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Lakers get a break from CCHA grind

Nov. 19, 2002

SAULT STE. MARIE - The Lake Superior State hockey team will get a glimpse of the future of college hockey when it plays the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 squad at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Taffy Abel Arena.

All but three of the highly sought-after Under-18 players have already committed to U.S. colleges. Saturday's exhibition won't be much of a recruiting opportunity for LSSU, but will give the Lakers a reprieve from their grueling Central Collegiate Hockey Association schedule.

LSSU coach Frank Anzalone compared the Under-18s to Northern Michigan, a talented team looking for an identity, but "only a year younger." They have speed and attack in spurts. They also have some size, including 6-3, 196-pound forward Adam Pineault, who is second on the team in scoring with eight goals and eight assists.

"Physically, we do pretty well," said Under-18 coach Moe Mantha, who agreed with Anzalone's comparison. "We have size and strength. The biggest difference between college players and our players is mind/body maturity. A college player's body positioning is so much better...When a 17-year-old goes into the corner against a 23-year-old college player, he is not going to win very often. But he has the drive to go into that corner."

The Under-18 team, made up primarily of players with 1985 birthdays, is coming into the game after playing the Soo Indians Junior A team on Friday. The squad is 11-12-1 overall and 0-2 against CCHA teams. It lost 8-2 to Michigan a couple weeks ago and 7-1 to Bowling Green last weekend.

Mantha stressed that his program's long-term concern is player development, and playing older college teams provides the ideal environment for the U.S. team to achieve its goals. The Under-18s had lost four straight games to college teams prior to winning the Four Nations Tournament in Sweden two weeks ago.

"We measure ourselves by how we do against teams our own age," Mantha said. "We just came back from Sweden. We were stronger than the European teams that were there. We were quicker to the puck."

Forward T.J. Hensick (5-9, 170) leads the U.S. in scoring with 11 goals and 10 assists. Following Pineault are forwards Josh Sciba (5-10-15), J.D. Corbin (6-8-14) and Robbie Earl (8-4-12).

The Under-18 goalies are Christopher Holt, a 6-2, 218-pounder with a 2.96 goals-against average, .905 save percentage and 4-6-1 record, and Wylie Rogers, who is 7-6-0 with a 2.63 gaa and .893 save percentage.

In addition to its college opponents, the Under-18 team will play 11 games against Tier II Junior A teams. Many of those games are scheduled in order to give the U.S. squad a chance to play home games in Ann Arbor.

Ultimately, the team is preparing to make a strong showing at the World Under-18 Championship, which is held in Russia in April.

Mantha has seen his team struggle with consistency against college opponents. At times, the Under-18s can handle the college tempo. When they lapse, they pay dearly. He has found his players to be at a disadvantage on special teams.

"The higher we get in competition, the less and less average the players are," Mantha said. "They are capable of scoring quick goals."

Scoring goals has not come easily to Lake Superior State (3-9-0 overall, 0-8-0 CCHA), which has averaged one goal per game in its last eight games. On the positive side, the Lakers have played well defensively while clawing through four CCHA series against the top-four picks in the league's pre-season poll.

"In the college game, sometimes slumps seem to last longer because you only play twice a week," Anzalone said.

The Lakers haven't taken advantage of their scoring opportunities, but Anzalone is encouraged that they are creating more scoring chances as the season has progressed.

"Last weekend we had three break-aways and Michigan had none," Anzalone said. "We didn't score on any of them. But I'm happy with the effort and the defensive game. Those are the positives that we have to look at."

LSSU held Michigan to 56 shots for the weekend. Three of the Wolverines' seven goals were power-play goals. One was scored on a delayed penalty. Another was scored just after a U-M power play had ended.

"You have got to give the guys a lot of credit for holding Michigan at bay," Anzalone said. "Unfortunately the offense just hasn't kicked in."

Lake Superior State Men's Ice Hockey
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