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Lakers come up short of storybook ending



Nathan Perkovich

March 17, 2007

DETROIT - The Lake Superior State hockey team's final game of 2006-07 was a one-game synopsis of the Lakers' entire season.

The Lakers simply refused to go down quietly.

LSSU (21-19-3) lost 7-6 in overtime to Michigan State during Saturday's consolation game of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena. The Lakers fought back from an early 3-0 deficit, cut a two-goal deficit to one goal on four different occasions, and scored two goals during the final 1:06 of regulation to send the game into overtime.

Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque envisioned the storybook ending - an overtime shootout with his five senior skaters and senior goalie. That didn't materialize as Michigan State's Tyler Howells tallied the game-winner at 3:37 of overtime during a Spartan power play.

"It was a good third-place game," Roque said. "Lots of goals and lots of action. It was a tough way to lose a game in overtime. But if it helps Michigan State get into the NCAA Tournament, so be it. We made some mistakes, but our guys gave a great effort. Our guys never quit, and they fought until the end."

LSSU's dramatic comeback include a hat trick by freshman forward Nathan Perkovich - the first hat trick by a Laker since Ben Keup scored four goals in 1999.

The Lakers played in the CCHA Playoffs at Joe Louis Arena for the first time since 1996 and enjoying its winningest season since the same year.

"It's hard to get here," Roque noted. "This is a tough league, and it's a grind to get here. We're a small school in a big-time league. We pretty much finished the season with 21 players. We had guys beat up, hurt, sick. They had to pay a price to get here, but you wouldn't know it by the way they played tonight...We could have quit at any time in that game and we didn't."

Michigan State scored three goals during the first 12:44 of the opening period, but Lake Superior State eventually cashed in on its scoring chances and moved within one goal of the Spartans by the game's midway point.

Steven Oleksy ignited LSSU's comeback with a rebound goal at 14:32 of the first period. Troy Schwab took the initial shot, and Josh Sim picked up an assist.

Despite still trailing by two goals, the Lakers ended the opening period with momentum due to having 1:28 remaining on a five-minute major penalty to Justin Abdelkader. He was whistled for kneeing LSSU forward Dan Eves, who left the game with an apparently-serious knee injury.

Lake Superior State failed to score during the major penalty, but cut the lead to 3-2 on Perkovich's first goal at 8:41 of the second period. Jeff Rainville took the initial shot, and Oleksy was credited with an assist for his second point of the game. At that point, LSSU was out-shooting MSU, 24-14.

Michigan State's Daniel Vukovic scored his second goal of the game on a shot from the point at 9:22 and gave the Spartans a 4-2 lead. Perkovich answered with a power-play goal at 13:16 as his shot trickled past MSU goalie Jeff Lerg. Derek A. Smith and Simon Gysbers drew assists.

MSU took another two-goal lead at 5:25 of the third period when Spartan Chris Mueller out-maneuvered a Laker defenseman and beat LSSU goalie Jeff Jakaitis. Lake State made it 5-4 on Oleksy's second goal of the game - a shot from the point - at 7:56. Dominic Osman and Rainville had LSSU assists.

Matt Schepke gave MSU a 6-4 lead at 14:20, gaining a break-away advantage when an LSSU defender fell near the face-off circle.

A Laker team refusing to give up gained a power-play advantage at 18:20 and pulled Jakaitis in favor of an extra attacker. Perkovich closed the gap to 6-5 with a 6-on-4 power-play goal at 18:54, and Trent Campbell tied it at 19:40 by picking up a loose puck in front of the MSU net, spinning around and beating Lerg.

Schwab and Smith assisted on both of LSSU's last-minute goals.

LSSU out-shot MSU, 46-36, and both teams finished 2-for-4 on the power play. Jakaitis totaled 29 saves in his final game as a Laker. Lerg had 40 saves.

"We spent a lot of time during the post season with our backs to the wall," LSSU captain Barnabas Birkeland said. "I reflected on that thought...and told the guys we have 60 minutes to lay everything out there. The guys poured their hearts out. It breaks my heart. The guys gave everything they had to give, but we just didn't get it done. But I'm excited for them too..."



Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
 
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