and out-scoring them 39-26. The Lakers are thankful for the support from enthusiastic fans down the stretch.
"The crowds have been awesome," Jakaitis added. "That helps out a lot. I couldn't even hear the buzzer last night (during the Lakers' 4-3 regular-season ending win over WMU), it was so loud. And the Michigan crowd (3,200 fans) was the best crowd since I've been here. Being in playoffs is an added pressure, so it will be nice not having to travel, being in a familiar rink and having a familiar routine.
"The Michigan game was the best example of where the program has come from and where it started (in 2003, when Jakaitis and his senior teammates arrive at LSSU). That was a great crowd, and we have struggled to get fans into the building. It's a perfect example of what we've tried to do since we've been here. All of the progress we've made to get wins, to make progress in the community - it came together in one night."
As great as beating Michigan in Taffy Abel Arena was, Osman doesn't want to downplay the significance of winning the Cappo Cup series against Northern Michigan for the first time since the 1999-00 season.
"That first weekend against Northern (Dec. 1 and 2), the feeling I had taking both games was incredible," Osman said. "It was a lot of fun. Especially because of the rivalry between the two cities, being able to sweep that series was even better than winning the Cup."
Like their predecessors, this year's senior class appreciates the significance of leaving its mark on the 40-year-old tradition that is Laker Hockey. The seniors take pride in the fact that the program is in better shape now than it was when they arrived. They've endured as expectations have risen.
"We will pass the torch on and build on the expectations for the next class," Jakaitis said. "We've raised the bar another level, and it's up to them to keep things moving forward. We've made progress toward the bigger goal."
According to Birkeland, the Lakers' captain, next year's team should embrace loftier goals.
"It's a healthy pressure that's put on them," he said. "The work starts as soon as the season ends - getting ready for the new season, new leadership roles and getting it going."
Birkeland has one more message for his teammates who will be returning next season.
"One thing we're still working on is the understanding of playing more for the collective," he said. "Coach talks about playing for the jersey and not for ourselves. Guys are starting to learn, and Coach is starting to get that to happen. What is good for the team is good for you - that's the key to being a good team. We haven't mastered it yet. It's a really hard thing to do. Every day we struggle to surrender our own desires and whatever can inhibit from making the team better. The more you can commit to the team, the more you get out of playing Laker Hockey. But it's hard to see that until you start looking backward."
Note: Listed below are the statements read about each of the six seniors during LSSU's annual Senior Night tribute on Feb. 24.
OUR FIRST HONOREE IS A QUIET LEADER WHO TRAVELED 1,587 MILES TO PLAY HOCKEY AT LAKE SUPERIOR STATE. A NATIVE OF BEAUVAL, SASK., HE MADE AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT AS A FRESHMAN, LEADING THE LAKERS IN ASSISTS AND FINISHING THIRD ON THE TEAM IN SCORING. AS A SOPHOMORE, HE AGAIN FINISHED THIRD ON THE TEAM IN SCORING AND WAS NAMED SOO BLUELINERS PLAYER OF THE YEAR. LAST YEAR HE RECEIVED THE JOHN L. CARR OUTSTANDING FORWARD AWARD AFTER TOTALING THE MOST POINTS BY A LAKER SINCE THE 1997-98 SEASON...THIS SEASON, HE IS THE LAKERS' FOURTH-LEADING SCORER WITH NINE GOALS AND 14 ASSISTS...HE HAS BEEN PART OF THE HIGH-SCORING "SASKATCHEWAN LINE" ON-AND-OFF THIS SEASON. THAT LINE HIGHLIGHTED THE YEAR WITH AN EIGHT-POINT SHOWING AT THE BADGER SHOWDOWN IN DECEMBER AND A FIVE-GOAL PERFORMANCE AGAINST OHIO STATE IN JANUARY. HE ALSO SCORED TWO GOALS IN A 3-2 VICTORY OVER NORTHERN MICHIGAN ON DEC. 2...HIS CURRENT CAREER TOTALS INCLUDE 33 GOALS AND 50 ASSISTS IN 146 GAMES. HE IS A BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION MAJOR AND THE SON OF ISIDORE AND ORNELLA CAMPBELL...HE'S NO. 11...TRENT CAMPBELL.
