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LSSU must say good-bye to four Laker Hockey seniors
March 7, 2004
By Lindsey Mechalik and Linda Bouvet, LSSU Sports Information
The Lake Superior State hockey team is bidding farewell to four members of what has become a tightly-knit family.
All season long, one player after another has said that what he most appreciates about being a part of Laker Hockey is the close bond he has developed with all 26 guys on the team.
The bittersweet inevitability of that bond will come to fruition soon when four of their brothers in battle will leave Lake State. Saying good-bye could be the biggest blow that the 22 remaining players have taken all year.
The senior class is composed of unique individuals who all came to Lake State on a different track.
Center Chris Peterson has held residence at Taffy Abel Arena the longest. Five years ago, before coming to Sault Ste. Marie, Peterson played for the Little Caesars' Midget AAA team. After serving as captain his last year, Peterson walked on to the Laker hockey team. He is the only skater on the Lake State team to not have spent time in the junior ranks.
Peterson has mixed feelings about leaving Lake Superior State.
"I am really going to miss my teammates more than anything," Peterson said. "They have been with me through good times and bad. We have all really stuck together. It is going to be hard to say good-bye to all of that."
Playing college hockey has been a great experience for Peterson.
"Playing four years of college hockey has been one of the greatest experiences of my life," Peterson said. "I have traveled all over the United States to play hockey. It is sad to see it all come to an end and have to move on."
Unlike most of his senior class, Peterson is not completely done with school after graduating from Lake Superior State with a degree in political science and a minor in business.
"After I am done with hockey, I really want to be a lawyer," Peterson said. "I am going to take a year off to try and play professional hockey. We will see how that goes. Afterward, I am hoping to attend Wayne State University Law School."
Peterson also plans to try out for the United States Roller Hockey Team. The roller hockey championships will be held in Toronto this year.
Forward Kyle Anderson, who is working toward a biology degree with an emphasis on pre-pharmacy, is a Minnesota native who will always remember scoring his first collegiate goal at the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis, Minn., in 2000.
"All of my family was there," he said. "We were playing the University of Minnesota during a Christmas Tournament. It was great to go back, having grown up in Minnesota where everyone always wants to be a Gopher."
Anderson has set an example for his teammates with his work ethic and positive attitude. Despite having limited playing time as a senior, he has not stopped learning.
"During my first three years I played quite a bit," Anderson said. "My senior year, I have not been an impact player but I have learned more by watching a lot. I can see the game being played from a different perspective and see how certain things are done."
He has developed an understanding of how even the slightest letdown can be costly for a young team. Regardless of whether he is in the lineup, Anderson strives to be one of the Lakers' most physical players on the ice and hardest workers in the weight room.
"I don't usually let up on guys, especially in practice this year," Anderson said. "If they are going half-throttle, it shows up in practice. It shows up in games too. If we're not sharp, it really stands out."
Tim Krueckl arrived in Sault Ste. Marie via one of the most interesting and challenging paths. Until the end of last season, Krueckl was a member of the Iona College hockey team. Iona dropped hockey at the end of last year, and Krueckl transferred to Lake State to play his final season.
One would think that Krueckl would have felt like a bit of an outsider on a team with such close friendships. But because of his easy-going personality, he quickly fit right right in.
Krueckl has really enjoyed his year at Lake Superior State.
"I really liked the hockey here," Krueckl said. "The game is much faster. The atmosphere at the games is great, and the facilities are unbelievable. It is just much better hockey overall here than in my first three years."
Krueckl does miss Iona and its quick access to the train to New York City. He has experienced college life in two different cultures.
Krueckl will graduate from Lake Superior State with a finance degree and an impressive 3.7 grade point average. This summer, he plans to travel to Iona to attend the graduation of many of his old teammates and friends. Next, he hopes to go to Las Vegas and Houston with his brother. He eventually wants to go to Europe.
"I really want to play hockey over in Europe after this year," Krueckl said. "Hopefully, by the end of the summer, I will have signed a contract. I have been to Germany and the Czech Republic, and really liked it."
This will be the second year in a row that Krueckl has had to say good-bye to a group of his friends and teammates. Good-byes never get easier no matter what the length of time the friendships have lasted.
"It's pretty sad to see it all come to the end," Krueckl said. "It has been a fun four years, but now I have to enter the real world.
The Laker hockey team will also be losing its leader, captain Ryan Branham.
"It has been an unbelievable experience to play college hockey," Branham said. "I wish I was a freshman coming in right now because I think the program is going to come around nicely in the next few years. It has been a great four years, and I have learned a lot from Coach. The four years has gone by so fast. I really don't feel like I am a senior. The best part of leaving is being done with school, but I will be really sad leaving the team."
Branham might feel a bit lost next fall, when he knows his teammates are back at Taffy Abel Arena getting ready for a new season.
"The hardest part about leaving is that when you are somewhere for so long, you get in a routine," Branham said. "The saddest part is just leaving and knowing things are going on without you there. I know I will really miss being with the guys at the beginning of next year. But I know that I am not going to miss the workouts. See, the thing about the workouts is that you love them...after you're done. It is great to say, 'I am glad I did that,' after you're done."
Branham is still humbled by his experience of being a captain.
"It is a great honor," Branham said. "There are so many unbelievable hockey players that have been named captain here. To be a part of that is something I can't even describe. It was a little nerve-wracking at first. I have learned that the most I can do is try to teach guys all that I know and help the guys along. It is an experience I will never forget. I felt a little pressure being captain, but it is a good pressure it makes you push a little harder to try and be exceptional. Even if I can't score the big goal, I can always try and play my position well. Playing well defensively is the core of any good hockey team."
This summer, Branham and his brother, Tim, will start a hockey day camp. The Branham brothers were counselors at the Laker Hockey School last summer.
"Hopefully our camp will be a yearly thing," Branham said. "This summer it is only two weeks. There are not a lot of camps in the (Eagle River, Wis.) area, and it will be good for the community. We want to expand on it and eventually have four weeks. I am really looking forward to it. It will be nice to teach what I have learned to kids. We are trying to get some really good counselors from around the areas. My teammate, Bo Cheesman, will be helping out, and Pat Dwyer, who plays for Western Michigan and was drafted by the Atlanta Thrashers, lives in the area and will be there."
Branham will graduate from Lake Superior State with a business administration/marketing degree.
"I want to try to play professional hockey and see how that goes," Branham said. "I am really glad that I have the option of my college degree to fall back on. It is a real safety net. I have been playing since I was six years old. I can't quit now. I want to see how far I can go. The worst thing would be to look back some day and have regrets on what could have happened. I would really like to go to the East Coast Hockey League."
Branham hopes he has left a legacy to his younger teammates.
"I want to be known as a guy who helped turn the program around," Branham said. "I want to be the guy who knew he wasn't the most talented hockey player out there, but knew where his strengths and weaknesses were, and was able to balance his strengths over his weaknesses. I would like guys to understand that they can do the same thing. Instead of being worried about your weaknesses, improve your strengths so you can overcome them. Each guy needs to realize what he brings to our team. The best hockey players learn to get around their weaknesses."
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