THIS BLIND RIVER, ONT., NATIVE IS THOUGHT OF AS A LOCAL PRODUCT AFTER PLAYING HIS JUNIOR HOCKEY FOR THE SOO, ONT., THUNDERBIRDS. HE HAS IMPROVED EVERY SEASON AND IS AMONG THE LAKERS' TOP GOAL SCORERS THIS SEASON WITH 10 GOALS AND EIGHT ASSISTS...IN 2006-07, HE SCORED GAME-WINNING GOALS AGAINST CLARKSON, AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AND BOWLING GREEN STATE. HE SCORED THREE GOALS IN THE SERIES AGAINST AMERICAN INTERNATIONAL AND SCORED TWO GOALS IN THE JANUARY SERIES AGAINST OHIO STATE...HE IS A FORMER GAY BLADE AWARD WINNER...HIS CAREER TOTALS INCLUDE 22 GOALS AND 28 ASSISTS IN 132 GAMES...THIS BUSINESS MAJOR IS THE SON OF DAVE AND ROSANNA RAINVILLE...HE'S NO. 15...JEFF RAINVILLE.
A DEARBORN, MICH., NATIVE WHO HAS SPENT THE LAST SIX YEARS PLAYING HOCKEY IN SAULT STE. MARIE, THIS POPULAR FORWARD LED THE LAKERS IN TOTAL POINTS AS A ROOKIE, THEN MISSED MOST OF HIS SOPHOMORE SEASON DUE TO A BACK INJURY. SHOWING DETERMINATION AND COURAGE, HE RETURNED TO 100 PERCENT IN 2004-05 AND ENJOYED A SUCCESSFUL JUNIOR YEAR BY TOTALING NINE GOALS AND NINE ASSISTS, AND LEADING THE LAKERS IN GAME-WINNING GOALS WITH THREE...THIS SEASON HE HAS FOUR GOALS AND EIGHT ASSISTS, AND IS RANKED AMONG THE LAKER LEADERS IN PLUS-MINUS...HE SCORED THE GAME-WINNING GOAL IN THE LAKERS' EARLY-SEASON 7-6 OVERTIME THRILLER AT OHIO STATE. HE ALSO SCORED THE GAME-WINNER IN THE LAKERS' 2-0 VICTORY OVER NMU ON DEC. 1...HE'S A FIRE SCIENCE MAJOR AND THE SON OF LUCIA OSMAN...NO. 25...DOMINIC OSMAN
THIS STEADY CONTRIBUTOR FROM ELMVALE, ONT., HAS FOUR GOALS AND 12 ASSISTS THIS SEASON, INCLUDING HIS FIRST CAREER SHORT-HANDED GOAL, WHICH HE SCORED AGAINST NEBRASKA-OMAHA ON JAN. 5...HE ALSO ACCOMPLISHED A UNIQUE SPECIAL TEAMS FEAT DURING HIS FRESHMAN SEASON WHEN HE SCORED TWO GOALS IN A TWO-MINUTE SPAN AGAINST ALASKA WHILE THE LAKERS HAD THE GOALIE PULLED IN FAVOR OF AN EXTRA ATTACKER...HE IS VERY ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT EVENTUALLY PURSUING A CAREER IN LAW ENFORCEMENT...THIS CRIMINAL JUSTICE MAJOR IS THE SON OF ROBERT AND DOREEN SMITH...HE'S NO. 26...DEREK R. SMITH.
LSSU'S SENIOR ASSISTANT CAPTAIN WAS A LAST-MINUTE RECRUIT DURING THE SUMMER OF 2003, AND WHAT AN ADDITION HE TURNED OUT TO BE. THIS NETMINDER FROM ROCHESTER, MINN., QUICKLY ESTABLISHED HIMSELF AT A SCHOOL KNOWN FOR OUTSTANDING GOALTENDING. THE LAKERS' THREE-TIME MOST-VALUABLE PLAYER WAS A FINALIST FOR CCHA PLAYER OF THE YEAR LAST SEASON AFTER WINNING THE PERANI CUP POINTS TITLE, FINISHING SECOND IN THE CCHA IN SAVES, FOURTH IN SAVE PERCENTAGE AND FIFTH IN GOALS-AGAINST AVERAGE. HE HAS TAKEN HIS GAME TO AN EVEN HIGHER LEVEL THIS SEASON, SETTING SCHOOL RECORDS FOR MOST CAREER SHUTOUTS WITH 10 AND MOST SAVES IN A SERIES, AND HE IS SECOND IN THE NATION IN SAVE PERCENTAGE AT .934. THIS THREE-TIME CCHA SCHOLAR-ATHLETE IS ON TRACK TO BECOME THE LAKERS' LEADER IN CAREER SAVE PERCENTAGE, AND HE IS EXPECTED TO FINISH AMONG THE TOP TWO IN CAREER SAVES AND GOALS-AGAINST AVERAGE AT LSSU. HE IS EXPECTED TO LAND IN THE NCAA RECORD BOOKS IN THOSE CATEGORIES AS WELL. HE WAS THE RBC/CCHA PLAYER OF THE MONTH FOR DECEMBER AND IS AMONG THE LEADING VOTE GETTERS ON THE FAN BALLOT FOR THE 2007 HOBEY BAKER AWARD, WHICH IS COLLEGE HOCKEY'S HIGHEST HONOR, AND HAS BEEN NAMED A FINALIST FOR THE LOWE'S SENIOR CLASS AWARD FOR HOCKEY. THIS INDIVIDUAL HAS ALSO BEEN ACTIVE WITH THE BOYS AND GIRLS CLUB OF CHIPPEWA COUNTY AND IS A RESPECTED ASSISTANT CAPTAIN ON THE HOCKEY TEAM. HE MAINTAINS A 3.47 GPA WHILE MAJORING IN BUSINESS. HE IS THE SON OF STAN AND ANN JAKAITIS....NO. 1....JEFF JAKAITIS.
MOST STUDENTS LEAVE COLLEGE WITH A QUALITY EDUCATION AND A FIST-FULL OF LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCES. THAT COULDN'T BE MORE TRUE FOR OUR LAST SENIOR TO BE INTRODUCED -- THIS YEAR'S LAKER CAPTAIN. THIS BUFFALO, MINN., NATIVE MADE THE MOST OF A SECOND CHANCE HE RECEIVED DURING HIS SECOND YEAR WITH THE LAKERS AND HAS SINCE BECOME A ROLE MODEL FOR HIS TEAMMATES ON AND OFF THE ICE. LAKER PLAYERS HAVE SAID THEY APPRECIATE HIS CANDOR AND APPROACHABILITY. AND THE COMMUNITY APPRECIATES HIS HONESTY AND HUMILITY. AS PART OF A HEART-FELT FIRST-PERSON STORY HE WROTE FOR THE CCHA WEB SITE THIS SEASON, HE STATED, "I HAVE RECEIVED MANY BLESSINGS OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS. PERHAPS THE GREATEST BEING THAT I WAS GIVEN A CHANCE TO CHANGE, AND TO BE A PART OF MY TEAM AND THIS UNIVERSITY." LAST SEASON, HE LED LAKER DEFENSEMEN IN ASSISTS AND PLUS-MINUS, AND HE RECEIVED THE SOO BLUELINERS SCHOLAR-ATHLETE AWARD AFTER EARNING A 3.55 GPA WHILE MAJORING IN ECONOMICS...THIS SEASON, HE IS ANCHORING A DEFENSE THAT INCLUDES TWO RETURNING LETTER WINNERS AND FOUR ROOKIES...HE WAS NAMED TO THE BADGER SHOWDOWN ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM...HE HAS SIX GOALS AND 26 ASSISTS THROUGH 125 GAMES...HE IS THE SON OF STEVE AND JOAN BIRKELAND...HE'S NO. 18...BARNABAS BIRKELAND.
Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey